When Joyce came to San Quentin

Sometimes a conjugal visit is scarier than a jail


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In California, only a privileged group of inmates can have family visits--at most, three or four times per year, for 48 hours. Typically, inmates see their families in small trailers or apartments within a fenced area, inside the secured prison perimeter. Guards are not in the apartments at all times, but the prisoners are counted day and night.


Herbert's cell had been empty for three days when he finally returned. 'Man, how did it go?' I asked, hearing his cell door slam shut behind him.

'Hey, Bro,' said Herbert. 'It was cool. Man! It couldn't have been better. But some crazy shit happen though, on that first night.'

I was eager to hear about my neighbor's three-day conjugal visit. He had been corresponding with Joyce for eight years and had wed her in prison just one year ago. She was the first woman Herbert had been with in more than 13 years.

'So you liked it?' I smiled to myself. 'Was you nervous? Man, I just know you had to be nervous.'

'Nervous!' said Herb. 'I was freaked. Man, I was so damn nervous walking over to the trailer that I was just hoping somebody would tell me my visit was canceled. That's how nervous I was, man!'

I laughed, and my excitement moved me to the front of my cell. 'What happened when you got there? Was Joyce already there?'