View Full Version : Prison

05-20-2006, 09:06 AM
After searching through this thread, the only topic I see that I might have some additional insight on is prison, particularly from a family perspective. My brother was in prison for 14 years, for 2nd degree murder, and later, for possession of ecstasy with intent to distribute.

I can help with any questions about what prison visitation is like and what it's like having a family member incarcerated--especially someone you're very close to! I also know quite a bit about the prison experience, based on years of conversations with my brother. Drug charges/trials/court processes/sentencing, as well.

For the record (and on a personal note), the ending of our experience has actually been positive enough. If you'd like to know why they don't learn, why the recidivism rates are so high, I have quite a bit of insight. My brother (whom I adore) is also available for me to ask questions, if you need specific answers.


05-20-2006, 11:51 AM
Hi there, Monica. My WIP can use some info on just this subject. Can you tell me what sort of things prisoners request most in care packages from family members, is anything off limits? How about visitation, how long is the typical visit, and how often are visitors allowed?
Anything else you would like to share about the process people go through to have a typical visit, for example, do they check in, go through metal detector, etc. You may email me or vice versa, if you like.

05-20-2006, 01:00 PM
Just a word on that: in 1981, whileon my 6 month Praktikum in the US, I worked on a so-called Prison Ashram Project, based in Cambridge Mass. The project mainly involved teaching Yoga and meditation to prisoners to help them deal with their inner demons and their time in prision, but I specifically handled the book project. We collected donatios of books from the public and received hundreds, no thousands of letters from prisoners al over the US requesting book packages. Some had favourite authors or wanted specific books, and I tried to meet those requests if possible, otherwise I simply sent abundle of books off to them. So one thing I know prisoners want, is books!

05-21-2006, 07:29 PM
Hi there, Monica. My WIP can use some info on just this subject. Can you tell me what sort of things prisoners request most in care packages from family members, is anything off limits? How about visitation, how long is the typical visit, and how often are visitors allowed?
Anything else you would like to share about the process people go through to have a typical visit, for example, do they check in, go through metal detector, etc. You may email me or vice versa, if you like.

Hi! I'll answer the best I can, although the rules do vary. My experience is all in the state of Virginia, and I know it's different in other states.

These days, family members can actually send very little directly to prisoners. Even books usually have to come directly from a publisher or other approved source. They definitely want books and magazines! (I've used Amazon, although it was a very convoluted process--my brother had to pay for it out of his inmate account, with money I sent to him.) Letters and pictures are fine, but usually no Polaroids (and there's a limit on the number of pictures in one envelope).

As far as other items, they always want CD players, CD's, other electronic devices, etc. Everything they receive has to be purchased through the system, and the process is long. They have catalogs of approved vendors they can order from, and the rules change from month to month. For example, an inmate may be able to order a CD player today, but tomorrow it's against the rules--so they may wait six months, a year, or more for one to be on the approved list again. When an inmate owns an item, they hold on to it for dear life, repairing it or rigging it, because they know they may not ever get another one. It's very common for those being released to hand over something like a CD player, small TV, or a book to a buddy--the ultimate gift, I think! :) Some institutions inventory everything the inmate has in their foot locker, though, so if they're caught with something not in their inventory they can "catch a charge."

So what they always want is money orders. They can use this to buy all of those personal items that are allowed, plus extra food (Ramen noodles, snack crackers, peanut butter). Usually the money orders have to be sent in the mail, and takes several days to be credited to their inmate account.

The visitation process varies a lot between prisons, too. Generally they are allowed visits on Saturdays, Sundays, and state holidays. Here's the basic process:

Visitors enter a waiting room-type area, where they sign in and wait for the inmate's name to be called. They usually walk through a metal detector to enter this waiting room.

After the inmate's name is called, visitors have to show a driver's license and fill out another short form. They have to be on an inmate's approved list of visitors. Children don't need to show i.d., but they have to be with their own parents or legal guardians (not grandparents).

Visitors place personal items in some sort of plastic container, like a bowl. This includes their car keys and money. No paper money is allowed (and some places are funny about pennies!) The money is for the vending machines inside. That's all they can bring. No sunglasses unless they are prescription glasses, no wallets, purses, or elaborate keychains. People usually bring their change in a clear plastic bag.

They enter a small room (about the size of a large walk-in closet), usually with a door that closes behind them. The room has diapers and a trashcan inside, and smells like dirty diapers. Women and girls go in with a female C.O. (correctional officer), men and boys with a male. Kids go in with their parents.

Everyone takes off their shoes, and gets patted down. This is a quick patdown; it might take about five seconds. You hold your arms out to the side, and the officer smooths their hands over your midsection (and underneath the breasts, on women) then the legs, really quickly, then checks the bottom of everyone's feet. The C.O. usually wears cheap plastic gloves.

Babies or toddlers in diapers have to get their diapers changed. The parent does this, and they choose a new one from the collection in the room. The C.O. sort of watches this, but doesn't really check the old diaper very closely!

Then everyone puts their shoes back on and goes through the "real" metal detector one at a time. There can't be anything in the pockets of their clothes or jackets, not even a piece of paper. By the way, there's a dress code--no sleeveless shirts, shorts, wraparound skirts, or overly-tight clothing. No white shirts for women that bras can be seen through, and skirts can't be too short. I always carried an extra set of clothes in my trunk, because the rules changed often and different officers have different opinions about what's allowed.

Then you wait for a big door to open. Sometimes you have to go outside to get to the main visitation building, which looks like a school gym. Only one door or sliding gate can be open at one time, so once you go through one, you wait for it to close before the next one will open. There might be two or three gates to go through.

The visitation room is also like a gym on the inside. It's open, and all of the inmates and families sit in the same room. There are plastic tables and chairs set up (usually short tables, so people can't "reach underneath" them). There are usually two or three C.O.'s in the room, sitting at a table. There are vending machines and microwaves, and every prison visiting room smells like burnt popcorn. Sometimes there's a play area for the kids with books and toys.

You usually have to wait when you get in the room for the inmate to get there. They have to come over to visitation and change into a jumpsuit for the visit. (Light blue, orange, or yellow. Different institutions have different colors--kind of like high school!) You're allowed one quick hug and/or kiss when you get there, and when you leave. The rest of the time you eat snacks and try to talk over the noise.

Visitation is about an hour; some places are more strict about the time limit than others. If they're not busy, you might be able to stay for two or three hours.

That's the gist of it! That's a long description, but it isn't really everything. Prison is all about procedures, and the inmates are familiar with every tiny rule. There are certain areas they can walk, bathroom rules, checkin/checkout procedures for them, etc. Sometimes they have to sit facing a certain direction and can't handle the vending machine money.

One thing to note is that it all seems perfectly normal. Everyone soon gets used to the rules, and by the time an inmate gets to a "real" prison, there usually aren't people sitting around crying. (That's for jail, which is a completely different process!)

I'm glad to answer any other questions you have--just let me know!


05-22-2006, 01:00 AM
Thanks, Monica. You rock:).

Was this a maximum security prison? Does the crime determine what type of prison you are put in, or is this just determined by what is available in your state?

Do inmates have computer access?

Also, I'm wondering, someone with a string of petty white collar crimes like check kiting, credit card theft, department store boosting, for example. If they had enough of these types of crimes under their belt, would they be in the same type of prison as your brother?

How much time for a pass to go home do they get for holidays like Christmas?

Sorry to ask so many questions. Google helps, but there's nothing like first-hand perspective.

05-22-2006, 04:48 AM
There are different levels of prisons in Virginia (I, II, and III, I think) depending on the crime. The lowest level isn't much different than what I described, but these are work camps. They are generally for people who don't have much time to serve, and no violent offenses. The highest-security prisons have individual cells for the inmates, whereas my brother (and the major prison population, including murderers, rapists, etc.) are in a dorm-like setting. Bunkbeds all in one large room, much like the small "gym" I described for visitation.

People who commit white-collar crimes certainly could be in a prison like my brother was in, even on the first offense. But maybe Va. doesn't have alternative programs like some other states. As far as I know, at no level are there conjugal visits, or leaving the prison for holidays or any other reason, except the death of an immediate family member. In this case, the inmate would be supervised at all times by a C.O., and would still be required to wear shackles and handcuffs.

I think all of those "weekend passes" and "conjugal visits" are a thing of the past, except in the movies. If you need something like that for your story, you may be able to Google it and find out if there are states that do that. My guess is that there aren't many, just because of the extra work involved for administrative and personnel purposes.

Alien Enigma
05-22-2006, 10:34 AM
I've toured two prisons in one day. One was a juvenile correctional facility. The other was a minimum security prison. I had to walk between the prisoners, while they shouted. It's not a place to be, but I could tell that the inmates ran on intimidation.

I was shown the "hole." A guard just stood there and the inmate had a little box hole. If the prisoner got out of line, they'd pop him on the nose. The juvenile correctional facility had a school. I hear that some adult prisons now offer classes for the inmates.

05-22-2006, 10:46 AM
For the record, in our experience, "The Hole" is just solitary, a cell without other inmates around. Why it's such a punishment, I still really can't understand; but then again, I haven't personally experienced it.

Alien Enigma
05-22-2006, 10:56 AM
Yeah in the particular prison that I toured, there were single cells (the hole) down a long hallway. The prisoners were isolated from each other, and they have to mess up to get in the "hole."

There's not much room to move around in there. They can only come out for a certain period of time a day. If I recall correctly, it was an hour. The prisons that I'm talking about were in rural Arkansas. They had a farm that they could work. It was kind of a weird feeling to pull up and see the armed guard towers.

I just visited, I have no desire to do another sight-seeing venture.

Just to add: The guards that I saw were HUGE. I didn't see any women officers.

05-23-2006, 07:45 AM
A relative of mine works at a pennitentiary in Washington State. The following info. is based on that.

Internet access is not allowed to any prisoner here. But computer access varies depending on a number of things; it varies state to state, sexual offenders do not have access. Federal and state prisons vary as well. Prisoners in maximum security do not have access to computers.

Inmates can take computer classes, but not with access to the internet. Some inmates learn computer programming and may do this work for the prison but are watched closely.

The most common way that a prisoner gets access to the internet is if they earn their way into a job that puts them in the room with the computer. All workers are required to lock their computers and shut them down when someone is for example, assigned to clean their office. But of course, people get lazy or complacent and may leave a trusted inmate alone. This has caused BIG problems as unsupervised time with a computer allows the prisoner to do all kinds of things from searching for porn. to contacting victim's families.

That's about it. More questions? PM me.


05-23-2006, 08:25 AM
I can't thank you guys enough, this is great stuff... Interesting that some prisoners can use computers but not the internet. I was assuming that's how a lot of prisoners communicate with the outside now, and start internet "relationships". But then I suppose such communication would require they get a user account.

I can see an inmate wanting to go to the "hole" if they're an introvert and just want some privacy, as a lot of prisons have dormitory style setups.

Alienenigma, now I can't get the image of a guy being bopped on the nose through a door hole out of my mind LOL... :box: