Family Visit: November 3, 2018. Sean and I stood together at the fence line outside our Family Visit unit. The sun was setting with vibrant pink hues bouncing off the clouds on the horizon in front of us. The air was still and quiet. As we watched, we munched on ice cream sandwiches we had just made. Ok, not so much munched as drizzled and dripped with the warm gooey cookie mixed with melting vanilla ice cream. It was absolutely blissful. Sean made a silly joke and I nearly choked from laughing so hard. We finished our treats, smiling and enjoying the sunset. Then he made another joke, assuming I could not ‘get him’ as I was holding our plate and spoons. But to his surprise I dropped everything I had from my hands to chase him around the dry grass and tickle him. We howled with laughter echoing off the cement walls. It would end up becoming a memory we held onto for weeks to come.
The last day of our wonderful Family Visit was painful as always and I looked forward to his usual phone call on my drive home or once I had arrived, to let him know I had made it safely. But his call never came. As soon as Sean had gone back into the prison he was put on a prison-wide lockdown and was unable to call me for 17 days. But at the time we no idea how long it would last.
From his letters, I could tell he wasn’t doing well with the lockdown so I came for a sunrise visit the following Saturday, November 10th. He was relieved and tearfully happy to see me and we had one of the best regular visits we have ever had. As I drove back home, the smoke from the Northern California Fires, including the Camp Fire, became thicker and the sun appeared red and angry in the sky. Before reaching Sacramento, I stopped at a Walmart to buy N-95 masks. When I came home, it was barely recognizable. Gray grainy smoke blocked out the sun, it’s smell was inescapable.
The smoke would end up forcing everyone to stay inside as it blanketed our skies for more than 12 days. The air quality became hazardous, no one could step outside without wearing the n95 masks, and even then it was recommended not to go anywhere. I was on my own kind of lockdown. A sense of urgency and chaos took root, the fire department ran out of the free masks they had been providing. Stores changed their entrances in an attempt to keep the smoke from getting inside. Public schools closed early for the holiday on November 16 due to the smoke. It felt scary, I’ve never experienced anything like it.
While this was happening, Sean had no idea because of the lockdown in place at the prison. The local news channel in his area didn’t show what was going on here and my letters took a week to reach him. In an unfortunate turn of events, I developed bronchitis and a sinus infection from the smoke and was too sick to go visit Sean for Thanksgiving as we had been planning. By the time his phone calls started up again and the rain came to wash everything clean, the serious damage had already been done. We were then faced with spending Thanksgiving weekend painfully separated by the distance and sickness.
“Sometimes only when bonds are tested do we understand their strength… we can step into the future, blessed and stronger than before because when faced with change our love held fast and didn’t break.”
“Sacramento wasn’t ready for the smoke that billowed south from November’s Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history. Public health officials advised people to stay inside, fire departments handed out disposable N95 masks but Sacramento County Public Health warned people not to wear them. When the smoke was at it’s thickest Norther California’s air quality was rated worst worldwide. What made the air so unhealthy was the presence of fine particulate matter small enough to travel deep into lungs. Smoke was all the more toxic because it contained not just burned trees, but burned homes, cars and electronics. Scientists are still researching the long-term effects of wildfire smoke.” -Sacramento News & Review April 2019