June 6, 2015 • By Dennis Beaver
“Visiting someone in prison is one of the most important things that family and friends can do and it is also one of the most challenging, testing all our skills in human relations,” observes Sacramento-based Prisoner Rights attorney Paul Comiskey.
“These visits will help us grow as a person and, hopefully, the inmate we are visiting will also. One day, if later released back into the community, these contacts with people who care, will create a safety net.
“But even for those who will never step into daylight beyond the walls, our very presence in these foreboding structures shows the people who run prisons that the person we are visiting has dignity and worth that must be appreciated.
“But, Dennis, none of this will happen unless family and friends understand the very specific and strictly enforced rules about acceptable clothing and the importance of having the right attitude,” Comiskey underscores.
Reveal too much and the wrong colors keep you out
“Denim materials and colors that look like those worn by correctional officers or inmates will not be allowed. If you wear that type of clothing you will be refused admittance and have to start over to get in. If the visitor center is open they may have some used items of clothing off a rack they keep for visitors to wear. The clothes may not fit well and their cleanliness is questionable. So, your day may be off to a bad start,” he warns.
“The other issue for women is modesty, therefore select clothing appropriate for a job interview or church. With a skirt that’s too short or too low-cut a blouse, you will not be allowed to visit. An underwire bra may give you a perfect figure but it may end up in your purse because you cannot make it through the metal detector, and it’s off to the visitor’s center for a replacement.”
You are on a Mission – But Do Not Be Manipulated
“Realize that you may be the most important person to help this inmate make the changes that will enable life in a free society. Most civil rights have been stripped away, but the right to have visitors is one which prisoners still retain.
“Taking off clothes, going through machines, being sniffed by dogs are all part of entering a prison, so please be cooperative and, by all means, have a sense of humor!
“Remember, you are on a mission,” cautions this former Jesuit priest. “Maintain your dignity and do not allow the prison environment to make you feel less of a person.”
“The other side of dignity is to not be manipulated by the person you are visiting to bring in illegal items like drugs or cellphones. That is so stupid.
“You are visiting someone who has shown to be not very good at committing crime and getting away with it. So, do not jeopardize your commitments and responsibilities by making the same bad choices as the person you are visiting.
“Always bear in mind that you are a suspect from the time you pass through the prison door, surrounded by people with police powers. I have felt so sad to see women driven off in handcuffs by the local sheriff with their kids on the way to the Children’s Receiving Home,” Comiskey notes.
Attitude Another Important Part of Your Wardrobe
“Another important part of your wardrobe is attitude. When difficulties arise upon entering a prison, it is important to remain calm, polite and stick to the issues. Try to learn what the problem is–what you might have done wrong — and if you can help to solve it.
“Becoming angry, and yelling at prison staff shifts the entire interaction from dealing with a problem to a personal attack. No one wants to be yelled at! If you want to risk being sent away, then, by all means, yell, scream, use foul language and start calling people names.”
The People Who Work at the Prison are Not Your Enemy
“Visiting times are highly stressful for the prison staff, as their main concern is the safety of everyone. Unexpected things occur which will cause delays, yet, oddly, some visitors think — and act — as if the staff is doing this on purpose. Having this mind set is not productive.
“If there is a problem with a staff member, focus on what happened, and don’t be afraid to apologize. In the event that the two of you cannot resolve the matter, politely ask to speak with a supervisor.
The former Jesuit priest offers this final advice for visitors which is valid no matter where we are:
“People will respond to us the way we treat them. If we expect good, we will generally receive good.”
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.