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Will Closing the Jail and Prison Visiting Room During COVID-19 Pandemic Impact Families?

Updated: Mar 18

122 federal prisons and over 1,700 state detention facilities are closing their doors to visitation, amid concerns of spreading COVID-19

The prison visiting room has always been a place of refuge that most people living in a housing unit ever get a chance to see. I mean, sometimes there will be a meeting that is hosted by the local religious group that wanted to share a word of encouragement with us. I can also remember certain education programs or program graduations taking place in the visiting room. This could have exposed some of my friends to the only place on the prison yard that housed a snack vending machine.


How about that? Who would have thought that the lack of choices would have ever placed that much value on a memory of excitement over seeing a vending machine. Life is about choices, but there is something about prison that will remind you about how many of your choices are stripped away once you live there with an inmate number.


Life is about choices, but there is something about prison that will remind you about how many of your choices are stripped away once you live there with an inmate number.

I was one of the few men in C-building (when the above photo was taken) that experienced hearing my name get called on the weekend during visiting hours. Imagine that feeling!


I would sit in a dayroom that was shaped like a triangle. The triangle had two-floors beneath us, as I lived on the 3rd floor of C-bldg. at Brunswick Correctional Center. It was the weekend and some people would be laying in the bed in their cells. Some would be on the rec. yard working out, playing chess, standing around talking about the game from the night before, or gathering in a circle telling lies about the kingpin that they used to be before they got arrested.


Not me. I sat in the dayroom with the folks that were playing spades or watching college sports on the dayroom TV. I sat on a steel dayroom bench and silently played solitaire by myself while I patiently waited for my name to get called to walk over to the visiting room.


While others moved along their Saturday or Sunday just as every other day in a prison facility, the weekend was something different for me. I knew that my mom would be coming to pull me out of that mop-smelling dayroom and give me a moment with her, a bunch of other smiling faces, and a vending machine. I would not dare to be on the rec. yard during visiting hours time, no matter if spoke to my mom and got a confirmation that she would take the 4 hour drive or not. The possibility of getting a visit was there, and that's all I needed in order for me to stay put and not waste valuable time getting ready...I stayed ready for my moment of refuge.


When my name was called for a visit


"Bullock!!! You've got a visit!" was even better than "Bullock!!! You've got mail!"



That's really when the magic begins. The signal...the signal that there is someone on the other side of the double-sided steel security doors waiting to wrap their arms around me. I walked down the steps of the housing unit and reached my hand through the slot of the rusty bars that was reserved for people with inmate numbers to receive a Yard Pass from the correctional officer in the security booth. The Yard Pass was another dose of dopamine injection that made the visit real. I walked from my housing unit along the path to the visiting room displaying my smile and Yard Pass proudly to anyone that walked along the security intense rec. yard. I knew that I would have a slight piece of my inner dignity chipped away in a moment once I had to strip naked, squat down with my legs open, and cough while bending down the moment I left the visiting room, but for now, all I could think about would be the genuine adoration that I would feel in a few moments. I would have a pure hour of bliss!


Receiving a visit will make your entire week while in prison

The Yard Pass was another dose of dopamine injection that made the visit real. I walked from my housing unit along the path to the visiting room displaying my smile and Yard Pass proudly to anyone that walked along the security intense rec. yard.

Visitation means a lot to the people that live in the cells, and potentially even more to the visitors whom commit their lives to ensure that their loved ones feel cared for even while incarcerated.


Federal BOP follows suit with State facilities and halt visitation


Jails and prisons are deciding to close visiting rooms and break these moments of refuge. And to be honest, I completely understand the rationale: we have to limit the amount of opportunities outsiders have to introduce the coronavirus to the secured populations.


There are roughly 2.3 million people that are incarcerated around the country and the impact of a spreading virus really is scary, especially with a sizable amount of the people that are living there being elderly or do not have access to real solid healthcare.


We are really hoping that this pandemic ends soon, because the tragedy of family connections being a thing of the past is scary. I know first-hand the power of having someone to share a moment of personal space of and positive energy during that powerful hour or so. In the meantime, we also hope that families will leverage Flikshop and send as many pictures and messages to their incarcerated loved ones as possible.


These are not the times to relax our connections. We must dig deep and find time to split any anxiety we have around coronavirus with the people who are the most afraid of an outbreak crippling the country: our incarcerated neighbors.

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