Friday, June 9th, 2017 @ approximately 1:45pm
It’s my unofficial last day at Fishkill Correctional Facility (I banged in for all of next week), and I’m working a swap for a friend on day shift. As most people knew that I was heading to Gowanda in a couple of weeks, I had sort of a free pass to roam around and say some goodbyes to people throughout the shift. My last stop brought me to housing unit B/East, where two buddies were working. These were two guys who made me feel like I was a part of the Fishkill family over the years, so I felt that seeing them last was in order. As we conversed about the ever-changing dynamic of corrections, I began to stare blankly into the horizon through the office window. The view from here is unimpressive, as the officer’s housing (Home-B, as it’s called) stares you in the face beyond a fence topped with razor ribbon, although, the backdrop behind all of that consists of rolling hills. One friend asked “are you okay?”, and then it all came into focus.
When I was fresh out of the academy, I was put into a spot on the adjacent housing unit for a few days, and during the shifts, some nice coworkers had politely asked me to stop over to B/East’s office to grab some coffee and take a breather. While I was a bit hesitant to head over at first, I eventually meandered over, lit up a cigarette, stood by that window, looked out and though to myself: what in the royal fuck am I doing here!? Am I really working in a prison? Yes, that was my reality and what would happen going forward was nothing but a mystery.
A couple of years later, New York State decided that there wasn’t a need to continue to hire any more CO’s for a bit, so movement came to a grinding halt. While I’d find myself assigned to B/East on occasion, I’d light up a cigarette by that window, stare out into the distance and (in frustration) think: I wake up in the afternoon and I see the jail. I look out of the jail and I see where I sleep (Home-B). I feel trapped. I just want to go home.
As time inched on, movement eventually picked up and those that I came to Fishkill with out of the academy were now transferring to their respective homes. I, however, was growing quite fond of the area, the jail, and more importantly, the people. Because of this, I took residency not far from the jail. Now, upon visits to B/East, that cigarette and gaze would carry thoughts of: these people have taken me in over the years and made me feel like I’m part of the family. This is now home. I could never see myself leaving here.
Back to the present. I’m no longer a smoker, but as I stared out of that window on my last shift, I said to my friends: for all of the years spent here, the stories, memories, great people that have made profound impacts on my life, the cups of coffee, cigarettes, heart-to-heart talks, meals shared on holidays…I look out of this window in disbelief today because the reality is that this is the last time that I’ll ever look out of it, and that hurts.
If you didn’t already know, I have been pursuing other employment for quite some time. My time in corrections is now up, and it has been a (mostly) wonderful ten years. While I am fortunate for the things that this department has given me, it is what it has taken away that I worry about and have lost a lot of sleep over.
To those who continue to brave the depressing cesspool that our profession has become, please, please, please remain diligent, and continue to have each other’s backs. As we know, the fight extends well beyond the inmate population. Stay strong and continue to do what’s best for you and yours. You work hard making a better future for yourselves and your loved ones and do not get enough respect.
To those who feel like there is more out there for you and that things have become stagnant, believe me, an opportunity is out there if you put in the work to find it. There is a light at the end of the tunnel that is corrections. Keep pressing; you’ll get there.
I love you all in one way, shape or form, and sincerely thank you from the absolute bottom of a heart-in-mend that had become pitted, blackened and soured over time. Without your laughs, support, advice, heart-to-hearts and incredibly patient listening ears, I most certainly would not have been able to muster up the gumption to drag myself from a situation that I’ve determined to be dire. Whether or not I crash and burn going forward matters not, so long as there was an effort made to change things for the better.
Without you, none of this would be possible.
Robert David Welsted