Couple struggles to stay in touch across U.S.-Canada border

Kim waiting for a call from Cody

Kim waiting for a call from Cody, who is incarcerated in a Texas prison. With permission, he can make an international call to Kim for five minutes every 90 days.

What a difference a border makes.

My name is Kim and I live in Ontario, Canada and my husband is incarcerated in Texas. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, for whatever reason, allows inmates with family living outside of the U.S. just one five-minute call every 90 days. But even for that, you need special permission.

Those inmates with family living in the United States are allowed 240 minutes per month which may soon increase to 480 minutes a month. I have to do with five minutes.

Just how much can you cram into a five-minute conversation with a loved one you haven’t heard from in months? If it is the only time you get, you take what you’re given.

I received a call in May at five in the morning. It was a caller I was not expecting to hear—my husband.

“Hey Baby,” he said.

When I heard his voice, I just started to cry. I hadn’t heard his voice in so long that I actually had to ask if it was him.

Those five minutes felt like a few seconds that flew by so fast.

Our conversation amounted to just simple things: How are the girls? How are you? I love you…but after four minutes, I was reminded of the ticking clock.

“Well, we only have one minute left so if there is anything you want to tell me you had better tell me now,” he said.

“I love you,” is all I could say through my tears and crackly voice.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

“Yes, I just miss you.”

“I miss you too and I love you and I’ll call you again in 3 months,” he said.

Unfortunately those were the last words I heard my husband say to me.

Extradited across the border

I met Cody, my 38-year-old husband, two years ago when he came to Canada on vacation. Cody, an American citizen, was a friend of my brother’s who asked to stay at my house for a few days.

We fell in love, but unfortunately trouble was not far off. Because Cody did not report to his probation officer in Texas, the authorities came looking for him and he ended up in a Canadian jail.

At first, I would wake up every Sunday at 6:00 am to drive to the detention centre where he was being held. I waited in line for 2 hours for the 9:00 am visits.

Those visits—separated by glass—lasted about 20 minutes.

Then he was deported from Canada and moved to a New York state prison. At first I had no idea where he was. I finally got a call from him and we talked every day for 15 minutes.

I also drove about 90 minutes to visit him every other weekend. These visits were an hour long and we were allowed to be physically next to each other–no glass separated us. Just the type of visit any spouse hopes for.

But once again, trouble was heading our way. He was extradited to Texas and that is when I found out that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice does not allow calls outside the U.S.

Now he’s 3,000 miles away and I can’t talk to him and I can’t visit because of the distance and the expense.

I promised him that I would not only write every single day but that I would move to Texas. I haven’t missed one day of writing (neither has he) in nearly a year, but it’s a struggle finding a good job so I can move my family to Texas.

Cody has to put in a request to the Warden asking to make a single five-minute call every 90 days. He must have a clean record inside and have made no trouble. He does exactly what is expected of him and more. During his time in TDCJ, he hasn’t even been written up for a minor case. He was recently promoted to trustee level.

Waiting for the next call

I have yet to hear from him after the last call when he told me he’d talk to me again in three months. It turns out that he was moved to a medical unit from where calls are not allowed at all.

Cody has a herniated disc in his neck and he has lost the use of this right arm and hand yet he still manages to write every day. He will, no doubt, need surgery and I can’t even talk to him about it. That makes things all the more difficult for me.

Once he is transferred to a new unit, in all likelihood, we will have to wait another 90 days to see if that unit’s warden will let him call home.  There are no guarantees.

Five minutes may seem like nothing to most people, but I would give anything to get a precious five minute call every 3 months just to hear my husband tell me that he loves me and that he’s okay.

(Kim, 42, is the mother of two daughters struggling to stay in touch with her husband.)

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About Sandeep Junnarkar

Sandeep Junnarkar is the founder and editorial director of Family Lives Behind Bars.