My Experience with COs During Visitation
By: Ravon Campbell (Howard University c/o 2020)
This blog post is the journal reflection from an undergraduate campus student who participated in the Howard University summer session course SOCI 002-80, entitled “Children of Incarcerated Parents” taught by Dr. Bahiyyah M. Muhammad in the College of Arts and Sciences within the Department of Sociology and Criminology. This assignment required directly impacted students, community members and incarcerated scholars to share their personal experiences in their own words. In this instance, the only grammatical edits were made to maintain the original narrative.
My experiences with correctional officers at visitation have not been unpleasant, to say the least. After jumping on the road when I miss my dad and want to talk to him face to face, it is very discouraging to deal with the negative attitude of correctional officers. I would travel seven hours away from my hometown, alone at times, to visit him. Most of the time the trip would be unplanned. I would just so happen to check my work schedule and if I had the weekend off, I would go visit my dad. I would take my car to get serviced and either get on the road that night or first thing in the morning. No one would be willing to ride with me, so I would go by myself. My aunt and uncle would make remarks like “you should not jump on the road by yourself” or that “you are going to tear up your car driving down to see him” but everything they said just went into one ear and out the other.
If the shoe was on the other foot, I would do the same for them. So, it bothered me a bit to hear that. I believe that when someone is in an unfortunate situation you do not turn your back on them. My uncle would have what I would call daddy rivalry if that is a thing because he would always have something slick to say like how my father was not even out to take care of me. Yet I would still be willing to do anything for him in order to make him feel special. When he was the one that raised me. I did not argue with him because some things you do not have to validate. My father is the reason I am here today. It is true that he is in prison. I may do more for him than he has done for me, but there is no doubt in my mind that if he was in a position to do for me and my siblings, he would with no questions asked.
He still tries even though he is behind bars and his resources are limited. After dealing with my family’s criticism about going to see my father, it can be very disheartening to then get to visitation and be treated as if I am a prisoner. When I used to travel to see my dad, I would drive the whole way only stopping once to fill up my car, and then I was back on the road. Sometimes I would have snacks and other times I just use to stick it out. I would either rent a hotel in Orlando or sleep at a friend’s dorm who attended the University of Florida in Gainesville. They are both an hour away from the prison camp. In order to enjoy the whole visit, I would have to wake up at about 5:30 in the morning so I could be on the road by 6:00 in the morning and make it to visitation by 7:00 in the morning. If I made it to the prison camp in between the times of 9 AM- 12 PM, I would have to wait up to three hours until the count was over before I could even see my father.
I had to learn quickly because all of that time being lost defeated the purpose of even visiting. The wait time during and after camp is ridiculous. Even waiting until the count is over is horrible. I personally did not drive all the way down to South Florida for the correctional officers to watch me like I am a prisoner. You are not allowed to bring any cellular devices. You cannot leave the premises and if you do, you have to fill out a new visitation form and wait all over for them to locate your incarcerated loved one and get them ready for visitation. You sit in a room with four walls, glass, and chairs. The time is tedious, boring, and frustrating. After finally waiting all that time they will call you in the order you arrived. There might be numerous people ahead of you. Once you are called, the correctional officers examine what you have on. Some will turn you around at the door while others will turn you around at the screening while going through the metal detector.
Imagine sitting there all that time and finally being called with hopes of seeing your loved one, and then being told your jeans are too tight, a shirt that is not visible is see-through, or you cannot wear slides. In those instances, if you do not have a change of clothes and shoes in your car you are out of luck. If you happen to have been dropped off, you are really out of luck. They will not even let you use their phone to call your ride even though you cannot bring your phone with you. It is truly sad. It makes one furious to the point where you rather not even go through the hassle. On top of that, the correctional officers are very rude and have nasty attitudes. They have developed this tough role to where it comes off on everyone they encounter. The behavior and attitudes of the correctional officers can be compared to those of the Stanford Prison Experiment which literally proves that when people are placed in a position of power, they begin to abuse their power. I would recommend that correctional officers receive better training. Even schooling on learning how the psyche works.
Correctional Officers should not be able to treat incarcerated people inhuman. At the end of the day, our families are humans and not animals. I strongly feel like prisons should shift their initiative and focus on rehabilitating an individual to become their healthiest self rather than stripping away their pride, dignity, and integrity. Incarcerated people should be able to work and make minimum wage for their labor. They should not be forced to work for pennies. They still have families to provide for. Regarding visitation, they should create a better system and space for individuals to bond with their loved ones. The only time I can hug and touch my father is when he first comes out and when visitation is over. Even if I am crying, he cannot wipe away my tears or comfort me in a hug. This pains us. Prison reform is well overdue.