I have a friend with a son in prison. About once a year he visits his son. Since the prison is in Arizona and my friend lives here on the East Coast, visiting isn't easy. He's told me the planning, the expense, the long day spent flying there and longer day flying back are the least of it. The moment that's not easy, that's impossible, he said, is after three days six hours each of visiting are over and he passes through the sliding gate of the steel-fenced outdoor holding pen between the prison-visitation compound and visitors' parking lot and steps onto the asphalt that squirms beneath your feet, oozing hot like it just might bum through your shoe sales before you reach the rental car and fling open its doors and blast the air conditioner so the car's interior won't fry your skin, it's then, he said, taking his first steps away from the prison, first steps back into he world, when he almost comes apart, almost loses it completely out there in the desert, emptiness stretching as far as the eye can see, very far usually, ahead to a horizon ironed flat by the weight of blue sky, zigzag mountain peaks to the right and left, marking the edges of the earth, nothing moving but hot air wiggling above the highway, the scrub brush and sand, then, for an unending instant, it's very hard to be alive, he says, and he thinks he doesn't want to live a minute longer and would not make it to the car, the airport, back to this city, if he didn't pause and remind himself it's worse, far worse for the son behind him still trapped inside the prison, so for the son's sake he manages a first step away, then another and another. In these faltering moments he must prepare himself for the turnaround, the jarring transition into a world where he has no access to his son except for rare ten-minute phone calls, a blighted world he must make sense of again, beginning with the first step away and back through the boiling cauldron of parking lot, first step of the trip that will return him in a year to the desert prison.
breathtaking opening paragraph
question: why frame it as something told to him? what does that add?