I took Baby 9 to jail on Christmas Eve. I didn't have to, but I thought it was the right thing to do.
We went to court the week before, and the judge ordered jail visits even though the county and the baby's attorney opposed. As we walked out of court, the caseworker said there was no way she'd be able to schedule and supervise a jail visit during Christmas or New Year's week since she had so many days off and tons of stuff that needed to get done. That could have been the end of it, but the parent's attorney came up to me in the lobby, and half apologetically told me that her client had asked that I go to jail to visit with out the baby. It seems I am the only one who would even possibly go see the parent.
I felt all kinds of emotion. This parent has not acted like someone who loves and wants their child. In all honesty, I do love and want their child. I was truly rooting for reunification, but I was so let down when I realized this parent didn't even try. Instead they just passively let life throw them and their baby around regardless of safety and security. On the other hand, I have to think that if there was any choice- anyone else that this person could reach out to- I certainly wouldn't be the one asked to come sit in jail and visit with someone who is clearly very lonely. If I were in jail, my family would care for my kids. They'd come visit me. I'd be asking my lawyer to summons them. I am very fortunate. Isn't it my responsibility to help someone less fortunate- even if I don't deem them "worthy"- especially at Christmas? Then I thought about precious Baby 9- who I love more than life. What would she want? If I could giver her magical expressive speech- what would she say? "Let me stay warm at home while my parent who wants to see us sits alone in jail on Christmas."? Or, "C'mon, my family needs me."? I think Baby 9 would want me to go.
So I called the jail and asked what I needed to do. The person I spoke was really nice once I said I was a foster parent. He told me he could get us an appointment for a visit on Christmas Eve at 7:30am. He said I needed the baby's birth certificate and a letter from CPS stating that the visits are allowed. He said that he would have the parents also sign a release allowing the minor child to visit.
I had no problems getting the caseworker to give me the birth cert and letter. She was thrilled about getting to take the credit for the visit in court without actually doing any work.
I showed up to the jail on Christmas Eve at 7am. There was a long line already for the visitation. I fed the baby her bottle as we stood in line. When I came to the glass window with the guard behind it, I had to give the inmate's name, my name and ID, and the birth cert/letter for the baby. The officer clicked away at his computer silently for 2 minutes before handing me back my documents and pointing me to a side room with another guard who was acting as keeper of the locker keys. I had to give him my ID and the inmates' name. He gave me a key to a locker and instructed me to take out the baby's adorable Christmas hairbow, and both her and my earrings. I would have been allowed to bring only a receiving blanket and pacifier if Baby 9 needed any of those things, but we brought nothing in with us.
When I handed the key back to the keeper, he pointed me to the metal detector. We walked through the big one, then got passed over with a wand by another guard. He giggled a little when he asked me to hold the baby away from me so he could swipe the metal detector wand on both sides of her diaper. The woman in front of me set off the metal detector and after a conversation with the guard, determined it was her underwire bra that was setting it off. They gave her a grocery bag to put it in and she went to the bathroom to take it off. So.. no underwire bras at jail- good to know.
We went from the metal detector to a small room where they buzzed us in to the large visit room. There was a table stretched the full length of the room so it was divided in half. The inmates were on one side and the visitors we on the other. Glass divided the table and ran about shoulder height when I was standing. I was able to pass the baby over for a hug, but one of the officers who were sitting in elevated desks around the room stepped in after just few seconds and the baby had to come back to me. I sat the baby on my side of the table, and she showed off her superb raspberry blowing skills and banged on the glass with her chubby little hands. After ten or so minutes, the guard told me the baby had to be on my lap. From there, she was only visible from the nose up.
The parent apologized for their bad choices and expressed a desire to parent and pursue reunification. They told me the plan was to get out of jail in early January, although that was not the story I heard form the caseworker or the baby's attorney. They asked me to send them Tshirts, socks, and a towel. I tried to keep the conversation on the baby and what she's been up to, but they didn't seem interested. After 30 minutes, the parent ended our visit (it was scheduled for an hour) by saying, "You can go if you want. I know the baby is sick." (She wasn't sick, she was drooly and had a clear runny nose from teething- which I already explained). So I left.
While I was emptying our locker, I noticed the kiosk for depositing money into inmate accounts. I thought about what not having a towel would be like in jail, and decided to put money in the parent's account. I felt good about it because the parent didn't ask for money, and if they weren't in jail, I would have purchased gifts from the baby to send to the visit anyway. So I put $40 on the account before we left.
We were home by 8:30am. It was pretty painless. I can look at my daughter with a clear conscious knowing I did what I thought was right for her and her family on her first Christmas.
The Saturday after Christmas, I received a call from the parent in jail asking for Tshirts, socks, and a towel. I told them I put money in their account for that stuff. They said, yes, they had received the money and greatly appreciate it, but still need those items. Sigh, sometimes there's nothing you can do that is enough. Stomach bugs, colds, and pink eye have taken over our house since Christmas. I have a daughter on a ventilator (that the parent knows about) as well as 2 other children. My husband works during the hours that the jail is open to visitors. I can not drop everything and run some shirts to jail. I did buy them though. We'll see if the parent really does get out this week. If not, I'll plan to take the baby back for a visit and bring those items with me.
If I was worried about "being used" or who deserves what, I would have a very hard time giving again after Christmas Eve. I have to keep focused on what is best for Baby 9. It is best for her to have her parent be well. I can't make someone stop using drugs or committing crimes. I can't make them be a suitable parent. However, I can make sure their feet are warm and their skin is dry after a shower. I can do that pretty easily. I won't drop everything and run when they call, but I will schedule time to be the support that they need right now.
My closing thought on the jail visit is that Baby 9 did awesome with it. I truly believe that is because I was there. I am her constant. I am her primary caregiver. If I'm there and I'm smiling while we sit in a weird smelling room with a ton of strangers, she's going to be OK with that. I think the visit would have gone way different if I would have just let the caseworker handle the visit, and sent baby after the New Year with the caseworker who she only sees 2x/month to go to jail. Jail visits aren't my "job" per se, but Motherhood really has an open ended description. We just do what our kids need us to. I would encourage someone else in my shoes to never make their children go to jail without them.