Depending on the inmate’s security level and the facility, visitation can take anywhere from days to years to be approved. Some prisons/security levels only allow behind glass visits, other facilities have a booth with a video screen and the visitor only sees the inmate on the screen, while talking to him on the phone. Most prisons allow an in-person visit once a week where couples can sit together in a large room with others under supervision and restrictions.
The First Visit
Visitors like Angela will drive hundreds of miles to the prison and then wait in line for security. The prison wife brings her belongings in a clear plastic bag. She’s only allowed ID, and change for the vending machines. No keys, phones or purses. The visitor must run the gauntlet of security that can include a metal detector, pat down, drug sniffing dogs or an ion scanner which can detect even minute traces of drugs. If even trace amounts of drugs are detected, the guards can search the visitor, who can be prosecuted or banned from future visits. Ion scanners and drug sniffing dogs do make mistakes so it’s something the women fear.
Angela & Michael – First Visit
Many women say their first visit is the moment that seals the deal. From the first kiss to the first touch – they knew it was love.
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On social media, prison wives discuss their visit outfits a lot. Each prison has its own dress codes and visitors will be turned away if they aren’t followed. They will bring several back-up outfits. Generally the rules are: no blue jeans (if the inmates wear blue jeans) no clothing in the color of the inmates’ or the guards’ uniforms, no ripped clothing or clothing with small pockets that could hide contraband, no glitter or gang colors, nothing too revealing. Shirts that are too low or skirts too high. Some prisons don’t allow clothing that is too tight. Many of these rules are at the discretion of the guard on duty.
Women looking to visit loved ones in the hellish NYC jail must submit to humiliating searches and allegedly inconsistent rules about what they can and cannot wear.
Written by Sonja Sharp
Journey & Ben – First Visit
Prison wives describe a lot of anxiety on their first visit. Like Journey says, “I’m going into a place most people would do anything to get out of. What am I crazy?” After they’ve been given permission and run the gauntlet of security, they’re brought to the visiting area. Often times it’s an open area like a cafeteria with uncomfortable plastic chairs attached to the table. The inmate is brought in and they’re allowed a quick hug and closed mouth kiss which are both highly monitored. The inmate sits across the table from the visitor. At some prisons the couple are allowed to hold hands. At other prisons, the inmate and the visitor must sit with their hands on the table and cannot cross the center line. If so much as fingertips touch the visit is ended and visitor could be banned.
Visits are when couples can take photos together. The prison has a designated photography area often with a painted backdrop and an inmate assigned to take the pictures. Couples pay a small fee for photos. There are very specific rules around those as well; how they can stand, touch, pose. They’re not allowed to show tattoos or make gang signs.
Alyse Emdur's "Prison Landcapes"
A reflection on “the improbability of us.”
Written by Arthur Longworth