Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world that only dimly enters our awareness. They are members of a "total institution" that controls their daily existence in a way that few of us can imagine. "[P]rison is a complex of physical arrangements and of measures, all wholly governmental, all wholly performed by agents of government, which determine the total existence of certain human beings (except perhaps in the realm of the spirit, and inevitably there as well) from sundown to sundown, sleeping, walking, speaking, silent, working, playing, viewing, eating, voiding, reading, alone, with others. . . ." It is thus easy to think of prisoners as members of a separate netherworld, driven by its own demands, ordered by its own customs, ruled by those whose claim to power rests on raw necessity. -- Justice William Brennan, dissenting in O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 354-55 (1987).

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


This post is from Bill's wife, an outsider's perspective ...

When you arrive at Saufley Field (where FPC Pensacola is), you will go through the naval air station gate/checkpoint like anyone would do that wanted to go on the base, they will ask for your i.d. You will see the prison camp on the right, but there are no gates, no fences, no guards or sentry posts or even inmates visible, although there might be some inmates in green shirts and pants waiting at the inmate door for visitation 2 feet away from the visitor's door. This building is also a TV room in the evenings for the inmates, and it houses the cardio room, the library and the law library. Sometimes Bill has been at the law library window watching for us.

There is the main visitor's building and lots of softball fields and a basketball court and you can see the old flightline in the distance. Down the road is a bunch of buildings, but you don't know which are regular base buildings and which are the prison camp offices and dormitories.

You fill out a form while you are waiting in line: name, address, inmate reg# and your license plate number. You go inside and talk to a very friendly guard - they all are very quiet, keep their heads down, and are very unassuming - you give him your form and he will call over the loudspeaker for the inmate to report to the visiting center.

The inmates go through a metal detector and get patted down, but Bill says this is sometimes a very casual routine and sometimes more seriously carried out. The visitor can't see this, though. The inmate comes out of the door where you are waiting and you can hug and kiss and sit down at the tables available (it's like a church fellowship hall) or go outside where there is a large yard with a fence around it, a door to the chapel attached, 25 or so picnic tables with umbrellas scattered about, lots of big trees, flower beds, benches, chairs, a playground, sandbox and a covered porch area.

You can bring some games in and money in a clear backpack or purse and play games, play soccer, football etc, walk around the yard, watch TV, eat from the vending machines - hamburgers, rice bowl microwave dinners, ice cream, drinks, coffee - or talk to the other families. Especially for those with kids or those who have become friends inside, their families seem to share tables. Everyone is very relaxed, none of the inmates feel danger from the others and treat each other with respect and politeness. This carries over into the visitation time. There are no guards in the visitation area, so you don't feel like you are being watched.

Saturday and Sunday visitation starts at 8:30a, but if you don't get there until 9:30, you won't get to see each other until 10:30 or so. There is a standing count at 10:00 which takes about an hour if the inmate is still in his dorm. If the inmate is in the visiting center at 10:00, they will ask the visitors to go out in the yard while they do the count which then only lasts a few minutes. On Sundays, because Bill goes to chapel from 8:30-9:30, and count is from 9:30 - 10:30, I don't show up until 10:30 ... (there is no count for the Friday visitation 5:30-8:00p). Don't forget federal holidays are free days for inmates (no work that day) and an extra visiting day.

Since Bill's family lives close to Pensacola, I have been able to visit Bill every other weekend. His parents go with me some and also on the off weekends; his sister and brother-in-law visited two weekends ago and his brother this past weekend. This coming weekend his eldest daughter will be there the whole weekend and then I will be there for Memorial Day - with an extra visiting day on Monday!

I know this may sound like overkill for some of the inmates that only get to see their families a few times a year, but we are all very close and this is how we demonstrate that we love Bill, no matter where he is.

1 comment:

wildturk said...

I did three years FPC Florence, Co over 900 miles from home. I lived for my visits. My wife could only come around every three months, I only saw my kids three times during my stay there. Not nearly as lacks with visiting security as you discribe in Florida. I never minded the before visit pat down but always hated the after visit strip search very demeaning!! good job on your blog