If you’re not “in the know,” you could get off on the wrong foot with prisoners or prison officials. Following these do’s and don’ts will help extend your welcome in prison.
Entering a prison as a volunteer can be an intimidating experience. However, by following the rules that are set by the prison and the guidelines we’ve come to understand, you can truly have a memorable and successful visit. These simple “Do’s and Don’ts” can help make your visits more comfortable and exciting!
Don’t wear a low-cut shirt or tight pants inside the prisons. Tight or revealing clothing is a growing cultural norm, but it’s a fashion don’t for prison visits. Make sure to check the dress code before going inside. Prisons vary, and they will not allow you inside if you are wearing something similar to what the prisoners wear. We know someone who had to stop at Walmart for some new pants before being allowed in.
Do remember that sometimes less is more. When entering the prison, leave your wallet or purse in the car. This not only makes things easier on you, but the prison officers will not allow your entrance into the prison with these items. It creates security concerns for the officers. Most prisons will require a driver’s license or another comparable form of identification to enter. Much like checking in with an airline, you’ll simply need to prove who you are.
Don’t start off on the wrong foot. In the classic prison movie, Shawshank Redemption, Andy, as played by Tim Robbins, asks a fellow prisoner “What are you in here for?” Red, played by Morgan Freeman, briefly answers “Murder.” While this question makes for great movie dialogue, it is not a good question to ask off screen. Prisoners may not be comfortable answering, and a disgruntled prisoner or awkward situation makes connecting in conversation difficult. Prisoners are advised not to ask the same question because it becomes an issue of invasion of privacy. Try “How you doin?” instead.
Do ask permission before hugging a prisoner. It may be natural for you to hug a friend or family member when you are saying hello or goodbye. While this is normally an acceptable sign of affection, it’s usually not acceptable tohug prisoners. This is a security issue, as officers know that contraband can be exchanged during a hug. There are also social concerns of male and female hugs. A good hand shake is a great way to greet a prisoner.
Don’t try and be someone you’re not. Remember when your parents tried to fit in with you and your friends by using the current slang? Now do you remember how embarrassing that was or maybe still is? A prisoner might use slang to reference something within the prison or another prisoner. Don’t try and fit in with a prison culture you may not be familiar with. Prisoners can spot a phony. Be yourself!
Do try to avoid conversations with prisoners that start with, “Hey, can you do me a favor?” Even though it seems harmless, favoritism can create problems for both prisoners and officers. Someone may ask for something that is considered contraband, like gum. By doing favors like this you can end up causing trouble for yourself as well as the prisoner. Change the topic of conversation to something more positive if this comes up. Your encouraging words may truly be a blessing to that prisoner.