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What Can You Expect When You Visit a Prison?

Visiting a prison doesn’t have to be complicated if you have the right information.

Life is messy. Sometimes people make terrible mistakes and end up in prison serving a sentence. Sometimes those people are our very own loved ones. Nobody expects them to serve a prison sentence when they are young and idealistic, but sometimes their life circumstances and/or life choices lead them to spend months or years in a prison. Often times receiving a visitor is a very happy occasion for an inmate and one which can help lift their spirits and allow them to continue forward. There are a few things you should know before you try to visit an inmate:

Understand the System: When someone enters prison, they no longer have certain rights. They are under the control of the prison system itself. It’s the system that decides when and if a prisoner can even have visitors. Depending on the behavior of the inmate, the conditions under which the person was incarcerated and even the type of prison will determine whether or not they can have visitors. It’s important to find out how the specific prison you want to visit is set up and the status of the inmate you want to visit. Many prisons have websites where you can read the specific rules, but others are not so technologically advanced so you will need to call them.

Find Out the Specifics: Each prison has specific rules and guidelines that visitors must follow. There are also designated days and times for visitors as well. Even though you might really want to take the person you are visiting that nice chocolate cake you just baked, there are very few items you can bring into the prison and everything is subjected to a search. If you try and bring a contraband item, your visitation rights will be terminated permanently. Taking the time to be aware of the rules before you go will save you some unpleasantness once you arrive.

Get on the List: Most prisons only allow you to visit if you are on a list of approved visitors for that specific inmate. Usually the prisoner will make a list upon arrival to the prison or even before. The list will usually include family members, friends, attorneys and clergy members. If you are not on the approved list, you must contact the prisoner and ask him/her to have you added to the list. If you have been previously convicted of a felony, you will not, in most cases, be allowed to visit.

Prepare Emotionally: Visiting a prison can be an overwhelming experience for anyone, let alone a family member of someone who is incarcerated. If you have never had any experience with a jail or prison, you may want to take some time to prepare emotionally in order to avoid a breakdown once inside. Arrive early and sit in the parking lot for a few minutes in order to take it all in. Take some deep breaths and concentrate on why you are there. This will help you to spend your time talking with the prisoner instead of making them console you because you’re bawling.

Visits Can Be Beneficial: Receiving visitors in prison is helpful for many reasons. It shows the convicts that there is a continuing safety net of support so that, when they are released, there are people in the community already in place to assist them. Visits help combat loneliness and can help them remain connected to the people they love on the outside. Sometimes receiving a visitor is the highlight of the week for the prisoner and (s)he may depend on those visits to help him/her get through each week. Children are allowed only under certain circumstances, but only take children if you think it would be beneficial to the child and not just the inmate.

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