I have been visiting Sean in prison at Corcoran for over 5 years now, so I have had a lot of time to get to know the area. The town of Corcoran is very small, and vastly different in comparison to what I am used to from living in Northern California all my life. Corcoran is not a place anyone would choose to go if traveling for just fun, so that presents an interesting dynamic. It is not a place many people have heard of, nobody ever knows what I am talking about, I have to tell them it’s between Fresno and Bakersfield.
The town of Corcoran is mostly known for it’s prisons: California State Prison Corcoran and Corcoran Substance Abuse Treatment Facility (SATF), which are two separate facilities but share the same piece of land back to back. According to Wikipedia: “The prison inmates are counted as city residents by both the United States Census and the California Department of Finance, the incarcerated persons in the two prisons comprise just over 43% of the total population of Corcoran.”
The first time I traveled to Corcoran what stuck me most was the smell of cow manure. At times it is so strong that I can just about taste it, the pungent air scratches my throat. Sometimes it’s barely noticeable, and my brain only registers it when I first arrive. Sean says he barely notices it anymore, that he might smell it if the breeze is just right, but it doesn’t bother him.
Then there is the fog. In the cooler seasons, there are often large patches of dense white fog hoovering about a foot above the fields like a strange ghostly cloud. In the winter months sometimes the fog suddenly envelopes my moving vehicle, leaving me in a complete white-out and I am forced to inch my way along the road cautiously until I come out on the other end. The prison even has a specific protocol for foggy days because it is so commonplace and problematic that time of year. They take it pretty seriously because it is a “safety concern”…as if someone could just disappear into the fog.
The crops grown in Corcoran are mainly cotton and corn. As I pass by the cotton fields, stray fluff lines the sides of the roads in harvest season. The town holds an annual Cotton Festival to celebrate the area’s biggest crop. The roads to the prison are bordered by nothing but cotton , hay fields and tall corn stalks. Most of the time I will encounter a large tractor sharing the road with me.
The actual town of Corcoran is tiny, even in compassion to the small rural town Sean and I grew up in. I go there to get ice, suppliers or use the restroom when I get out of the prison visiting because it is the closest place for quite a while. We used to have friends living in Corcoran whom I would stay with on long weekend visits and my sleep was always interrupted by the loud trains that roll through. Amtrak passes by many times throughout the day and night as do huge freight trains that seem to go on for miles. We regularly hear the trains from the prison. It is commonplace to encounter the trains while driving on long stretches which always puts me in a strange space where it feels as if I am no longer moving, it’s really disorienting.
I have been driving by myself to Corcoran for about 4 years now and these days I travel there about once a month, leaving my home at around 3:30 or 4 am. On the long drive as I get closer to Corcoran I can feel my excitement building as the telltale signs slowly start to appear. The sun rises, and the day begins with hay bales, giant tractors, old run down farm houses, barns and tiny road side markets.
Despite being a pretty insignificant blip on the map in the middle of nowhere, Corcoran holds a lot of special meaning for Sean and I. We have so many memories there. We have spent countless hours at regular visit and Family Visit (46 hour visit), it would be impossible to try to calculate how many. It is where we fell in love, had our first kiss, got married, where we spend our time and live out our lives. It is a place where we have shivered in the cold and sweat out the immense heat together, where we have struggled and overcome, where we have slept and dreamed together. It is a place of pain but also great happiness. It is my other home, the place where we get to be together.
“Home is not simply a mark upon a map, any more than a river is just water. It is the place at the center of the compass from which every arrow radiates, and where the heart is fixed.”
Photos taken in or near Corcoran, CA on my travels