Visiting Prison from the Outside and Inside as a Visitor and Inmate
Prison Perspective as a Visitor
I went to visit a friend of mine in prison. I am a white guy and visited a black friend at a prison. It was weird because it seemed that the guards had a problem with a white guy visiting a black friend. So this was my first experience as a prison visitor (from the outside).
I went to visit my friend about six times, and every time I’d visit he would look really bulked up, or really gaunt with his eyes sunk into their sockets with dark circles. There was no medium; he either looked like an alpha male or like he was dying. It was the same for the other inmates I saw.
I found out that he was incarcerated when I tried to reach him. I had tried calling him for several days and finally his sister answered and told me he’s locked up. I wanted to visit him so I had to go to the jail, show ID, and pick up a form. I filled out the form, brought it back and had to wait two weeks before I could schedule a visit to see him in the State Prison. I had to keep calling the prison to find out when I could visit.
I knew other people who had been incarcerated and he prepared me for the visit, so I knew what to expect:
- Couldn’t wear orange, red or blue
- No bandannas
- Pants couldn’t sag
- If visible gang tattoos I would not be able to visit
When I showed up to visit I had to wait about 10-15 minutes. They searched me and told me that if I’m smuggling anything they’d arrest me. They did take pictures of my tattoos. I had to go through a metal detector and then went in.
There was a camera at the door to record everyone coming in and out, including the bathroom. No physical contact was allowed. This was before I went to prison so a lot of the stuff didn’t make sense to me at the time.
The visiting area had a couple of vending machines. It looked like a corporate break room, but not as nice. This area was for single visitors and they had a separate visiting area for families. This room could fit about 15 people and we could sit wherever we wanted to. They also had a commissary. I could bring money in, but had to leave my keys in a locker. We bought some beef jerky. We chatted and he asked about people on the outside. He expressed to me that he was depressed because he knew that he wasn’t getting out considering what he did, and I had to agree.
It was hard to visit him. It would be one thing if he was looking at 3-5 years, but we knew that he had life with no possibility of parole.
The Golden Rule is don’t expect anything and you won’t be disappointed. You’ve got to remember you can’t take it personal how the guards treat you. A lot of guards get off being mean and others are there just to do their job. You can’t hold it against them and can’t take it personal.
I did see them arrest a lady for trying to smuggle drugs in during one of my visits. They can arrest visitors for any kind of contraband.
What I did learn from visiting and being on the inside myself is empathy. I was brought up a spoiled rich kid and it made me appreciate my life so much more.
If you have a loved one in prison you have two choices. You can either do their sentence with them and let it follow you every day, or you can live your life. Just think about it: does your loved one want you to suffer or does he want you to live your life?
There’s one thing I can tell you for sure is that it’s easier to visit someone in prison than to go to prison.
Prison Perspective as an Inmate
I was incarcerated for a long time; long enough to disrupt my life and sidetrack me from my career.
When I was arrested I was put in a holding cell to get processed. They fingerprinted me and took picture mugshots and pictures of my tattoos. They ask a multitude of questions, i.e sexual preference, are you HIV or other, suicidal, have you ever had sexual assault, fear gangs, any fears, Diabetes, heart murmur, any meds, psychiatric disorders? Anything you can think of they ask you. If they determine further investigation then they may bring a doctor in.
During processing I had to give a list of names for visiting and calling, and their relation to me. There were certain rules and I could only list immediate family and then after a certain amount of time I could add cousins and friends. Then I called my family collect and told them what they could bring and information about visiting. They had to fill out paperwork. I could see them in about a week.
Inmates were provided toilet paper, toothbrush, toothpaste, bar of soap, wash rag, and a thin grey itchy blanket. They didn’t have any hair rules. If we wanted a shave we had to put in a request and they’d take us one at a time and provide a safety razor. They’d watch us shave and then we had to give the razor back when done. They had male and female guards. Count was before breakfast at 5:30am then we had breakfast at 6am. Next count was at 11am followed by lunch. Then there was nothing to do until count at 5pm followed by dinner. Final count was at 10pm and then lights were out. Sheer boredom was the worst. We would be lucky if we could get something to read.
It was a bare bones prison. When they would take us out for exercise it was to a room with very little natural light. You could walk around, but nothing else. There were no weights, basketball or anything like that.
Fights were common over food and personal space. There was a guy that was in for aggravated assault and someone started a rumor that he was a child molester, so they had to move him. I was in the main area with about 70 guys. They had two tv’s up on the wall where you couldn’t reach them. The main area was a two-story room with a 40’ceiling. They had chairs bolted to the floor and tables to play cards and things like that. There was no storage for your stuff; everything had to put on your bed.
I think I lost 20lbs when I was in prison. The food was so terrible that I didn’t eat a lot of the meals. A chaplain came about once a week and would sit there and be there if someone wanted to talk to him.
My wife wasn’t working so I didn’t ask for money. Every so often she would put $10 or $20 on my account, and I didn’t know when the next money was coming. She only brought my 13-year old one time and I asked her not to bring any of the kids anymore (she never brought the younger ones). If they were going to see me I wanted them to see me out and not in an orange jumpsuit.
The visiting area was a series of booths with phones and glass between them, so it was all through video. This was the whole time I was there; there were no physical visits. I had visitors a couple of times a month as it wasn’t too far from where everyone lived. They had an electronic kiosk and they could put money on my commissary account. Visits could only be for 20 minutes. For collect calls I could only speak for 10 minutes.
When I was getting released it was weird. They came in one day and called me and said “get your stuff you’re out of here”. They checked to make sure I didn’t have any warrants. They gave me a business card of a probation officer and I had to call him within 24 hours and get drug tested 3x/week for a year at random times. I saw the probation officer a few times a month.
They let me call my wife to pick me up. I had to sit on the curb outside until she came. The first thing I did was smoke a cigarette and ate a good meal when I got out.
I thought my family would be as calloused as I was but had to realize life went on for them; they weren’t the ones on the inside.
When I got out and got off probation and everything I started drinking again and ended up being homeless. Then I went to rehab and I remember a lot of guys in rehab saying they won’t let us do this or that and I thought, they should try jail.
When you are incarcerated stick with your own race, respect other peoples’ stuff, don’t touch their stuff, don’t get into debt, if they offer you something don’t take it. There’s always a price tag.
Just because you make a mistake (9-10 times alcohol related) the system is created to dehumanize you when you are doing your time. All these people that have never experienced the legal system and say let them rot in there don’t understand how terrible it is.
Remember that you’re still a person and that the laws are made by people who are out of touch with reality and that even something as simple and minor as smoking a joint can land you in a lot of trouble depending where you are. Just because you’ve been incarcerated doesn’t mean that you are less than anyone else. People who have not been incarcerated like to talk about people who have been.
I saw how far removed the law makers are from real people. Especially making laws like mandatory minimums: do they think of what it does to the person and their families and their children? I believe there’s a huge disconnect between people who make the law and those who serve the time.