Posted: January 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

the visit...does it help or hurt?

“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”  Hebrews 13:3
Every week I spend many of my hours visiting youth who are locked up in a prison facility as they are anxiously awaiting their trials. I prepare my mind to go through a grueling process in order to spend only 15 minutes with my “babies.” The process goes something like this:
  • Drive to Cook County Jail and try to find parking (which you have to pay for) hoping I put enough money in the meter. You NEVER know how long it will take to go through the process of seeing the inmate..and many of us have gotten parking tickets!
  • Then comes the standing in the FIRST line waiting…waiting….waiting….hearing babies crying and screaming, family members complaining, young thugs cursing and saying what they would do it they were locked up, teen girls bragging about what their boyfriend did to get locked up, but many are quiet and brokenhearted. I tend to find myself helping others who have never been through the process and trying to make them feel as comfortable as possible.
  • Then comes the FIRST security check. I have learned to bring only my key (no key chain) with my ID…but they still search you – even run their hands quickly between your breasts to see if you’re hiding something there. I ALWAYS FEEL SO VIOLATED…and I  get extremely mad seeing them frisk babies and children.
  • You go to the Division and wait in another line to give them your inmate’s name, your ID and your relationship to the inmate.
  • Then you sit and wait…this could be anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours…but you wait with other visitors who are agitated by being treated by jail staff  like YOU are the prisoner. No books, no magazines, no music. You just sit and wait.
  • Then they call your name/inmates name and you go through a SECOND search…another pat down, feeling violated again.
  • Then you walk in the visitors rooms, choose a thick glass window (nasty, dirty, germ infested window that hasn’t been cleaned probably ever) and wait for your inmate…knowing you can’t comfort them with an embrace, only with a smile.

M. Santos’ blog shared that this is how he prepares for his visit:

My ritual to prepare for the Saturday morning visit began the night before, when I would lay my pants and shirt carefully beneath my sleeping mat on the concrete platform that served as my bed. The weight of my body through the night would press creases into the drab clothing, and I hoped the effort would make me look sharp. I’d wake early. By knocking out several hundred push ups on the floor of my cell, I could get my blood pumping, swell my muscles, hopefully giving the illusion of strength. I’d take a bird-type bath in my sink, shave closely, then pull on my jail outfit, methodically folding up my sleeves to flaunt what I thought were impressive biceps. Then I sat on the corner of my bed, minimizing movement so as not to wrinkle my clothes, and waited for jailers to escort me to the visiting booth.

Then, you only get 15 minutes for  your visit:

15 minutes to love them…

15 minutes to encourage them…

15 minutes to laugh with them…

15 minutes to listen to them…

15 minutes to give them hope…

15 minutes to let them know they are not alone…

This time together is both exhausting, emotional and important to the ones you are visiting who desire a tender look and a genuine smile. As M. Santos blog states:

Visits in the jail couldn’t alleviate the anxieties I felt, but they helped. Instead of focusing on the seemingly interminable judicial proceedings, I could look forward to the friendly faces and voices; those visits gave me support when I needed it most.

But a friend of mine shared with me, that at times, it does more damage than good. He shared with me how, after these visits, the emotional and physical wear on the body takes hours or days to recover from. Many inmates would immediately go back to the cell and just go to sleep. As M. Santos’ blog states:

 A crushing hangover always followed my time in the visiting booth, but within a few days, I’d welcome the familiar anticipation building while I waited to see my family again. 

It’s a catch 22 but I can’t imagine not spending time with my youth as they sit alone, day-to-day, waiting for a decision that can change their life. The Scripture clearly states to remember those in prison (as if it were you) and visit them. I am always amazed at how God has their attention when they are isolated from their normal lives. It is a beautiful time to let them know of God’s love and hope for their lives (“…For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future…” Jeremiah 29:11).

If you know someone who is locked up, I ask that you consider writing a letter and/or visit them as often as allowed. Wouldn’t you want the same? I am always blessed with my youth’s vulnerability to share their heart, fears and prayers with me when I visit or get a letter…it always brings us closer together and our bond grows tighter.

Yes, God loves the prisoner…so should we.

Thinking of Angel, Alex, Macho, Angel…and others….

  1. If you don’t know someone who is in jail/prison but feel God calling you to connect with someone, check out This is a service where prisoners or family members of prisoners pay to post information so they can connect with the outside world.

  2. Scott Powers says:

    Excellent site Amy. I now have a clearer understanding of what you do and the sacrifices you go through for those less fortunate. As I said before, I admire your dedication and determination to shine the light for those in the dark. I pray for you and your mission always. Scott

  3. Cisco says:

    I don’t know how it feels like to come to a visit from home, yet I feel the pain of being treated like that. To me a visit meant a detachment from reality into a place of peace at least for a second. My family would come to visit and they represented what I gave up, a glimpse of freedom so close except for a glass window. Cats locked up need that though as harsh as it may seem to help them see what they fear is “me.”

  4. laura says:

    I came upon this and found it helpful and hard at the same time. My boyfriend has been in and out of jail almost all his life. tomorrow is the first time I’ll ever be visiting him in that kind of setting, bringing along our 19 month old son as well, just so he can see his boy and have that comfort, even if it is from a close distance. This has been helpful, but I am nervous at the same time because I don’t know really what to expect..and how things will turn out. All I know is that I need to pay him 1 visit while he is locked up for a short time.

    I hope more posts come from your direction!

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