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Life Arts    H1'ed 10/27/10

The Feds and the Prisoner's Wife - Do Unto Others... as You Please

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The visitors formed a line waiting to be checked and admitted to the visiting room. When it was my turn to enter the room, I greeted the guard, Mr. Ingram, and introduced myself, saying, "Hi, I'm Judy White, it's nice to see you," while handing him the visitor form I had completed. He responded by asking for my driver's license. I removed it from the small pouch, along with my emergency asthma inhaler and, handing both to him, said, "I bet you're going to want to see this (the inhaler), too." (The rules state that the visitor is allowed to bring in medication needed during the visit. I expected the visit to last three hours, and was concerned that I might need my inhaler.) He took and retained both my driver's license and my inhaler. (Keep in mind I had been fighting desperately for Gary's medications to be returned to him for over two weeks. Also keep in mind that the inhaler has a mouth-contact surface, and Mr. Ingram didn't have on gloves and was handling various items.) I asked, "Are you going to keep my inhaler?" He responded, "Yes," and said if I needed it, I would have to come and ask him for it. Then he told me I could not bring "that" in, indicating the small pouch, even though I had seen numerous other larger pouches that had been acceptable and allowed.

I explained that the pouch is where I normally kept my inhaler and asked if he could put the inhaler in it and keep both. Rather than answer, he repeated harshly, "You can't bring it in." I said, "Okay. Do I need to take it back to my car?" He said, "Yes." I asked if I could exit through the opposite door, as there were numerous people in line behind me. He said, "Yes." I took the pouch to my car and reentered the building, stopping outside the door I had previously exited and asking Mr. Ingram if I could come back in through the door I had exited. He said, "Yes." I returned to the opposite side of the counter and awaited further instructions. He told me to sign in.

One of the questions asked for my husband's register number, which I do not have memorized; instead I had written it on a slip of paper and put it in the pouch, along with my tag number, which I also do not have memorized. Both were required and I had written them on the form I had already given to Mr. Ingram. I told him I didn't know the number and asked if I could get it from the form or if I would need to return to my car to get it. He was clearly annoyed, but he read it to me and I entered it on the sign-in sheet. He told me to step back to be photographed, which I did, then he told me to go sit down. I said, "Thank you," and went to sit down.

Gary was paged and, when he entered, a woman sitting in the same area said, "There he is, go get him," so I went to him. At that point, a female employee yelled at Gary to come there. I returned to my seat, while she publicly reprimanded him. When she finished, Mr. Ingram came from behind the desk and took Gary through a door into a side room. After a few minutes, they both came out and Gary came and sat by me, very visibly upset. Everyone around us was focused on us, and I asked what was wrong, whether I had done something wrong, meaning by going to him. He said the woman had just told him that he was supposed to have gone to see the female employee before greeting me, but, of course, neither he nor I had known that. Then he told me, with everyone around us listening, what had occurred in the room. He said Mr. Ingram had asked, "Is that your daughter?" Gary responded that I am his wife. Mr. Ingram then said, "You are responsible for the behavior of your visitors. She was rude to me. If she's ever rude again, she won't be allowed to come back."

I had not been rude. But I was embarrassed, humiliated, and insulted. And I felt very strongly that this mistreatment was retaliation for my efforts to stop the withholding of my husband's medications. Any claim that I had been rude was false and a total fabrication. But what was offensive to me was the question, "Is that your daughter?" Prior to being approved to visit Gary, I had submitted a detailed questionnaire, including the nature of our relationship, and release for a background check. Any information needed by Mr. Ingram was on the screen he had just checked to verify that I was an approved visitor, including my identity as Gary's wife. It was highly inappropriate, demeaning, and offensive for him to have asked the question.

Mr. Ingram's threat to disallow my visits to my husband, as was explained to me later in the evening, exceeded his authority. But, of course, we didn't know that at the time, so our first visit after such a long time apart became an extremely stressful and upsetting experience, overshadowed by fear of what would be done to us next, rather than a happy, enjoyable time together "to maintain family ties," a stated Bureau of Prisons objective.

I stayed until Mr. Ingram announced that visitation was over. Gary left through the side room. I maintained my distance from the desk until Mr. Ingram held my inhaler and driver's license toward me. I approached the desk, accepted my belongings, and asked, "Is there someone in administration I can speak with?" He said, "No." I waited. "They have already left." So I asked, "When could I speak with someone in administration?" He said, "Come back tomorrow and see the duty officer." I asked, "Do you know what time I would be able to see the duty officer?" He said, "Just come at 8:00." I said, "Thank you," and left.

In my car in the parking lot of the prison, I called the prison and asked for the duty officer. I was connected after a brief pause. I explained what had happened during the visit, everything from Gary getting yelled at and the false accusation that I had been rude, right up to Mr. Ingram's refusal to allow me to speak with anyone, claiming there was no one there. The duty officer was very kind and encouraging, and relieved me of the fear that Mr. Ingram would stop me from visiting Gary the following day or in the future. She expressed surprise that Gary had never had orientation (he still has not) nor been provided with basic information concerning visitation, which is supposed to be provided at orientation. She committed to look into the issues I shared with her, asked for my telephone number, and said she would call me back.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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