Visiting a prison is an experience; count yourself blessed if you have never done so. For…if you have…it is likely because someone very dear to you is there. That makes it difficult, to say the least. I try to visit my son twice a year, but sometimes it is longer than that between visits. I was fortunate to be able to see him recently for a weekend and wanted to share what it was like.
Visiting hours at his prison are from 9 AM to 3 PM on Saturday and Sunday. I arrived the day before and secured lodging. Visitors are taken on a first come first served basis. The people start lining up just off prison property before 6 AM. I got there at 6:30 AM and was the 11th car in line. Cars continued to arrive and a long caravan was formed. At 7:30 AM the cars began to enter the complex and find parking.
There is a covered area with benches on each side with seating for about 40 people. Within fifteen minutes all the seats were taken and there were at least an additional 40 people standing around.
Let me backtrack for a moment and mention all the rules involved in entering a prison. There is a dress code that you can read online. The purpose is to not dress in any manner that would cause the inmates to “struggle”. That means the rules primarily apply to women. When I dressed that day I put great thought into my attire so that I would not be refused entry. Now, I’m an elderly woman so modesty is natural for me; I was dressed extremely modest. However, I wanted my son to know that I consider it a privilege to visit with him so I was dressed nicely. Kind of “business professional”.
At 8:30 AM an officer comes to the gate and yells, “first five”. The first five people in line go inside. You have to go through a metal detector, empty your pockets, take off jewelry, kind of like security at the airport. It takes 10 to 20 minutes for each group of five to go through the initial security. You have to show ID and punch in a number that you were given the first time you visited and then press your hand print into a machine. This generates a computer print out with a photo of you and the inmate you have been approved to visit.
I was in the second group of five. As soon as I entered the first room to go through initial security the guard said I could not come in wearing what I had on. The objection was to the shirt and sweater I was wearing. The sweater was extremely light weight and you could see my arms through it. Now, understand, you can wear very short sleeved stuff, as long as there is a cap sleeve it is approved. But apparently seeing an arm through a loosely crocheted sweater is too sexy! The officer told me there was a Dollar General some miles away where I could purchase something appropriate.
I left the entrance and returned to the area where the other visitors were waiting on the benches. I was crushed. I rarely get to visit my son and now I will lose at least an hour while driving to buy something else to wear. When I got outside people asked me what happened. I was almost in tears and explained my blouse and sweater were not approved. Now my car was parked some distance away and the thought came to me….I just asked to the group, “Does anyone have a shirt I could borrow?”
One lady jumped up from the bench and said she had something in her car that would probably work. We both ran out to the parking lot and she pulled out a long sleeved white t-shirt. I was worried because white is almost always rejected as the prison feels that you can see a bra strap or something through white so I continued to be anxious. I put it on (sitting in the car in the parking lot). I was worried they would not approve this so I took my crocheted sweater and put it on top of the long sleeved shirt.
The others waiting were kind enough to allow me in with the next five people. The officer looked at me and said, “I told you that you cannot wear that sweater because you can see through it.” I was stunned….what you could see were the sleeves of the shirt! I asked him if the shirt was alright and he said yes but the sweater had to go. I stepped outside and the group waiting groaned in unison. I explained that I couldn’t wear the sweater. One woman reached for it; I took it off and tossed it to her. (I would have lost ten minutes more taking it to my car.) I hurried back inside again as I did not have to go out the gate this time. The officer said, “What did you do with it?” I said I gave it to a person waiting. He said, “You have to get rid of it, it is contraband.”
By this time I am ready to collapse with anxiety. All I want to do is have this day with my son. I am not a rule breaker and try very hard to do what is right. I exited the building again. I took the sweater from the woman and threw it in the garbage outside the building. When I entered the building again the officer asked me what I did with it and I told him I threw it away. Now he is really upset! He said, “I told you that is contraband”. “You left it where an inmate could get it when he empties the garbage!” “Take it to your car.”
Now I am crying. I left yet again and opened the garbage (which is outside the prison by the way), took my sweater to my car and returned. Again the group waiting were kind enough to let me go in with the next group. My heart was pounding and it was all I could do not to cry. All I could think about was having driven over 1300 miles to visit with my son and every minute of this foolishness is subtracted from my time with him.
I made it through initial security. Then you meet with another officer who writes down what jewelry you are wearing and glasses you have with you. Then you go to a private room to be “frisked” by a female guard. There were 3 other woman in this room with me. Of course they had all seen what I had gone through. One lovely woman looked at me and began to pray that Jesus would give me peace and that I would have an amazing visit with my son.
And I did have an amazing visit! To hug him and be hugged back! To plan for the future and give thanks for today! Michael went to the lady who gave me the shirt and thanked her. Later he went to the woman who prayed with me and thanked her.
The visiting park began to fill up. At about 11:30 AM the guards began to call off the names of the first visitors who arrived and they had to leave to make room for others who were waiting outside! Over 15 visitors had to leave before noon that day. If I had gotten in with the first 3 groups I would have been ordered to leave early as well. Someone was watching out over me that day! God knew how much that visit meant to both me and my son and He allowed us to have that day and the next together.
I don’t know the two ladies who assisted me or if they will ever read this. But I do pray blessings on them and their loved ones. The world, even the prison world, is full of remarkable people.