Thursday, December 18, 2008


I should have worn this Habit shirt, (two people suggested it would be sort of cool) but I wound up wearing normal business attire instead. It was the right decision!

Seven hours of my life that I will never get back, though I was able to cross another thing off my Bucket ListTM.

Today, I visited not one, but two state prisons!

The first was by mistake (we took a wrong turn), but the guy at the desk set us straight, gave us a map, and we were on our way again. Apparently we are not the first to make this mistake. Who knew that there were two state prisons in the same county? Certainly not MapQuest!

On the way out we passed a tractor trailer with a decal: Big House Industries. I guess it's what replaced stamping license plates! Photos are not permitted. (Nor are cell phones, drugs of any kind, nor weapons.)

We made it to the right place with minutes to spare. Only to sit and wait, first 30 minutes in the outer waiting area, then 2 hours in the inner.

We (some folks that I work with, but who are not coworkers, if you get my drift) were there for a parole hearing. I cannot go into details. I do not know the outcome. I can say that the prisoner was clearly not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Probably because knives are not permitted.

My wait to testify (the sum of which, besides stating my name, employer, and position, was to say, "No, that is not permitted") was eye-opening.

We were instructed to wait in a section of the visitors' room that was cordoned off from where the actual prisoners and their actual visitors were, well, visiting. It was nothing like they show on TV! Prisoners and their families are permitted to touch, hug, kiss hello. There is a children's playroom (for children and visitors--prisoners are not permitted to enter), tables, vending machines (no outside food, but lots of choices of snacks and meals--for a fee, provided by the visitors--and a microwave to warm up pizza and hot wings and such), reasonably comfortable chairs, a cabinet full of board games suitable for kids and adults.

Granted, this facility is relatively new.

The visitors looked just like ordinary people you would see in the grocery store.

There were a number of small children and at least 2 infants visiting. That was sad. Then there were periodic announcements that those with "photo tickets" could proceed to the Christmas tree for photos. That was very sad. Imagine the album five years down the road: "Oh, that was the Christmas that Uncle Billy was in The Big House." I'm pretty sure these won't end up on Christmas cards!

Important! The thing that I really, really need to stress, though, is that prison garb is not orange. The Parole Officer that was with us said that she thinks only one state still uses orange, and as far as she knows, the black and white horizontal stripes are a thing of the past everywhere. I am really glad that I just found this out as those stripes and that ugly orange were the only thing that stood between me and homicide quite a few times when my kids were teens.

In Pennsylvania, prisoners wear stylish brown jumsuits that zip up the front. The short-sleeve ones have a very chic yellow band at the edge. There are also long sleeve ones without the yellow trim. Outerwear is a fashionable brown corduroy barn coat. The only downside that I could see was the large, white "D.O.C. " on the back of the jumpsuits. Well, that and the $5 white canvas slip-ons. Trustees wear 2-piece white suits and leather shoes. They have "D.O.C." in black on their backs. I could so wear those brown ones!

And though I could not knit in the waiting room (see explanation of Things Not Permitted, above), I was able to get in a fair amount of knitting on the way there and back, since I was the backseat passenger. I figure about 17 "small squares'" worth on the Tiny Prince's woobie. So the day wasn't totally wasted!

Labels: ,

I work in Folsom Prison every other week as a volunteer with a group of murderers; I'm their spiritual advisor and teach them the Native American flute (we're all Natives). In the California prisons at that level, the men wear blue pants and shirts; the pants announce in bright yellow print which runs down their legs that they are CA state prisoners. The visiting room is very much like you see on TV; they aren't allowed contact visits other than a quick hug and kiss at the beginning of the visit and again at the end. When I exit the cellblock to walk across the yard to get to the chapel, I'm right ON the yard with all the inmates. If you're not prepared for it, it can be an unsettling experience. Stabbings are a daily occurrence, as are race wars and other mayhem. Folsom has inmates from Levels 1 through 4; my boys are Level 4, which is the highest designation the state has.

While TV doesn't accurately portray any of the prisons (I still watch the prison shows because I love stuff like that), I can tell you that some of what they show is real. The health care for these men is deplorable; TB runs rampant through the prison; they don't use beanbags or any other non-lethal ammo there (it's all live rounds). I have to be careful what colors I wear into the facility because I can't be mistaken for an inmate or a CO if trouble breaks out. The gunners in the towers look for colors when they shoot, and I've been on the yard more than once when something has happened and hit the dirt right along with the men. I also can't wear outfits that are the same color on the top and bottom.

I'm thoroughly searched before I'm allowed to enter the facility and have been turned away because of the color of my clothes. Technically, I'm not supposed to wear sweats, but I do it anyway because it's so cold and damp there.

Working in a prison has taught me humanity and given me a lot of tolerance. While the vast majority of men in there are indeed guilty and own up to it, there are a couple who say they're innocent. I have no idea if they are or not, but I know that my boys all bought the ticket and are taking the train ride. It's not a happy place, even with such events as the Christmas party (next Monday). There are a lot of suicides because of the despair which some of these men go through.

Just thought I'd give you a look into the prisons in California. Your facilities sound a lot nicer.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Previous | Next | Random