Four years ago today, I dropped my husband off at FCI Englewood, a Federal prison in Denver, Colorado.  We left our home in Whitefish, Montana, on July 3, 2016. There were already so many changes within the past year.  We had moved from Maryland to Montana, leaving behind our family and friends.  I had wanted to move back to Montana for a few years but could not bring myself to leave my big shitz (grown daughters) and little shitz (grandchildren).  I had been obsessed with Whitefish since 2004. I often stalked it on the internet but never took the time to visit.  At one point, I imagined myself in downtown Missoula in a condo at the historic Wilma building, alongside the Clark fork river, where I would spend my days writing.  I did not realize until I was in my forty’s that writing and speaking are what I wanted to do with my life.

The moment Chris and I visited Whitefish in August of 2015; we knew this is where we wanted to be; it was a strong calling that I could not deny. I would say I am an enigma, and because I am hard to understand or seem mysterious, I am often misunderstood.  I am remarkably loyal but have this insatiable appetite for living as much life as I can.  I do not fear to take the path less traveled.

Chris and I tried hard to be present with each other on our drive.  It isn’t easy to be fully present when we are both anxious about what awaits him behind the prison walls for the next four years and how I cope and manage my new life in Whitefish.

We made it to Sheridan, Wyoming, the first day.  We got a room at a new Hampton Inn and then headed into town for a bite to eat. I enjoyed every second of that evening with my husband enjoying conversation, laughter, his smile, and touch.  On July 4, we made it to Denver early afternoon.  We decided to drive to the prison so we could get a lay of the land.  We both immediately talked about the positives, “Oh look, honey, there is a baseball field and a track.”  My husband would be housed in the camp, so we drove closer to take a look at what would be his new residence.  A guard stopped us and asked us what we were doing there.  We explained that my husband would be reporting to prison tomorrow, and we wanted to check it out.  He told us to turn around and return tomorrow at check-in time.

We checked into another Hampton Inn not far from the prison.  We put on our swimsuits and sat by the small pool that looked like something a motel on route 66 might have.  As the afternoon clouds rolled in as a prelude to a thunderstorm, we went upstairs to change for dinner.  We chose a restaurant close to the hotel Old Chicago.  We shared a pizza and a couple of cocktails.  I recall being slightly worried that if they performed a pee test, he would be in trouble for having a drink.  You see, the worry and angst set in before he even entered the prison doors.

We snuggled into bed and had our last moment of intimacy.  In the morning, Chris made his last phone calls and text messages to his family and friends.  I wanted to make sure my husband had a good meal before he entered the unknown.  We stopped by a diner for breakfast.  I ordered my usual eggs over medium, and a side of ham and Chris had pancakes, eggs over medium, and bacon.  It was so difficult to eat because the lump in my throat was so enlarged that even getting the slimy eggs down was a feat while I tried unsuccessfully to hold back my tears of angst and sorrow.  With my husband fed, we continued with our journey.

We drove to FCI Englewood, where we initially went into the wrong building.   A guard told us where to find the correct building.  Prison is very intimidating, and all you want to do is be extra nice to the guards in hopes that they will like you and be kind to you.  At least that was my experience and goal. We waited in the intake area sitting on two hard black plastic chairs holding each other’s hands.  We were anxious about what awaited Chris behind those walls. I watched as an incarcerated citizen moved about with a mop and bucket.  He looked at us as I looked at him.  I suppose both of us are wondering the same thing.  What did he do to end up in prison?

“Christopher Camut” was yelled in a very authoritative voice; it was time for us to leave each other.  We stood, hugged, and kissed.  My husband, with his ever kind eyes and reassuring smile, sent me on my way.  I walked to the front door and turned around to see him led away. As soon as I walked out the door, the dam broke, and warm tears flooded my face.

I got in my car and headed west back to Whitefish.  During my drive, Chris’s twin sister Crystal called and shared tears with me, and my friend Michelle called to offer comfort.  I drove to Sheridan and stayed in the same hotel as we did coming to Denver.  I checked in and went to the convenience store to pick up a bite to eat and gas up for the drive the next day.  My stomach felt like violent waves of an ocean before a storm.  My chest held a load of bricks just sitting there never to leave.  When I returned to the hotel, I sat on my bed, unable to eat my prepackaged turkey and cheese sandwich. I was sure I would never have the ability to eat again, or at least until my husband returned home.   My son-in-law Darren called me to check on me.  I recall feeling relieved that there was compassion.  My son-in-law is law enforcement, so for me for him to reach out meant the world to me.

I willed myself to sleep that night saying to myself hurry and go to sleep because when you wake up, it will be “A Day Closer” to my husband coming home.  The following day as I entered Billings and stopped at a store, my phone rang with a Denver area code.  I quickly answered and heard my husband’s voice.  The relief I felt leaving my body was just like delivering a baby after 12 hours of hard labor.  It was joy, and the pain was all of a sudden gone.  My husband’s counselor allowed him to call from his office—one of the few kind gestures that have happened during his four years of incarceration.  He said he was just fine and that he loved me and everything is going to be alright.

We are fortunate that my husband ended up with good “Cellies.”  In particular, Kevin was a man who guided my husband through the in’s and outs of prison, and they developed a very mutually respectful friendship.  Kevin has been a blessing in my husband’s and my life.  Chris also was taken under the wing of a good Christian brother by the name of Paul.  Paul was very instrumental in Chris navigating through some bumps and getting him into Community Bible Study.  Bible study was a lifeline for my husband.  My husband will tell anyone he needed this time out.  My husband chose to use these years to become a better version of himself.  He found the man he lost so many years ago to unrealistic expectations.  He now has so much peace in his life.  This is not to say prison has not been an inhumane and cruel experience.  Neither of us would have known such cruelty and ruthlessness existed in our prison system.  The subject of how inhumane and broken is our prison system will be the next story.  During these four years, I have found a voice I never knew I had. On July 5, 2016, when I willed myself to sleep, saying that tomorrow would be “A Day Closer” to my husband coming home, I did not realize that in February 2019 I would have a full-fledged 501 (C) (3) named ” A Day Closer.”  God always has the master plan.

My husband will be home by September 16, 2020, if not sooner.  I am broken-hearted that because of medical neglect my husband has cancer that has gone untreated.  We are both trusting in God’s master plan, as I know he has Chris scheduled for a lot of good works.

I dedicate this piece to the men who have helped my husband navigate the most challenging experience of his life and for offering him friendship, kindness, and fellowship. Thank you.

Cassie Monaco is the Founder of the non-profit A Day Closer, an organization that helps keep families connected and intact while a loved one is incarcerated.  She and her husband, Chris, live in Whitefish, Montana.  Cassie is the mother of three grown daughters and the “Gammy” of seven grandchildren. Cassie can be reached at cassie@adaycloser.org.

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Blessings, לשלום

Jeff

Rev. Jeff Grant, J.D., M.Div. (he, him, his) 
Co-founder, Progressive Prison Ministries, Inc., Greenwich CT & Nationwide
Co-host, The Criminal Justice Insider Podcast
Host, White Collar Week
Mailing: P.O. Box 1, Woodbury, CT 06798
Website: prisonist.org
Email: jgrant@prisonist.org
Office: 203-405-6249
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Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/jeff-grant-woodbury-ct/731344
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not a prison coach, not a prison consultant