In Mid-December 2023, Charles Glass, the esteemed writer, journalist, broadcaster, and publisher visited with Julian Assange, an inmate at Belmarsh Prison in the U.K. Assange has been confined there since April, 2019. He is awaiting his final appeal to quash U.S. efforts to extradite him to face some of the same Espionage Act charges I was confronted with. Glass chronicles the visit in a recent piece in The Nation. His account took me right back to prison. Glass’s visit with Assange could have been a visit with me.
I fondly remember Charles Glass. He wrote to me while I was in FCI Englewood, the prison I was bound in after being convicted of violating the Espionage Act in 2015. He and others sent me a few of his books, notably Americans in Paris and Tribes with Flags. I was extremely grateful for such support. I had read them before, but reading from prison allows a different perspective, even on paths previously traveled. My prison eyes were reading them for the first time. In some ways, his visit with Assange was a similar overture of support for me and my experience in prison.
I make no attempts to compare myself to Julian Assange, but I know what he is going through and what he is facing. Glass’s statement that Assange’s “…days are all the same: the confined space, the loneliness, the books, the memories, the hope that his lawyers’ appeal against extradition and life imprisonment in the United States will succeed” also applied to me. But, what was particularly profound for me was reading about Glass’s experience as a visitor to someone confined to prison. For me, time with a visitor was a highly-desired oasis in the never-ending desert that is prison. It was the one time I could have a more substantial connection with the world outside the prison walls. Email and letters were always appreciated, but nothing could replace actual contact, or at least being in the same room as a loved one or supporter. The value of having a visitor cannot be understated, the other days fighting against the droll, oppression, and monotony of prison were all endured for the singular experience of a visit. I imagine that Assange has had the same longing anticipation of an upcoming visit, the one time in prison when you can be reminded that you are still alive, still human.
Glass deftly characterizes the prison where Assange is being held as “bleak,” and “inhumane.” I realized the same descriptors apply to the experience visitors must face. Visitors and inmates alike go through an emotional and offensive gauntlet just for the privilege of a visit in prison. For me, it was a painful and desired rollercoaster of emotions with the high of the visit and the low of the eventual parting at the end of it. It was always a struggle to resist having the visit tainted by the dehumanizing strip searches I had to endure before and after each visit. It was difficult to truly understand that my visitor went through a similar hell. Glass’s visit with Assange re-informed me of the other side of prison visit.