A Visit to Prison

Posted: February 6, 2012 by Ed Griffin in Prison
Tags: , , , , ,

A guest blogger

J. Willmott


prisonVisiting someone in prison is not an ordinary experience.  My husband and I drive two hours to see our nephew, who is in prison for life without parole. As prisoners are de- humanized, so are those who visit prisoners.

I nod my head hello to other visitors, but speak to no one, because eye contact is brief and projects the shame we all feel.

We are vetted by a tired looking often-dour guard who slowly looks up our prisoner and gives us a piece of paper that states the time when we may enter.  Another guard, equally as grim, puts us through security and will use a wand if he/she is not satisfied with what the machine has to say.  I have learned not to wear any jewelry, anything metal and have exactly .50 cents for the locker for my purse, coat, and car keys. We may use a credit card to put money on a vending card before we are processed into the prison.

I find myself smiling politely at the guards, as they indicate that it is they who now hold my life in their hands. “Why am prison wireI smiling?” I say to myself. “This is the most forbidding place on earth.” I tell myself they have a tough job, are human beings, and other little platitudes –just to get by.

We are accompanied by a guard, through what I like to call “the vapor barrier” to the visitor rooms. Again we must talk with a guard who assigns us a pod of 3-4 plastic garden chairs and told we can have one physical contact with the prisoner at the beginning of the visit and one at the end. The room is large with vending machines at one end.  I suppose the expectation is that we buy our prisoner prison visiting roomreal food for a treat.   …From a vending machine!!!  Please….!

My husband is a quiet person and I find myself doing most of the talking.  What do you say to someone who is there for life without parole?  Bereft of greeting jargon!  Don’t want to say anything like: “How’s life treating you!”  I already know the answer from the way we have been treated.

“How are you?” I guess is the best.  The visit usually turns pleasant with talk of family and events on the outside, a visit to the vending machines and then a goodbye hug. The nicest part of the experience is watching a trustee sitting with a couple children on little chairs reading aloud from a picture book. When we exit the prison, the air is different—“it’s free air.”

With all of the difficulties getting in and out of prison as a visitor, I wouldn’t change the fact that we visit when we can.  Our goal is to see and talk with our prisoner, a person dear to us and a person living under a sentence for as long as his life lasts.  It is just the reality of it!


Images courtesy of:

  • archive.itvs.org
  • prisonersfamiliesvoices.blogspot.com
  • guardian.co.uk


  1. Joanne Kehayas says:

    Visiting a prison can be very difficult. It can be made even more difficult for those whom correctional officials prefer did not visit, either because officials do not like the visitor or because they do not like the prisoner they are visiting. In such cases, things can be made extremently difficult for the visitor.

    Nevertheless, visits are so important to the prisoner, even when they say they don’t want them, that it is worth the hassle and discomfort and whatever else it takes to continue visiting.

    At the institution where I visit, there are usually not many visitors, as most have been discouraged by the treatment they receive as a visitor. I continue to go, however, and I am happy to read that you do too!

    • Ed Griffin says:

      Thank you, Joanne. Yes, it is important to visit the people in prison. It reminds them, most of them, that there is a world beyond the prison walls. Many of the men and women in prison will one day get out and stand behind us in line at the supermarket. We want to be sure that they are good citizens

  2. Visiting a prisoner in gaol can be very difficult. Even if the guards, etc. are pleasant, it’s still difficult emotionally. I remember visiting a friend who was in for murder in Grafton gaol. We drove for 4 hours to get there, had an hour with him, and drove for 4 hours back – no money to stay overnight or anything like that. He was in good spirits and the guards there were not unwelcoming. The one consolation I had was that he was an 8th dan black belt, I knew he’d come to no physical harm in there.

    • Ed Griffin says:

      That’s a record, Danielle, for time spent going to visit a prison. Nine hours in total. I don’t know about Australia, but in North America prisons are usually located in rural areas, far from the families of the inmates. Most of them come from the big cities. What is the reason for this?
      I remember seeing a woman in the gatehouse of a prison. She sat straight up, her head back against a window. I had never seen someone so tired looking.
      I asked her if she was waiting to see someone.
      “Yes, I am,” she said, her jaw set in anger. “I got up at 3 AM, caught the bus for a four hour ride up here and I have to be back for work at three this afternoon and these ….. guards won’t call my husband until 9:30 and I have to catch the 11 AM bus.”
      Prisons do not make it easy for visitors.

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