If it’s going to be your first or twenty-first time visiting your loved one in prison, this podcast has helpful information for visiting prison that can make your visits easier.
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What’s it’s like to visit your loved one
Today I want to talk about what it’s like going to visit your loved in prison and provide helpful information for visiting prison. Remember, there’s going to be a lot of things that you need to do to prepare for your visit: you need to know what you can wear, sometimes there’s certain colors that aren’t allowed in the prison, you can’t wear the same colors as the uniforms that the inmates are wearing, sometimes there’s restrictions on footwear. Some places don’t allow sandals, some don’t allow short shorts, some don’t allow tank tops. So just know what you can wear before you go and also know how much money you can bring and what you can bring.
Once you get there, there may be a locker for you to lock up things that you can’t bring into the visiting area such as your medications, but those are all things that you need to go to the website of the facility that you are visiting and read the rules and know the rules before you get there. It’s really important that you have all the approvals and you’ve filled out all of the forms and that you’ve been given the approval to visit so that when you do get there the guards will have everything they need to let you in.
Jail vs. Prison
If you haven’t been to a prison before I think this will be really helpful. The type of facility that you will visit after your loved one has been arrested will typically be a jail. It’s good to know the difference between the jail and the prison. When someone gets arrested they are brought to the local jail and if they get a short sentence then they may keep them in the city or county jail to serve their sentence. Once your loved one has been sentenced and if it is for a longer period of time they will probably be sent to a prison, depending on whether it’s state or federal will determine which facility they’d be going to. So we’ll be talking more about visiting both initially in the jail and then the prison in this podcast.
Spend your time wisely and remember somebody is listening, so don’t say anything that could incriminate yourself or your loved one. Always be respectful to the guards because remember, they can let you stay or they can escort you out or they can keep you from visiting again.
So when you go to visit your loved one in the jail, it’s a local facility where hopefully you’ll be able to park pretty close (sometimes it’s not in the best part of town) just be aware that when you go inside you typically have to go through a metal detector, provide your ID, and let them know who you are going to see. Once you get in, they’ll have you wait in a waiting area and then when it’s time they’ll bring you in and you’ll get to see your loved one, but that’s about all you’ll be able to do – you’ll be able to see them. They’ll tell you where to sit and there will be a phone and a glass divider so your loved one will need to pick up the phone so you can speak to each other. You’ll need to pick up the phone, too. You’ve probably seen these in a lot of the movies about jails where people are talking to each other, each is holding a phone looking through a glass. Well this is what it is typically like in the jail when you go to visit your loved one.
Sometimes there is a limitation of how long you can talk, but they should let you know that before you start. Spend your time wisely and remember somebody is listening, so don’t say anything that could incriminate yourself or your loved one . Always be respectful to the guards because remember, they can let you stay or they can escort you out or they can keep you from visiting again.
Once your loved one is sentenced in a state or federal facility it will be a little different. What you’ll have to do is wait for your loved one to contact you and provide you with a form that you need to fill out and submit that has all of your information on it. Once you submit the form you’ll have to wait to be approved, and then once approved you can find out when visiting hours are and the days that you can visit your loved one. The first time you visit a state or federal facility it can be a little scary. The drive is usually down a long road in a rural area or out of the way area and as you get closer you’ll see the fence and the barbed wire and the tower. When you get there park your car, make sure you lock your doors, and head towards the, I want to say visiting area, but there is usually a guard area and typically they’ll be a line there when you get there, depending on the time.
If you get there before visiting hours start you’ll be waiting in line with other people, and it’s ok to talk to the people there. When it’s your turn the guard will call you up, you’ll show your ID, and if you haven’t been there before they might have some identification of things they need to set up: could be fingerprinting, could be one of those hand scanners, there’s different things. Once you get through that part, you’ll go through a metal detector. Then a guard of the same sex (as you) will take you into a room to frisk you, and they do this for everybody. It’s not as bad now because people are used to traveling and going through TSA and getting frisked, but before that happened it was very different. They typically make you take your shoes off and they feel the back of your feet to make sure there’s nothing in your shoes, they’ll shake your shoes out, they’ll frisk you, your legs and parts of your body to make sure you’re not carrying anything. For women they’ll typically make you pull your bra out to make sure that you don’t have anything in your bra, and if you have your hair up in a barrette or rubber band they’ll make you take your hair down and shake it to make sure you don’t have anything in your hair.
When they take you through the door be prepared for a loud clank…it’s kind of scary because once they close it, there’s no getting out – you are in the prison.
Once you get through that, they’ll take you through a door, and if you’ve never been in a prison just be prepared for a loud CLANK, it’s kind of scary because once they close it there’s no getting out – you are in the prison. They’ll bring you into a visiting area and typically you’ll get there before your loved one. The guard will escort you in, and sometimes there’s assigned seating. There’s usually vending machines, so at this time if you wanted to get yourself something to drink or some snacks you could do that while you’re waiting for your loved one. Sometimes they have games and cards and toys out there. So if you are bringing a child with you, you may want to grab some toys, or grab some cards so that when you do see your loved one if you wanted to play cards to pass the time you could do that.
If you’ve brought money make sure to make some purchases from the vending machines as soon as you get there so they don’t run out.
Sitting with your loved one
Once your loved one gets there, typically you can hug and kiss your loved one and then sit down. Some places let you sit next to your loved one, in some you have to sit across from each other, some let you hold hands, some let you have your arms around each other, some let children sit on laps of the inmate, some don’t. So just make sure that you know what’s allowed there because the worst thing that could be happen is that they escort you out because of indecent or what they consider being indecent.
The time you spend with your loved one can be very enjoyable, you can get things to eat from the vending machines, if you have cards you can play cards, if they let you outside you can walk around outside. Remember that you are in the fenced in, barbed-wire area, but still it’s nice to walk outside. Sometimes they let you hold hands walking around, so there’s a lot of things you can do during the time that you are with your loved one.
Things to talk about
Sometimes you may feel a little guilty talking about some of the fun things that you’ve done, but your loved one does want you to enjoy life and be happy on the outside. So make sure you tell them things that will make them happy, nothing really that will make them worry, but share things with them because they need to know what’s going on, on the outside. Remember that where they are living is very structured, it’s almost like being in the army where they’re told when to go to sleep, when to get up, when to eat. So hearing what life is like on the outside is, I think, very helpful.
Another thing that you could experience when you’re visiting your loved one is called The Count. They have count at certain times during the day. When they have the count the guard will announce “Count” and all the inmates will line up in a certain area. You can’t talk to them while they are doing that. When they are done with the count they can come back and sit down with you. While you’re in the waiting room they typically discourage visitors speaking with other visitors or visitors speaking with other inmates. So it’s best just to keep to yourself and to spend time with your loved one.
When you are there, depending on how long it is, you’ll probably need to use the restroom. Those are typically locked so you’ll need to let the guard know when you need to go. They’d unlock it, one person at a time typically in the bathroom, so nobody else will be in there and that way they’re not worried about you guys passing anything to somebody else. So if the inmate needs to use the restroom it’s a little bit different. They might be gone a while because unfortunately when they go they have to go back into a locked area. So a lot of times they won’t go while they’re visiting, however if they do, it could be a while.
A lot of the facilities have picture taking, so you can go ahead and order a picture and typically one of the inmates is there to take pictures with a Polaroid camera. So they’ll announce pictures, and you get in line and get your picture taken with your loved one and before you leave you can take your pictures with you.
Spending time with your loved one and leaving after the visit
There is also typically a commissary where you can buy different foods that your loved one won’t get while they’re on the inside. So it’s a real treat when you can do that and if they have an open commissary.
So along with spending time with your loved one, walking around, and playing games if they have those available, you know it’s an opportunity for them to have different food than what they’re used to and that’s a real treat for them.
When it’s time to leave you can give them another hug and a kiss and that’s typically the hardest part because you know where they are going and you don’t know when you’re going to see them again, so just keep a stiff upper lip, say your goodbyes, tell them you love them, and you’ll be together soon. Hopefully everything will work out. You just have to keep a positive attitude and just think of the time that you’ll be together on the outside.
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