I could barely sleep the night before I was scheduled to visit Elizabeth. When we finally arrived at the Mountain View Unit, I could only think about how surreal the view was: barbed wire fences doubled up on each other, the wire circling around repeatedly, assuring no escape for the convicts within. I was given a full body wanding and body search by a female corrections officer before I was allowed inside, only able to bring my photo ID and $25 in change for the vending machines. The CO waved to another officer in a tower to let me in one gate at a time.
Once I was inside, I told the COs in the visitation lobby that I was there to see Elizabeth Burke. They laughed, good naturedly it seemed, asking why anyone would want to spend so much time with “Burke.” I was a little put off, but they seemed to be joking, so I smiled and waited to be assigned a visitation space. They gave me window number 12 and explained that I could purchase sodas and snacks from the vending machines and give them to another CO in visitation to then give to Elizabeth.
Our window was in the corner, next to a cage that I can only imagine is for extremely dangerous criminals. I sat at the counter that was uncomfortably high for the small plastic chair I had to sit on. Actually, I had to practically kneel on the damn thing to see Elizabeth’s face due to the counter height and a giant wooden slat separating the mesh screen we spoke through from the plexiglass we saw each other through.
The plastic chair dug into my legs every time I shifted and lifted myself up with one leg or the other beneath me so as to see Elizabeth better over the wood. I actually have bruises up and down my legs now because of this set up. They certainly don’t make it easy for convicted criminals and their loved ones.
Elizabeth must have seen me first since she was walking towards me when I turned to her, having been taking in my surroundings previously. I immediately grinned and said, “Oh, my god.” She put her hands up to the mesh and I covered them with my own. She spoke with a slight Texas twang, which I found endearing and sweet. I instantly felt like I’d known her my whole life.
I was taken aback by how silver her hair had become, how many lines creased her face. In her mid-30s, Elizabeth has aged at least 10 years more than that since she was incarcerated eight years ago or so. It saddened me, but I knew I was there to give her hope. I didn’t cry once.
She did though, when she spoke about Ian. We went over most of her case during the four hours I was with her on Saturday. She told me everything I already knew and more – she is completely honest and forthright about her life and her current situation. She told me about multiple rapes she endured during her time in foster care as a teenager. She told me about the beatings she took from nearly every man who has ever been a part of her life, beginning with her father.
She. Is. So. Damn. Strong.
I pledged to her that I will never give up until she’s out of there. And I won’t.