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Part 2

A Matter of Time


"They're going to give me Pampers, right, Auntie?"

The impact incarceration has on the family is myriad and complex. Family of inmates suffer everything from added responsibilities to financial hardship to feelings of ambivalence and shame. Because few people empathize with them, few resources exist to help. The visits keep Toliver connected to her son. She makes no mention of whether she believes he's guilty or innocent, as if years of dealing with the prison system have weathered the issue into the stripped reality of what it is: doing time. Despite his murder conviction and 22-year sentence, Toliver believes contact with him can help heal her family.

Even on a slow day the visitor's reception room at Haynesville Correctional Center, a medium-security men's facility housing 1,070 felons, appears busy. Families and guests sit around a center table filling out visitor's passes while others wait in line to be processed. Since 1993, the Virginia Department of Corrections' Haynesville facility has earned a reputation for smooth operations, including family visits.

"Facilitating family ties is important," says Kim Cox, the center's treatment program supervisor. "If they can keep that connection going on the inside, it's going to make it better when they get out.

"Today it's a slow day. Visitors can stay from 8 to 3. If it's a busy day, it's just an hour."

The clinking of quarters from the change machine is constant as nearly every visitor flattens a $10 bill - the maximum allowed inside — into the slot. It's used to buy vending items like hamburgers and chicken wings, sodas and juice — even Polaroids taken by an inmate photographer for $2 apiece.

Next, all visitors are shaken down by officers to make sure no contraband — money, food, letters, anything — passes from the visitor's side into inmate areas. There are no infractions or nervous faces.

"Once you've been a couple of times, you know the routine," explains Cox.

Toliver and Jordan place their keys and IDs in plastic containers kept by officers at impenetrable doors.

Buzzers sound, and a series of doors and gates pound then echo, each one opening then closing, forcing visitors to follow the outside path to the building that keeps their loved one. The fenced-in grass is green and neatly cut and never stepped on. But the silver spiraling razor wire gets all the attention. "It's scary," says Toliver, voicing what every visitor tries to forget.

Inside, it's another world, too. Cornflower blue jumpsuits abound. Some sit, some stand, all look expectant. On one side are the vending machines, small plastic tables and chairs and restrooms. On the other side is the gymnasium. Bright and rubbery, it's cleaner than a high school gym and more colorful. Gigantic paper murals drape the walls with scenes like those on airbrushed T-shirts — a red Camaro blazing, white mustangs galloping on a beach, the Harley-Davidson eagle and emblem.

In the center of the floor, people visit and the inmates pass the time as they rarely do — too quickly.

Marcello Toliver knew he'd have to go away. He had shot and killed a man. In that instant his life changed irrevocably and more grievously than when he was in high school. "That's when I messed up, when I stopped playing football. They gave me a trophy this big," he says, vertically spanning his hands to show 3-feet or more. Back then it was fate and an unsteady step that shattered his leg during a game, finishing him as a cornerback people would remember.

Now, forgotten by the outside world, he sleeps at night, thanks to his mom — the one person who keeps him in mind. He wants a new life because of her. Dreams of opening a barbershop in his Highland Park neighborhood fill his thoughts nearly as often as the regret that still looms large.

But today, his thoughts focus only on his mother and cousins.

"He was an infant the last time I saw him!" he says with disbelief. "He's gotten big, man, he done growed. You got teeth? Let me see those teeth."

Toliver and Jordan hug Marcello around Javel.

Tall, slender and soft-spoken, Marcello, 29, resembles Jordan's brother who was killed. It's the reason Jordan's father couldn't come today.

"He was scared to come because he thought he'd break down," Jordan explains. It's the first time the cousins have seen each other since the tragedy.

"That's tough. That's something to think about," says Marcello. When his mother told him about the shooting, she spared him the details. He wants to hear them now that he's with family.

"He had lost 20 to 30 units of blood. That's like a gallon of milk," tells Jordan. "He was alive at first. The doctors knew he was going to go. The bullet hit a main artery. It was like a dam being clogged by a little rock and all that blood rushing down, down, down."

"It's unbelievable," Marcello responds. "It really hurt me. I just had to maintain. My cousin always looked up to me, like a big brother."

"You know he has a baby on the way," tells Janel.

Marcello shakes his head, tenderly, understanding a twist of fate that is as happy as it is sad.

When Marcello was at the city jail in the receiving unit he prayed he'd be sent to Staunton to serve his time. His brother had been locked up there when he was a kid. He made the trips then with his mother on the bus. "To me it was exciting. We got to see the mountains, just me and her," he remembers. "I never had no thought that I would be incarcerated."

[image-1](Scott Elmquist / Style Weekly)Three-year-old Marcus Burton traveled to Haynesville with his mom, Navasha, to see his uncle, Antoine. He's never met him and today was going to be a surprise. But when they arrived they were told Antoine had been transferred to another facility. This month, Marcello goes up for parole for the seventh time. "I'm not looking for it. When my time comes, I'm coming home. If they give it to me, I'll be grateful for it, but if not, I'm coming home soon anyway," he says. His release date is 2002. Toliver and Jordan want him home sooner. There are boys — Dwight, his nephew, and his little cousin, Javel — who need him. It makes Marcello think of his own son, Aaron, who just turned 12. Sometimes Aaron's mother brings him to Haynesville to visit, but it's been a few months. "I was expecting him today," he says with disappointment. "He might come up here tomorrow.

He was so young when I got incarcerated. I got a lot of time to make up with him, too. He's growing up so fast. He's quiet like me and he looks like me. He talks about what he wants to do when I come home."

In the 10 years Marcello's been in prison, seven of those at Haynesville, he's seen nearly 100 inmates be released. "I try not to watch. We can see them when they get out the gate in the parking lot. I've seen guys go home and then in 30 days come right back to Haynesville. When you leave out of here, you got to walk a real tight line while you're on parole." He's earned his GED and barber license here and says he'll put them to use when he gets out. "I should have no problem getting a job. As long as I have work I'll be OK. I'll go back home to my mom. We got a lot to talk about. We've been separated too long."

Toliver looks away for a moment at hearing her son's plans. They were hers to negotiate when he was small. She looks at him and pats his head. "He had long braids. I used to have to plait it up real tight. I'd have to braid it everyday 'cause it's so thick and straight it would tangle. I'd somehow tie little knots at the end to keep it."

Marcello smiles sheepishly. He knows he's a momma's boy. "My mother's always been there, even if nobody else comes. It uplifts me, maintains me. She's not getting any younger and she needs help. It motivates me to come home and do the right thing."

Most times when Toliver visits her son she can't help looking around at the other families sharing their personal time. "I wonder what's going through their minds, how they feel. I believe in forgiveness. I look at them all in their blue, and it hurts to know they were in their own clothes at one time. It's hard for them when they get out of here. But you got to give it a try. You just got to keep on trying and praying and pushing."

"Last call for picture taking," shouts one of the three officers at the door.

Toliver looks at her watch for the first time. It' s 2:30 p.m. "Get up so ya'll can take your picture," she says to Jordan and Marcello who now are goofing off and making faces at each other. The two cousins stoop and pose in front of the painting of white horses charging the beach.

"OK honey," says Toliver. She hugs and kisses him again - it's the last of her month's share. Marcello and Jordan tease each other like two kids who can't be separated. "We got to go," Toliver urges Jordan. "I'm not missing that bus."

Unexpectedly, Navasha Burton, 29, and her three-year-old son, Marcus, had to spend the entire day waiting on the bus. It's not the first time Burton hasn't been able to visit. Burton's brother Antoine had been transferred to Dillwyn, and she didn't know about it. "This was going to be a surprise visit. He hasn't seen me since before I was pregnant."

The good news is she'll be able to make fewer trips. Her boyfriend, Marcus' father, also is locked up at Dillwyn. Both are in on drug charges. "We're still together, hanging in there," she says.

"I read the newspaper and we took a nap. It's what we did last time. It seems it's always something. Last time [Antoine] was in lockdown."

"My daddy's in jail," Marcus blurts out "And where's that?" asks Navasha.

She waits for a moment then answers, staring into his big brown eyes. "It's a place that helps people who did wrong.

The relationship is hard on Burton. "You get tired of it after a while. They'll tell you different things when they're in. It's about when they come home, if they've changed. If he [weren't] a good guy I don't think I would have stayed in it."

Marcus watches the Batman II tape he brought on the video player overhead. "I'm tired of the writing, the sending money orders, the visits. I can't take the stress and I'm the only one doing it. The only one they can count on."

Her older brother, Charles, 33, is now in a federal prison in Pennsylvania. He was on parole and got caught with a weapon. He ran and tried to get rid of it. He'll be 44 or 45 when he comes home.

"I like the bus trips down. It gives me a chance to get some sleep and just sit. But once you get there and you sit for a while, you run out of things to talk about. If it's a nice visit I feel relieved, glad. If it's a bad visit and somebody gets pissed off, I think, 'geez, I have to do this all over again.' Then I get nervous thinking about the next visit. But most of the time, they're fun visits.

"There are a lot of kids who grow up with their parents locked up and they don't know who they are. I don't want Marcus to be like that."

It's 4 p.m. the sun is breaking through for the first time today.

The ride is smooth, past cornfields, farms and filling stations, and sleep comes easy to most, except Barbara Toliver, who reads a picture book to Javel.

"Yeah, he looks real good, my son. I enjoyed my visit."

Toliver passes Javel back to Jordan who now is awake. She pulls a picture of John Jordan from her pocketbook. It's a picture taken in a park just a month before he died. It's the last one taken of him.

Barbara continues to dig through her purse. Jordan pats Javel's back as he lies in her lap and sings himself to sleep. He's out in five minutes. The sky has cleared since this morning and the gray is gone. The downtown skyline juts above trees and signals to the passengers that they're almost home. "Goodness," says Toliver, surprised. "We got back in Richmond quick."

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