Sunday, March 28, 2010

Jail Visits for Dummies...

...Or things they don't tell you at the jail

Should you ever find yourself preparing to visit someone in our local hoosegow, the Fairbanks Correctional Center (or the Fairbanks Country Club as some wags in the Native community call it), the following tips might come in handy.

Getting in the Door...

#1 Don't leave home without your jailhouse cryptogram. This is the little schedule chock-full of abbreviations (GP, M, F, Ad Seg, Max/Max, Ad Seg PC) that, when decoded, tells you what times you can visit "your" inmate (FCC has the peculiar habit of using the possessive when referring to the person you want to visit), based on their sex and the nature of their offense. And like any good church potluck list, depending on the first letter of their last name, it also tells you what day you can visit "your" inmate (for example, Tuesdays, Thursdays & Sundays, L-Z).

#2 Don't go with the expectation that you will actually get to visit: Only eight inmates are allowed into the secure area during any one-hour period. Because the jail is so over-crowded that 41 inmates are sleeping in half the gym, eight inmate slots doesn't really cut it. It can be a scrum to get on the visiting list, and if you actually follow the instructions that FCC provides, the chances of you getting a visit are like that proverbial snowball's, leading to tip...

...#3 Be prepared to waste time: Although FCC tells you, for example, that you can show up between 9:10 and 9:20 to get on the list for a 9:30 visit, don't you believe it. You are going to want to be there by 8:30 at the latest, in order to gain one of the coveted eight spots on the "first come, first served" list.

#4 Sunday mornings are the least crowded, BUT, don't drink a lot of coffee beforehand. Unlike week days, there is no one at the front desk in the visiting area. Therefore, visitors must cram inside the little vestibule (heated, complete with camera and microphone, but no amenities) for at least an hour before their desired visiting time. And you dare not leave to go to the bathroom, step outside for a smoke break, or sit in your car and read or listen to the radio, least you lose that spot in line. (NB: its not your fellow visitors who will challenge your place in line should you need to leave, its the guards. Although they likely won't open the door til just a hair before the visiting hour, if they do, and you aren't there to get your place on the list, they may not honor it, no matter what your fellow visitors say. Since the door is just as likely to open at say 8:45 as it is at 9:29.5, no one dares leave the vestibule, even though it really only comfortably fits six.)

5 Week days are best for visiting, because although your odds of landing on the visit list are better on Sunday, during the weekdays you are allowed into the jail to wait - where you have access to a bathroom, water fountain, and a bunch of bad magazines.

#6 Morning are the worst time to visit if your inmate is in general population and is on the list to be moved to the North Star halfway house. Although these are the times you are most likely to get in, visiting can seriously queer their chance to get moved. Even with the over-crowding and a spot on that list (its all about lists), if an inmate is not in GP, and in secure visiting instead, a guard won't come fetch them. Nothing takes the shine off a visit like learning your visit cost your inmate the chance to get over to North Star, the Holy Grail of the Fairbanks correctional system.

Once you are in the door...

#7 Dress like a fundamentalist Mormon: No bare shoulders, V-necks, or skirts or pants above the knee. No hoodies, hats, vests, jackets, or translucent or transparent garments. Zippers are a particular FCC fashion no-no. While one can get rid of a polar fleece vest with a zipper by stashing it in the visitor locker, one can't stash one's pants. I haven't had the nerve to test the zipper thing with pants, thus on possible visitation days, my current favorite pair with zippered pockets stay in the closet.

And through the security screening...

#8 Try and grab one of the phones on either end of the visiting row: Secure visiting is just like what you see in the movies or on TV. You are on one side of the bullet-proof glass, they are on the other and conversation is by phone. The phones have notoriously poor reception, so everyone in this tiny room is screaming. Bedlam, it's like talking to a friend long distance in the village. If you are lucky enough to get a seat at the end, you don't have conversations on both sides of you, which makes it easier to focus and to block out the commotion of jail house visiting.

#9 If they "forget" to bring out your inmate, hope for a nice guard. A nice guard is more likely to take pity on you sitting there forlornly without your inmate. Instead of leaving you there to rot for yet another hour, they may come over, lift up the receiver and ask who you are waiting to see. A really nice guard will actually call for your inmate, instead of simply noting the information.

#10 On weekends, don't expect to be let out of the secure visiting area before the hour is up. Perhaps apocryphal, a story has been recently circulating among the FCC visiting regulars that a very pregnant visitor was left locked up in the visitor's secure area for half an hour while guards on the other side of the door ignored her repeated ringings of the buzzer. Although she really had to use the restroom, they weren't about to man that desk where the visitor door buzzer is located, not until the visiting hour was up and they could buzz all of the visitors out.

#11 If you have claustrophobia, visiting in the tiny locked-from-the-outside secured area is probably not a good idea, especially since at peak visiting times, up to 24 people may be crammed in there with you (up to three people/inmate are allowed on a visit).

And finally, prison sartorial elements explained...

#12 Forget the stripes of old. Modern prison wear is indistinguishable from hospital scrubs, except an inmate doesn't get to choose his/her color. Blue is for misdemeanors, yellow for felons, and orange for the hard-core mean mothers who are in there for a good long time.

#13 What's with the pink? All FCC inmates wear bright pink T-shirts under their prison scrubs. This "pink-in-prison" trend was started by that redneck whack nut Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County, AZ , who promotes himself as "America's Toughest Sheriff". As sheriff, he, among other highly questionable acts, forced inmates to wear pink underwear as a way to subdue humiliate them. Although one can't say for sure what the thinking is behind FCC's T-shirt choices, it seems a safe bet that the motivator was not the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

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