From Maire Martello -
Today I visited Werner Baumgartner in jail.
For those who have not visited Monmouth County Correctional Facilities, it is a dismal scene as you round the curve of Court Street in Freehold and see several low-level buildings buried in chicken wire. The visitors’ parking lot is miniscule (why??) and I ended up parking in the employee section. Luckily, my car was not towed!
I arrived ab out 11:45 to find a long line of people snaked around the entrance to the parking lot of the jail. They were very helpful in explaining the procedure. I chatted for almost 40 minutes with a young woman whose Egyptian boyfriend had overstayed his visa.
It was VERY cold outside the jail and a sad scene with all the women with their babies lined up to talk to their husbands and boyfriends...
Although the visiting hours began at 12:15, we did not enter the building until at least 12:30. Once the line began to move, it went quickly.
I brought only my ID, notes, and keys - as well as a copy of "Food and Wine"! The officer remarked that he was only looking for knives and guns. Once inside the waiting area, an officer asked me who I wanted to see and assigned me a group visitor number. I was part of Group 3. I sat for about 30 minutes reading my magazine and chatting with other visitors while children ran around laughing and crying. [Fr. Maureen- On my visit, Sunday, a woman illustrated the glomming system by explaining how she has to pay more than $50 every time her son winds up in jail, so that he can have just the basics that he needs. He'll have to just do without if he does it again, she told me. Later, after her visit, I saw her crying.]
The jail is pretty decrepit with wide swaths of linoleum completely worn away and worn duct tape holding cracks together. As I sat there I thought, dear God, don't EVER let me be a guest here. There is a glass wall that allows the prisoners to look out at their loved ones and wave. I couldn’t see Werner.
Eventually, the officers called for Group 3 and I entered the visitors' area.
It seems to be a semi-circle of windows with numbers above and round metal apertures through which to talk and listen. (I advise anyone visiting to take - as I did - lots of handiwipes to swab down the window and opening). My only previous notion of jail came from "I Want to Live!" starring Susan Hayward, who always talked to her lawyer on a nice, pretty little Princess phone. So I was taken aback by the rudimentary speaking device. [ Fr. Maureen-it looked to me like a large shower head. To be heard your lips have to be nearly touching it; to hear, you have to crouch down and press your ear to it. There is also a narrow shelf where small children can sit in order to see the prisoner.]
All visitors are allowed 15 minutes to talk with friends and loved ones.
Werner seemed fine although, obviously, sad and very upset about his situation.
He showed me his jail ID, which had his name strangely misspelled. He also had a small pad of paper to make notes. We discussed various messages that I had carried from his friends, and he explained his rights of Due Process. Then he asked if more of his friends and associates will visit or talk by phone. If anyone reading this would like to take a collect call from him, please let me or Maureen know. [You can email us at AsburyRadio@aol.com]
The whole time I was there I kept remembering the Bible injunction to visit people in prison. I am the least religious person I know but for some reason those words kept running through my mind. Please visit him! Maybe it will knock one or two years off of Purgatory.
After the 15 minutes were up, we bade each other goodbye. But as I walked back into the waiting room I turned to wave a final goodbye through the glass wall.
He did not look back.
I challenge anyone visiting a pal in jail not to leave in tears.
former co-host of Asbury Radio on 88.1 FM, WYGG
Friend of Werner Baumgartner