“We don’t have much, but we have family.”
Yesterday was the first of the three part series of our Father’s Day trips. We united 258 people (children, adult children and their caregivers) to see their fathers at California Men’s Colony (CMC) in San Luis Obispo CA. As all of you probably know by now, Get On The Bus requires a ton of preparation work. Almost right after we complete our trips, we start to plan for the next year and each year, we are getting bigger and bigger. Just thinking about all the logistics with the buses, the prisons, the volunteers, the families, the food, etc. makes me even more tired than I am already.
The beauty of all of this is that it comes together to be a very special and sacred day for the families and I am lucky enough to witness it…
The morning of event day is always a little crazy coordinating all the last minute details making sure that we know which families didn’t arrive so that we can communicate that info with the prison who then communicates it with the men, making sure buses arrive to pick the families up, which they all did yesterday 🙂 (Thanks to the Bus Company and Frank Gonzalez for an amazing job!!), and making sure that the families have all the right documents and apparel to gain entrance to the prison. I have to say that the process yesterday was incredibly seamless and by 10 am everyone on the West side of the prison was inside visiting, which meant that I had a little space to breathe.
When I go inside the prison on event day, I become my father’s daughter. For those of you who know my dad, one of his staples at the Primadonna was that he was completely committed to his customers. He loved walking the dining room and talking to every person asking them how everything was going with their meal. I do this same exact thing on event day. On little sleep and food, interacting with the families becomes my fuel for the day.
As I walked around the outside tables at West shaking everyone’s hand, I couldn’t help but notice the jubilant laughter coming from one of the last tables. As I got closer, I noticed that there was a large family which consisted of the dad, his four children, and two other adult women engaged deeply in conversation. I almost decided to pass the table and come back not wanting to interrupt them in the moment. However, after 20 minutes of greeting other tables went by, I realized that this wasn’t just a moment, it was who they were.
As I walked up to their table, they stole my thunder as Chris, the dad, said, “Everyone this is Maria. She makes it possible for all the kids to come here today.” His mother, who was around my own grandmother’s age, shook my hand and offered her heartfelt thanks for everything that Get On The Bus has provided to her grandchildren and to Chris. His wife who was busy feeding their youngest son his pizza gave me the most heartfelt smile as a tear ran down her face. His three daughters who ranged in age from 14-5 yrs. old stood up just hugged the stuffing out of me.
Chris then pulled up an extra seat for me and asked me to join his family. The stories that they were telling reminded me of being around my own dining room table with my family. Everyone was louder than the other person and they lived for the memories that they shared together. After about 15 minutes of this, I asked Chris if he was sure that he didn’t have any Italian relatives out there in the universe because his family reminded me so much of mine. His response was that they were “Mexican, the West Coast Italian.” Everyone roared with laughter.
After many conversations and a bubble fight with the two youngest girls, I got up to say my goodbyes. Chris summed the Get On The Bus day for me by saying, “Maria, we don’t have much; however, we have something that not many other people do on the face of this planet: We have our family. You and Get On The Bus allow these precious visits for us and for that we blessed. We all want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
Everyone stood up again and hugs were exchanged. Before I turned away, the youngest little girl who was missing her two front teeth told me that she wanted to ask me a secret. She said Maria, “Do you think I can bring my dad home with me on the bus for show and tell?”
At that, my heart sank. It is so easy to see the joys of the Get On The Bus day, but it is important to also recognize the sorrows. Here in California, we are in a budget crisis. We are cutting teachers, closing schools and hospitals, but we are also building 10 new prisons. In the United States, we are incarcerating more individuals than any other nation on the planet. We have an economy that is crumbling to the ground and we all wonder why the world bears such sadness? Before you go to sleep tonight, I invite you to think about the children. Think about your children, the children closest to you, or your own inner child. Then think about the GOTB children and ask yourself, “What about these children where is their voice?”