All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

I was in prison and you visited me

Interesting that Jesus used those specific words, as quoted in Matthew 25.  And it’s also interesting that so few prisoners actually receive visits.  Sad, really.  Former Michigan Prison Warden Mary Berghuis insists that only 12% of inmates in our state receive visits!  Yet, to our dismay, it seems that some prison staffers do their best to discourage visitation, and some treat visitors quite shabbily.

I bring up the subject after hearing from my friend Jo, who went to visit her husband last week.  Here are some of her comments:

Went to visit Lee on Black Friday because I figured everyone would be shopping. WRONG. There were so many visitors that they terminated about 10 visits (the first time). They named off those being terminated and gave them 2 minutes to say their goodbyes and throw away all the uneaten food. Then about a half hour later they terminated 4 or 5 more which was the group we were in. Gave us a 5 minute warning which really turned into about 3 minutes and more uneaten food thrown away. We had to stand at the door for 15 minutes before they let us out. Some of the food could have been eaten if we had known we were going to have to stand at the door for so long.  I cannot believe they couldn't have given each person 15 - 20 minutes so they could eat before the termination. There were some very nasty Corrections Officers.

I want to be quick to explain, here, that I have also had excellent treatment by staff at some facilities, and have seen some visitors treated very nicely. 

I can’t stress enough the importance of prison visits.  A study by the Minnesota DOC found that inmates visited in a prison do a better job of staying out once they are released.  The report concluded that, “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.”

I can tell you, from personal experience, that a prison visit is a morale booster.  I see smiles, I hear laughter, I’ve witnessed tears of joy.  I’m convinced that visitation experiences remind these people that there’s more to life than incarceration.

And yet, within many of our prisons, we find staff members who make it difficult for visitors, especially when there are little kids, old people, and handicapped visitors. One might get the feeling that these department employees resent seeing prisoners experiencing happy moments, perhaps thinking that prison punishment should also include isolation and loneliness. 

For what it’s worth, here’s where I am on the subject:  Prison visitation ought to be, 1, an issue of highest priority;  and, 2, a policy of making visitation as pleasant as possible should be department-wide and should be initiated immediately. This could even include workshops and in-service training, and such sessions should include not only prison staff, but also inmates and family members.  We might be amazed at the results!

It may never happen, but it oughtta!


Louise Reichert said...

Sadly, as just a single individual, unrelated to anyone in Michigan's prison system (that I know of), tho' willing to visit others, I can be approved to visit only 1 prisoner within the entire state!

Unknown said...

Doug,. I make the 3 hour drive to WHV Correctional Facility 3 to 4 times a month. There are some wonderful staff there to help you get to see you loved one and there are some horrible staff as well. There is one C.O. that seems to always be rude, aggressive, and takes joy in making you wait. I have been there when he makes you take a number and sit and wait for him to call you up to sign in. He called 8 people up to sign in in 45 mins. And no he was not busy during that time. I have had to wait in the waiting room for as long as 3.5 hours just to go back and see my loved one. On that day I spent 9.5 hours between driving and waiting to get in, that does not leave much time to see a prisoner.