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The do's and don'ts of visiting an inmate

Follow this no-nonsense advice from people who've been there

Visitation in a prison or jail is a depressing thought to any free person. But if you were the inmate, it becomes the most uplifting and inspirational event in your world.

For the visitor, it's getting the first visit out of the way that is the unknown challenge that lies ahead. For the inmate, its a lifeline to the outside world, a connection that indented in the soul. If the result of the visit is an enlightening experience for you, the next and the next will be even easier and more enjoyable.

These visits will help you grow as a person. It will give the inmate hope that they haven't been forgotten and they can have a successful relationship after the bid is over. Once back into the community, these contacts with loved ones that cared enough to visit will create a stable place for their reentry process. 

But, 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.

Reveal too much or wear the wrong colors - you will get kicked out

Khaki or Army green, 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. Just in case...Have a conservative change of clothes in your car.

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 to get a visit - do not allow the system to ruin it

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 prison, so please be cooperative and, by all means, try to have a sense of humor.

Remember, you are on a mission, maintain your dignity and do not allow the prison environment to make you feel less of a person. But do not be combative.

Do not let your inmate manipulate you

The other side of dignity is to not be manipulated by the person you are visiting to bring in illegal items like drugs or cell phones. That is so stupid.

You are visiting someone who has shown to be not very good at committing a 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 is Another Important Part of Your Wardrobe

Another important part of your wardrobe is your attitude. When difficulties arise upon entering the grounds of 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 folks that work at the prison or jail are not your adversary

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 mindset 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.

Always remember the Golden Rule - “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”

People will respond to us the way we treat them.