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Jail Facts-The first visit
The first visit do's and don'ts
Visiting someone in county jail can be very scary, especially when you don't know what to do. County Jail is usually downtown and not in a good neighborhood. Visitation has specific hours and rules and it's wise to visit the websight and read up. In jail, your son or daughter is co-mingling with inmates of all different kinds of crimes, ages, and experience. My son was placed on the 7th floor depending on the severity of his crime and his happened to be the worst floor. There is usually crowding, a pecking order, fighting, and unsanitary conditions to mention a few of the issues they face. I called and tried to get information over the phone, but it is difficult, almost impossible. There are certain clothing items I could not wear, such as shorts, short skirts (anything above the knee), low cut blouses, see through or sheer blouses. (It was their discretion here, not mine and they don't care how old, fat, or unattractive you think you are). If in doubt, carry a second article of clothing to wear in case you are coming from work. Second, I needed my driver's license, his SID number, TDC number which can be retrieved online, or at the jailhouse under his last name, and which cell block and unit he's in. You will not carry anything else with you inside, no phones, no cameras, and definitely nothing to give them. My son wore contacts and it was a nightmare trying to get him a new pair to change out, let alone anything to hold them in, or clean them with. When I arrived at the county jail, there are several lines to wait in depending on what floor your inmate is in. If you must bring your purse or wallet(I put mine in my trunk before I even arrived at the jail site), then bring several quarters with you to pay the lockers that are available for this. They may be full and you will have to wait until someone empties theirs out.
The guard motioned me to the window from the line. I gave him my slip of paper available there with my sons name on it, his location information, my name and anyone else's with me. They are only allowed one visit per day and sometimes per weekend. When his Dad had already visited, I was turned away and told I had to wait until next weekend. There is a metal detector just like at an airport. Riding the crowded elevator upstairs, I exited on my son's floor. The room was shaped like an M with short halls lined with windows on either side. I went to the back of the room and gave my paper with my son's information on it to the guard who will call him down for the next visitation shift. While I wait for the current visitors to finish, I visit the bathroom and get some wet paper towels to wash down the window/talk box I will be using. I bring a wet wipe in my back pocket as it is small enough to fit flat and not be noticed. I also folded several tissues in my other back pocket too. Then if the bathroom has no paper towels, I still have something to use. The visits are approximately 12-15 mins in length and one or two may start and end before my son comes out. Usually it is better to wait near a window to claim it once the person using it leaves. There is no privacy here, people are shouting to be heard, in all languages, and nothing is private. I sit down and wipe off the window and talk area as much as possible and watch for my son to appear. Once I waited through three visits before I checked and he had not heard his name called. I had to give up my window, so don't wipe it until right before they sit down. The best way to talk through the metal screen though is to cup my hands and place my mouth almost on it and then my son leans his ear down to the other side to hear. The problem with this is that when I am talking to him, he cannot see me, nor I him, and vice versa when he talks back to me. You can mouth words through the glass. I tried not to cry but did anyway. How could these other prisoners and visitors seem so jovial and some even laughing? The time passes either very quickly with so many unanswered questions, or it drags by depending on where your relationship with them was before they went in. Knowing what to say or not say, becomes an issue very quickly. Saying I love you is always good, miss you, pray for you also good. My son got a black eye within the month. Fighting is common and shows your "heart". Fighting two at once shows great heart but means accepting a beating usually. And being put in isolation is a result too.
Commisary money is what they ask for immediately. This is a minimum of $25 and up to $100 or so depending on the jailhouse. This allows them to buy extra food and socks to cover their feet/arms, cotton/flannel tops and boxers to wear under their scrubs. Common items purchased are envelopes, paper,pens or rubber pencils, raimen noodles and soups. This money can be given at the jailhouse or over the phone, on the internet. It has a service fee as well, but is invaluable to the inmate. They now have bargaining "money" to use inside the walls. They also have something to be stolen too. The guards routinely dump their beds and personals all in a heap on the floor when fighting or disruptive behaviour occurs. Then it's a fast battle to retrieve all of "his" stuff before someone else gets it. He can only go to commisary once a week, and giving supplies to another prisoner for safety and respect happens a lot. The prisoners with no outside help or contacts are in sad shape and twice as likely to steal or get in fights to get what they need or want.
Letters are a bright spot in their day. At mail call, no letters means no one cares. Be brief and again not too much information in letters. If they are stolen, addresses, phone numbers are not good circulating in this crowd.
Phone calls are allowed on a collect call basis only with good behavior. The calls are expensive and start with a stern advice not to accept calls unless you know who you expect to be calling and not to punch in any other numbers. You call is monitored and can be cut off. It is wonderful to finally talk to my son but he is surrounded by other inmates waiting to talk. My son would ask me to call a girl for another inmate, which used up all of my phone time. They could not call a cell phone, only a land line. I finally had to stop this. Again, think of the people who got access to my phone number.
Plan to go early in the visitation shift, weeknights usually start at 5-9pm or on weekends 8-11am and 5-9pm. If you are ill or not feeling well, stay home. People from all walks of life are here with TB, AIDS, STaph, Hepatitis and other serious bacteria. Wash your hands a lot. I would not consider taking a small infant here, but you will see them.
It is an experience I wish I did not have to repeat. I cried all the way home after my first visit. You have little or no control of anything now. It is a helpless feeling. Find support groups, they really help.
1. Make sure your valuables are secured before you arrive at the jail site.
2. Have your driver's license already in your pocket with quarters and also your inmates location information. No sense having to open your trunk to retrieve this information from your purse thus revealing it's whereabouts.
3. Do not expect to ask your inmate what they did or didn't do, guards are listening as are other prisoners. You may not hear what actually happened for days or months. Their letters are read as well. Only their attorney can tell you what happened if they actually get the truth and allow them to tell you. Privacy Act is a pain here.
4. You need to know and always bring his SID number (sentencing ID?) and his Correctional ID number. Mine was a TDCJ number since he was still a juvenile. This becomes their permanent number for any future offenses or involvement with the law. They can look it up for you for you though.
5. Be alert when coming or going when it is night. Be sure to also bring quarters for the parking meter too, although usually it is after hours when parking is not an issue.
6. I take the park and ride bus and walk the short distance to the jail. Saves on gas, is safer when I have no car for panhandlers, and helps with the stress and tiredness when visiting at the end of a work day.