The man shows up to the Massachusetts Treatment Center in a white shirt and tie. “Treatment Center” is a misnomer in most people’s minds–this is a medium security prison for sex offenders. The man is here because a stake president from the North Shore has told him of a resident named TG who grew up in his area, has been incarcerated in Walpole and Shirley for thirteen years, and has now been sent to Bridgewater for the remaining years of his sentence.
“We have tried to keep in touch with him the whole time, and I would appreciate it if you visited him,” the stake president said in his call.
The man is searched and passes through a metal detector. The guard looks at him afterward.
“Why are you wearing a tie?”
“I’m a minister.”
“This guy know you are coming?”
“No, he doesn’t know me at all, and I haven’t been in contact with him. Another leader at church asked me to visit him.”
“You shouldn’t be wearing a tie.”
“Oh. Sorry. What do you want me to do with it?”
“I mean, it is a prison, right? If something goes sideways, you don’t want anyone to be able to grab something that’s around your neck.”
“I hadn’t thought of that. You want me to take it off and put it in my pocket?”
The guard shakes his head. “Nah. You coming again?”
“Yeah, probably so.”
“Just don’t wear it when you come back. It’ll probably be fine today. But it is a prison.”
“Understood,” the man says.
The man is brought to a room with hard plastic bolted down furniture–tables, chairs, and benches. After a few minutes, residents are let in, and a tall, burly, mostly bald man approaches.
“Bishop Laws?” he says.
“Yes, sir,” says the man rising.
“You can sit. No need to get up for me.”
TG sits about three feet away from the man on a mesh bench. “Thanks for coming to see me. How did you know I was here?”
“President XX called me and asked me to visit.”
“That’s nice of him. He’s a lifelong family friend. Even before he was stake president, he made sure people stayed in touch with me.”
“Sounds like a good man and a good friend.”
“Do you live around here?”
“Yes, in Bridgewater itself.”
“Grow up here?”
“Nah. Grew up in Texas. Have lived in Massachusetts for about nine years, most of them down this way. You?”
“Grew up in Tewksbury and Reading. Of course, I’ve been in Walpole and Shirley for years.”
“How do you like it here? I guess that’s a bad question. Is it better here?”
TG nods and puts his palms on his thighs. “Yeah. They do more direct work with you. It’s still a tough place, though. Gotta know who you should hang out with and who you shouldn’t.”
“I imagine,” says the man. “Just out of curiosity, I just interviewed a man who was released from here. Wondering if you crossed paths with him.”
“Another Mormon here?”
“What’s his name?”
“JD,” says the man.
“Really? That guy? That guy’s a Mormon?”
“Never would have guessed that.”
“Why do you say that?”
TG shakes his head a bit. “Just didn’t seem like it. Quiet guy. Kept to himself. Prone to sudden violence, though. Not really a guy to mess with even though he wasn’t very big.”
“Interesting. Well, he was excommunicated by the bishop before me. He committed his crimes two bishops before that. He’s from the area.”
TG nods. “Well, go figure.”
Now TG looks around. “So listen, next time when you come, we can probably talk more about things. They have rooms I can register for where you can visit in private. They post a guard outside, but the rooms are for attorney-client meetings or clergy meetings. So we could do that next time.”
“Sure,” says the man. “Whatever you want.”
“It helps if you know my story but better to do it there.”
“Yeah, I can understand that.” The man looks around and sees different residents visiting with wives or girlfriends or parents. There are two hours of this on Sundays. The room is crowded, and the conversations are kept low, but there is no privacy.
“Do you have family still in Massachusetts?” the man says. “Anyone that visits you?”
“Well, my family is complicated, as I’m sure you can imagine. They’re all here, but it’s complicated. No one really visits. Except President XXX. That guy has never given up on me.”
“Families are pretty tough in normal situations. I’m sorry. Hard for me to imagine.”
TG takes a deep breath. “My family life is no excuse. What I did was wrong. I deserve to be here. I can explain it more when we talk in private. But just to give you perspective, when I was six years old, my mother took me to the Department of Children and Families and turned me over.”
“Turned you over?”
“Yeah. Gave me away to them. Said she couldn’t be my mom anymore.”
“I’m sorry. Why did she do that?”
“I was difficult. I had attention problems and I caused trouble. I was tough in school and at home and she had a lot going on and she just couldn’t really do it. She wasn’t really cut out to be a mom.”
The man nods. “That sucks, man.”
“Like I said, though. It’s not an excuse. President XX was close to our family. There were good people around me. I made terrible choices. I’m paying for them. Every guy in here could say their past made them do it. But lots of people have worse pasts than guys I know here, and most people don’t wind up here. It’s just complicated. My life, I mean. That’s all.”
“You’re remarkable in the amount of accountability you take,” the man says.
“I’ve had a long time to think,” says TG.
“I imagine so.”
A buzzer sounds, and the man glances at the clock. “I guess that means it’s time to get going. I’ll try to come earlier in the visiting hours next time.”
“I’d appreciate that. Do you know when you’ll be back?”
“My kids are young, and I try to get to a lot of things. Four Sundays from now? That work ok?”
“I’ll be here,” says TG. “And I’ll get us the room.”