Matt had a bad day yesterday.
It’s getting more and more difficult to accept invitations to be a prisoner’s representative at a Parole Board hearing. With a case file now exceeding 1,000, we can’t be at the side of a every prisoner who asks. But Rick’s case was exceptional. He’s facing a serious diagnosis of cancer, and the aggressive treatment that he needs probably won’t come in the prison system. So Matt, Executive Director of HFP, agreed to be in Jackson yesterday to sit at his side during for the important interview with a member of the Parole Board.
Matt never got in.
He and I have done numerous Parole Board interviews in the past without problems, and without LEIN clearance. But this time the officer at the desk insisted that, because Matt’s name had not been cleared by the Law Enforcement Information Network, he would not be allowed to participate in the meeting.
Keep in mind that Jackson isn’t next door. Our office is in Grand Haven, which makes it a two-and-a-half hour drive. If we had known, even hours ahead of time, we might have been able to work through this problem by making some calls with the department hierarchy. But the system is large and cumbersome, and it wasn’t going to happen yesterday.
Rejection at the gates of the prison is not an uncommon thing.
I was at a facility once where an old, black preacher came to visit his son. He was no longer in good health, so someone else drove him on the long trip to prison. When he got to the desk, he realized that he had left his driver’s license home, so he had no official picture ID. Never mind that he had all kinds of other identification, and that the officers knew him because he was a regular there. Rules are rules, and the old man was sent home.
A contentious Corrections Officer may decide that the jeans of a female visitor are too tight, so she may not enter. Never mind that another girl got in with slacks so tight they looked like they were painted on. Rules are rules, and she is sent home.
What we’re forgetting in this entire discussion, as usual, is the prisoner. We’re complaining about all the visitation problems, but we’re ignoring the heartbreak of the inmate. Rick was planning to have Matt at his side, and for all he knew, Matt either forgot or just decided that Rick’s case wasn’t important enough to merit the mileage and time spent. The African American inmate undoubtedly wondered why his elderly father didn’t pay him his regular visit, and worried about his health and welfare. One of the bright spots for a young prisoner was his visit by a girlfriend. She didn’t show up.
Personal contact means a lot! Based on both statistic and anecdotal evidence, visitation can be the difference between continuing a cycle of re-offending or finding hope to start a new life, according to experts and research.
Yes, studies have shown that prison visits are important.
Story after story about disastrous visits show that the prisoner is not.