Visits from family and friends impact positively on an inmate’s well-being. Detachment from friends and family—in particular one’s children—is devastating and works on the mind, invading the realm of self-esteem. “If I’m not worthy of visitation, what good am I? What kind of parent am I?” I’ve heard that sentiment from distraught men time and again. Often family and friends abandon an inmate because of multiple incarcerations, further estranging the relationship between parent and child. “They don’t trust me anymore. They don’t think I’m worth their time. I promised I’d never come back here.”
From my experience, this level of rejection is an exception to the rule. Weekend visitations are the highlight of an inmate’s week. Receiving visitors is like beaming back into the real world of the outside; the inmates relax their survival guard while being immersed in the warmth of real love and friendship.
Incarceration Impacts the Children Left Behind
Going to prison is an isolating event, but upon being incarcerated, inmates former lives don’t simply vanish into an abyss. The inmates are still parents. Among the many collateral consequences of mass incarceration is the impact on the children of prisoners. The numbers are staggering. The Nation’s Silvia Harvey reports that “54 percent of people serving time in US prisons were [are] the parents of children—that’s more than 120,000 mothers and 1.1 million fathers. Over 2.7 million children in the United States had an incarcerated parent. That’s one in 28 kids, compared with one in 125 about 30 years ago. For black children, the odds were much worse: while one out of every fifty-seven white children had an incarcerated parent, one out of every nine black children had a parent behind bars.”
One organization that understands the impact of incarceration on the children of inmates is POPS the club. POPS stands for “Pain of Prison.” Their mission is to provide a safe place for high school students who are struggling in body and spirit with the pain of the prison system. POPS offers support and community opportunities for expression.
Phone calls, letters, packages, and messages through third parties don’t measure up to actual visits with children. Prison administrators recognize the importance of visitation and encourage visits.
You Can’t Simply Show Up for a Visit with Your Kid
In California, the rules for visitation are strict and full of administrative procedures that must be followed. Visiting days are Saturday and Sunday, as well as four holidays: New Year’s Day, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas. The rules for visitation by children append to the rules for adults. Here is a general outline of rules provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR):
- Adults must obtain approval to visit an inmate by completing a questionnaire- the form is not available online; you must have the inmate you wish to visit send it to you.
- The inmate authorizing your visit form must sign the form and send it to you.
- You send the completed form to the visiting sergeant or lieutenant where the inmate is housed. Mailing addresses are on the CDCR website.
- CDCR will do a criminal background check on you. If you don’t pass, you may appeal.
- Minors, defined as children under the age of eighteen, are required to be accompanied by an adult who is an approved CDCR visitor.
- If a parent is accompanying the minor, the only paperwork necessary for the child is a certified copy of the child’s birth certificate.
- If a legal guardian is accompanying the minor, the child’s certified birth certificate and proof of legal guardianship is required.
- If someone who is not the minor’s parent or legal guardian is accompanying the minor, the child’s certified birth certificate and a notarized written consent form is required.
Once approval is granted, rules and regulations cover the type of clothes you can wear during the visit, what items you may bring (including medical and religious items), and how you can expect your car and your person to be searched for contraband. The processing of visitors can take a long time, so try to arrive early. Visiting hours usually start at 7:30 a.m. and end between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m.
You can download a CDCR handbook entitled Visiting a Friend or Loved One in Prison from the CDCR website.
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