Prisoners, how should we support you?
By Chris Dowling
After Gov. Jan Brewer announced her budget proposal, 120 businesses and community leaders gathered in Tucson at an event organized by the Southern Arizona Leadership Council. Titled the “State of OUR State,” it spot lighted a report on Arizona’s budget crisis researched by Brookings Mountain West at the University of Nevada Las Vegas and the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University.
A panel of economists was featured. Dennis Hoffman, director of the Seidman Research Institute and a professor of economics at ASU, commented, “But people need to be asked to take on more responsibility for the services they are demanding from government.”
If the governor’s budget plan is implemented, the trickle effect will slash services that include anyone over the age of 8 visiting incarcerated would ante up the $25 fee for background checks.
A one percent fee is proposed to deduct from money sent to inmates by friends and families.
I recalled a conversation with a lawyer in the days of when I held onto walls to keep from falling into the emotional depths of no return when my sons were on their way to prison.
The lawyer patiently outlined the various workings of the legal system and incarceration facilities. I was stunned at her cheerful depiction of the commissary’s function and how money could be sent to the facility to be deposited into inmates’ accounts. Reputed widely for her unwavering code of ethics, I felt myself gagging.
I couldn’t believe she was condoning bad behavior. My loved ones were incarcerated and now I was expected to reward them for sitting in the county jail?
Living a hand to mouth existence most of time I raised my sons, I still struggled with money issues and felt mixed emotions those early days of my loved ones’ incarceration whenever I sent them money.
Five years later, like a boxer in the ring, dancing to avoid the emotional blows and a little punchy, I still don’t know the answer to what is the right kind of support for my loved one incarcerated.
A few years ago, in preparation of a loved one returning from incarceration, I had been called to interview with a parole officer of 30 years, now retired. He approved my loved one taking up residence with me, not before briefing me on my obligations. I asked questions, some of which were about the prospects of rehabilitation and life inside prison.
Responding to my question, “Why do prisoners need money while in prison?” he replied,
“I can’t understand when families are barely making it on the outside, struggling to keep a roof over their heads. And their person in prison is asking for money from the family and the family sends them money.”
On a recent visit to the prison, I did what I normally do when I begin my road trip. I made the phone call to the facility to ask, “I’m starting my 4 hour drive one way to the prison to visit my loved one, is there anything I need to know?” In other words, I’m asking if there’s anything like a prison riot or new information on security measures as a visitor I have to observe.
A prison riot, or trouble in the unit such as, murder, or assaults, or contraband discovered means the unit is shut down from visitors until investigated by staff.
The correction officer responds to my question and reminds me that shoes must pass the metal detector. I marvel at how I have managed to emotionally detach over the 5 years as I begin my drive.
Once at the prison I am turned away along with a number of other families from the prison unit. Some of us were unable to pass through the metal detector without our shoes setting off the alarm.
My previous visit, the correction officer held my shoes up for inspection after the metal detector had sounded. He waved me through and said new rule was being implemented. The next time I visited my shoes would have to pass through the metal detector without setting off the alarm.
Metal parts used in construction of some shoes can be potential contraband. Once inside the prison the metal can be removed from shoes and used as a weapon.
Criminal activity of smuggling contraband on either side of the fence drains resources of friends and families and taxpayer funds which support the prison budget. And more importantly endangers lives and sometimes kills.
Loved Ones of the Incarcerated (LOI)
We are people who have a loved one waiting to be sentenced, or have a loved one incarcerated, or have someone released from incarceration. We meet for discussion and education exchange and mutual support.