Chapter 1The Visiting Room

Loneliness gnaws at the essence of who we were. The hunger for connection with the outside world is what, in the end, turns us callous, creating delusions that we are better off lonely.

—Abraham Macias,* Pelican Bay Prison

When my parents and I visit Cook County Jail for the first time in February 2009, it is a Saturday and the place is jam-packed. We squeeze into the slow-snaking security line, which curves around several ropes and bumps up against the doorway. Some visitors stare at their feet, hands stuffed in their pockets, trudging forward every few minutes when the line loosens. Others shout to their children to stay within the roped boundaries, fearing that they’ll be booted out for causing a disturbance. A thin, ...

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