Last weekend I visited the Attica Correctional Facility for a special summer picnic, a rare opportunity to visit with incarcerated friends and family in a somewhat relaxed outdoor atmosphere. I arrived at the prison at 8:30 in the morning and waited with other visitors for more than three hours in a small room-- with no books, music, or phone allowed to pass the time--until my number was called, then climbed into a van and passed through the enormous walls of the prison. A few minutes before noon my friend emerged; we enjoyed the sunshine and the food (for which each prisoner had pre-paid), and a scant two and a half hours later we were called back to be processed out. Luckily, I enjoyed some conversation while standing in line with another visitor, however the long wait time compared with the short visit time was still frustrating. Add the two hour drive time and you're looking at a pretty discouraging ratio of effort to reward.
However, the effort is still worthwhile. It is crucial. Visits are the bridge between the larger society and prisoners. They help maintain connection to the outside world and offer hope and a break from the cell block. Families or friends who visit incarcerated loved ones can be the best support network for a person's general wellbeing and also provide invaluable transitional assistance as the prisoner re-enters society. We should do everything possible to maintain nourishing family connections or whatever social support a person finds helpful while they are incarcerated.
My experience visiting prison has often been challenging and demeaning. While waiting for a visit on a Friday a few months ago, a guard made the comment "good thing you guys are all on welfare so you have time to visit the inmates during the week." The friend I visit has been enduring this kind of damaging treatment (and much worse) for more than forty years. The fact that he is one of the most sociable and kind people I have ever met is an astonishing testament to humanity. I am grateful for the opportunity to get to know this person, even if I have to jump through some hoops to do it.
Jails are substantially different from prisons, and have tremendous potential to serve as a space for recalibration as prisoners are held for shorter periods and for lesser crimes. When a person ends up in jail for a few days or a few months, our community should use that time as an opportunity for early intervention and prevention of future crime. Rehabilitation happens best when a person is well supported, both inside the facility and outside. Regular connection with a caring member of the community can be a lifeline for someone inside.
A prisoner held at Monroe County Jail or Monroe Correctional Facility is permitted two one-hour visits per week, by appointment. Weekend visits were cut from the schedule last year, and should be promptly reinstated. When a parent is in jail and the visiting schedule only allows weekday visits, when is a child expected to find time to visit? Weekends are better options for many people, and cutting those visiting opportunities harms us all by further isolating those who are incarcerated.
There are many improvements I would consider bringing to the jail's visiting facilities (being certain that employees are well trained and respectful to all visitors, for example). One of the first moves we must make is to ensure that visiting options are available to those with loved ones in our jail facilities.