Anne-Valérie developed a close relationship with Tewhan Butler, incarcerated in Lake Placid, in the northern part of the state of New York. In late April 2017, Tewhan received the visit from Anne-Valérie. He comes back in his cell and writes this.
So to have someone, someone I can call a friend travel such great lengths proves to me at least to this one person I am not dead
The morning of this day I will be awarded a piece of peace, a hint of freedom, and a touch of something outside. There is a friend who has chosen to cross the land to visit with me. We will sit and indulge in some of the world’s most serious conversations, conversing of ways to save the world, which to me is kind of ironic being that I have yet to learn the way to save myself. However, this day is a meaningful one.
Much of society has deemed not only me, but all incarcerated as throw aways, the wretched of the earth. So to have someone, someone I can call a friend travel such great lengths proves to me at least to this one person I am not dead. Anticipating the moment, I rush to the shower, soon the visits will start and I need to be prepared. Not wishing to make her wait for my arrival for I am sure the correctional staff will do that on their own. The scrutiny of the visiting process I don’t know first hand for my visits have always been one with me as the prisoner and not vice versa. However, I have been told by visitors themselves that they are treated as though they have done something wrong. But to a country that prides itself in the number of incarcerated, I imagine that visiting a prisoner is treasonous in their eyes.
Once inside the shower, preparing myself, I wash with the prison’s most expensive soap, wash my dreadlocks with the commissary’s cheapest shampoo, and touch my skin with a Muslim oil blessed by something greater than me. The entire time my mind wanders to what I should say first. Should I shake her hand? Should I offer her a quick embrace? She is a friend and I need this to be known. The only way to display my appreciation outside of words, is the look on my face as I enter the visiting hall. The look speaks on its own, “Thank you!”.
I’m sure this woman has no idea what happens here, or how to even fix it, but she tries. She travels looking for answers, and also attempts to offer a few. For 15 long years I have been holed up in the United States’ most dreadful federal penitentiaries and persons I have known my entire life have done nothing outside of ask questions.
These questions asked from the quiet of their homes for they would dare not enter a place like this, regardless of the relationship we once held. I say “once held” because our relationship has proven to be something of the past. Not because they fail to visit, not because I can’t call their phone, but because their privilege of being free has been a selfish one. Their freedom is the only thing that matters. My incarceration, and the incarceration of over two million men means nothing.
Again, this is why today’s visit is something akin to a godsend. This woman from Paris, France challenges racial segregation, opposes individualism. She fights against social injustice and rages against mass incarceration. Our fight is one in the same. She wants to see me free as she does herself. Finally, I hear my name being called, “Butler, visit!”. I can’t wait.
Read Anne-Valérie’s testimony about her visit to Tewhan Butler.¶
I have to tell her of the injustice, of the cold nights, the lonely days, the high security prisons I've dealt with. The max penitentiaries I've conquered though the system placed me within their clutches to break me
There is so much to discuss. Donald Trump for President, France, new election coming underway, a few laws many prisoners here in the States are waiting to be passed which can possibly release thousands, and of course my arrival here in a new environment (from a penitentiary to a medium security facility).
I grab my identification card, a photo ticket to post a reminder of the freedom awarded. Next, the correction officer with his key opens the door reluctantly, not agreeing mentally or emotionally that a prisoner should be given such “luxuries” as a visit. I suppose the family and community ties needed to prevent the cycle of imprisonment aren’t envisioned.
I begin walking as fast as I can towards the visiting hall.Once at the visiting hall, before entering there is a brief moment where one is to be reminded that he is not free. With the correction officer peering over you, you are instructed to “Strip!”, to remove all your clothing, squat, and cough. A humiliating experience just before your piece of peace can be given. Your visitor, there is no telling what they are experiencing just to be allowed entrance. Treated as if they themselves are in prison.
I was once told that one person in prison incarcerates the entire family. This is a perfect example. Hands roughly caressing their physical bodies as they search for contraband, led through a metal detector, sometimes pulled into another room for a more thorough search. This is said to be random.
I only want to see my visitor. The woman who cares about my freedom as though it were her’s. The door is finally open, and there she is, a friend. She smiles. I smile. Each smile lights up the room though there is darkness everywhere.
For only a second or two persons are allowed to embrace. A brief hug, sometimes a kiss, and though this is not the basis of our visit, we hug as friends and I can feel her fighter spirit. Her heart pumping, my palms sweating, ready to fight we both are. Well, surely we are already fighting. Her, for every man incarcerated in the entire world. Me knowing I am not alone fighting for a cause far greater than me. Following the embrace, I instantly look towards the clock. The visit has just begun and already I am afraid that it might end too soon. I have to tell her of the injustice, of the cold nights, the lonely days, the high security prisons I’ve dealt with. The max penitentiaries I’ve conquered though the system placed me within their clutches to break me. To break my spirit, to make me no longer a man. To make my crime define me and not to make me a better man, human, but a better prisoner because this way if I ever do make it out as a better prisoner I will be sure to return. We talk, we smile, we come close to tears, then the guard yells out, “VISIT OVER !!!!”.