Friday, March 20, 2009

The Visit

“Come back here.”

The guard motions with her wand. Her hair is pulled back so tightly that her face stretches like a taut balloon.

“Who, me?” I look around to see if she’s talking to someone else. I shrug at my friend Heather as I walk back out through the metal detector.

“Raise your arms,” she says and moves the wand up and down my back. No beep.

“Turn around.”

She scans my front. Mid-chest, the wand starts beeping. She waves across my chest again. “Under-wires?”


“You can’t wear that in there.”

“Excuse me?”

“I said you can’t wear that in there. You need to take it off.”

“But they let me in the last time.”

She glares. “I said… you can’t wear it in there.”

As I turn to look at Heather, the guard points her wand at her.

“You, come back here.”

“Me?” Heather asks.

“Um hmm,” the guard nods her head once, with her wrist on her hip, the wand sticking out to the side.

Once Heather approaches, the guard commands, “Take off your jacket.”

Heather gives me a what-the-fuck look. When she removes her black jacket, the guard moves her wand up and down Heather’s back and front and then zooms in mid-chest.

“You too?” she asks, lifting her left eyebrow.

Heather responds, “Well, yeah, but it’s the same bra I wore last time.”

“Well, you can’t wear that in there.”

“Are you serious?” Heather asks.

The guard just looks.

“Excuse me,” I interrupt. “We’re lawyers and we’re here to see our client. They’ve let us in before…”

The guard turns her eyes on me. “I said you can’t wear them in there.”

I look at Heather and say, “Should we take them off in the bathroom?”

“Yeah, let’s just take them off,” says Heather.

“You,” the guard says pointing at me, “can get away with it.” Turning to Heather, she says, “But not you.”

We both look down on our chests. And then at each others’.

“And you,” the guard continues, pointing her wand at Heather, “you need to get another shirt. No sleeveless tops allowed.”

We all look at Heather’s top.

“But I have a jacket I’m wearing on top of it,” Heather says.

The guard stares back. “I said no sleeveless tops.”

“So what are you saying, that I need to take off both the bra and the top?”

The guard smirks. “You can get another shirt at the Friendship House.”

“What’s the Friendship House?”

“At the end of the parking lot,” she says as she turns her back on us.

Heather and I look at each other, sigh, put our jackets and shoes back on, re-pack our purses, pick up our three-ring binders and redwelds, and retrieve all the forms we had submitted to the guard at the desk. We walk past the line of people who had been standing behind us in the queue and push past the double doors. Back out in the scorching heat, we trek across the parking lot.

“Maybe there’s something in my car,” Heather mumbles. We reach the car, and Heather unloads her Audi trunk. She pulls out the box of knick knacks, a black plastic container of tools, a grey blanket, a lawn chair, an umbrella, two frisbees, and a dodgeball. She rummages in the corner and emerges with a crumpled navy blue Speedo swimsuit.

“Awesome! My mom’s swimsuit!” she says. “I’ll wear this instead of the bra.”

“Ok… I hope it’s clean.”

She brings it to her nose and sniffs.

“What are you going to do about the sleeveless top?”

Our eyes veer across the parking lot. There’s a trailer about 30 meters away with a “Welcome” sign splashed across the front.

“Do you think that’s what she was talking about?”

We walk over and up the steps.

There’s an obese lady sitting behind a desk, knitting.

“Hi, is this the Friendship House?”

“Sure is.”

“Uhh, we need a shirt because I’m wearing a sleeveless top.”

“Over there,” the lady says, pointing her head toward to a box in the corner.

In the left corner of the trailer, there is a big cardboard box. We walk over and see a mound of shirts. Flannel, striped, paisleys, electric blue, hot pink. Heather digs into the pile and pulls out a bright yellow polo top. She holds it up against her torso.

“What do you think?”

The shirt is the color of McDonald’s golden arches. It runs down past her butt, almost half the length of her skirt. It is large enough to fit a football player. It is wrinkled and has a brown stain the size of a spatula.

“Works great.”

She runs into the bathroom and comes out with her new yellow top over her black pencil skirt, black pantyhose, and her black pumps. I can see the blue of her mom’s swimsuit through the sleeve large enough to be a collar. I then run into the bathroom, remove my bra, and dress back in my blouse and suit jacket.

We stop by the car to drop off our clothing. Then, we head back across the parking lot toward the prison and straighten our postures to present ourselves to the client.


  1. My friend once got sent to a jail in Miami to meet with someone who'd just been arrested. She has long blonde hair she wears down, just pulled back with a barrette on each side.

    When she came back to the office from jail she looked TERRIBLE. Apparently they'd made her take out her barrettes and the guard had run their fingers through her hair. She felt violated. I'm sure had she been with someone else, it'd have been much different.

    I'm glad you were with someone.

  2. Guards are so inconsistent. I had a client in Yolo County jail for a while, and often gave her information by phone. One day I called and the guard who answered *insisted* that jail policy was that they didn't allow phone calls to inmates, even from their attorneys, and even though I'd called her many times before. I waited until he went off shift, called back, and sure enough the new "policy" no longer applied....

  3. I friggin hate correctional officer humor. I remember the first time I went to a prison to visit a client one summer in law school. We were visiting a male prison but the officers made this joke about how if I was missing a stamp, they'd have to lock me up.

    But to be honest, I sort of get gallows humor more now that I work in family court. Work somewhere long enough, and your brain gets warped. But I think the lesson we get out of this is never become a correctional officer.

  4. The only thing I ever agreed with G. Gordon Liddy about was his opinion of prison and jail guards. He basically held that you not only had to be colossally stupid and unfit for any other occupation but you had to have a rather sick sense of depraved sadism to successfully do the job.

    You give these little people, these morons a little authority to harass people whose shoes they are not fit to tie and, well, you see what happens.

  5. Excellent post. I was right there with you, through the details and description, as usual. Very glad it was a virtual experience for me, and kinda sorry it was a real experience for you. But it made for good writing fuel, at least! So that's good, I guess. Thanks for writing about it.

  6. Wow Ken, sounds like you really subscribe to stereotypes. It also sounds like you have some anger issues. So, correctional officers are ALL stupid and sadistic? If I were going by stereotypes, I would say that you were either a liberal minded academic who is so arrogant and far out of touch with reality that you think YOU personally can will creation into existence!(I really don't think I would be far off with that one)a crooked, bottom feeding lawyer who thinks that all inmates are victims of a police state, or that you or someone you know has served time. Am I close, my friend? I have been a Correctional officer for ten years, and 1.NO, I don't beat inmates, 2.NO, I am NOT sadistic, 3.NO, I DON't beat my wife or children 4.YES I do have a college diploma 5.YES there are alot of officers who hold diploma and university degrees (so much for stupid) 6. YES, I have worked at other jobs successfully. Correctional officers are professionals who deal with some of the most violent and manipulative people imagineable. We are not just security: many times we are psychologists, social workers, police, counsellors, emergency medical personnell, and problem solvers. We become involved in life and death situations which require quick thinking (sorry, no textbook to help you out there). It seems like you have watched too many prison movies with sadistic and stupid guards who beat the inmates for every infraction. First of all, we are just ordinary people who have families we need to support, and we do it by performing a difficult and thankless job. Second, you obviously have no concept of prison dynamics. If we behaved this way towards inmates, how long before the inmates would take retribution into their own hands and pay us back by murdering one of us! Why would we provoke them in this manner! So, do you agree that murder, rape, robbery are wrong? Because people who do those very things are the ones who come to prison. Anyone with half a brain can figure out that when you put a group of these types of individuals in an enclosed space and force them to live together, dangerous situations will arise. Hence the control aspect of it,don't you realise that we are given authority to control prisons not only for the protection of society, but also for the protection of the inmates themselves. Get it, rules and discipline are there for protection! You seem to have identified the problem, what do we do? Just abolish prisons and let these people out to terrorize society?If you think we are so useless, why don't YOU grant us the priveledge of your divine wisdom and fix all the wrongs in society! If you have the nerve, why don't you don a uniform and step inside the walls, lets see how you handle it. If you have nothing better to deliver than pathetic, outdated stigmatisms based on nothing other than mere speculation, please step aside and stop disrespecting those who provide the security needed to help you and your family sleep safely at night!