The highlight of the month, without question, is visiting your loved one, even if you only get half an hour, in a face mask, two metres away with no snogging, groping or cuddling. Visits are the most precious and the most important dates in your diary.
Living from visit to visit means it’s not unusual for loved ones to completely let themselves go in between visits and as they approach the next visit, they will spend two days on their makeover from yeti in loungewear to perfectly groomed, attractive woman in a well-planned outfit.
That first visit can be daunting, not knowing what to expect, or what will happen, who will be there and a myriad of other questions. To fully explain the whole visitor experience, I am going to compare it to flying with an Irish budget airline. Yes, really.
Whether it’s your first visit or your 1263rd visit, here are Keef’s top tips for an enjoyable visit.
1 Don’t forget your passport.
Before you even think of leaving home, check that you have your ID and then check it again 23 times just to be sure.
If you haven’t got a passport, check http://www.gov.uk for the prison you are visiting and see what alternative identification is acceptable.
While you’re on the website, check the dress code, visiting times, money permitted and all other information for visitors.
Don’t think for a minute that all prisons are the same, they are not.
The check-in times for all visits can also be found on http://www.gov.uk. You may find at some prisons there’s a queue of visitors waiting for the doors to open 20 minutes before check in. You may also find yourself alone in the waiting room until 20 minutes after check in. Each prison is different.
You will need to present your passport/ID and your visiting order at the check in desk. When you receive confirmation of your visit, screenshot it, print it out and e-mail it to a close friend. Do not take any chances, ever. Even though computer records are kept for all visits, you may find that some staff or some prisons, will still expect you to bring a copy with you. Just like the airlines.
3 Bag drop
You will need to put your bag in a locker and everything else, except cash (within the limit) and your locker key.
Don’t forget to turn your phone off or put it on silent.
Can you imagine how annoying it must be for prison officers hearing a ‘phone ringing from a locker and they can’t turn it off? Ooops! My bad! What a silly lady I am.
4 Border Control
Just like an airport, you have to get past security and have a quick body search before you can go through. There might even be a sniffer dog.
Absolutely nothing to worry about, unless of course you do have something to worry about.
I will say only this .. If you can’t do the time – don’t do the crime.
If you do smuggle drugs into prison, I really don’t like you very much.
5 Welcoming Staff
As with airlines, most of the staff you meet will be absolutely lovely, they will make you feel welcome and comfortable. They will answer your questions politely and provide information, guidance and advice.
However, you will occasionally meet a Screw with a face like a slapped arse. I like to be extra, extra smiley and bubbly in these situations; it really winds them up!
6 Departure Lounge
Once you have been cleared by security, you will be directed to the waiting room. It’s a people watching and eavesdropping paradise!
Here you will find Mothers trying to get their children to sit down, whilst other Mothers will be completely oblivious to their little darlings throwing books around and jumping on chairs.
There’s generally a group of women who have travelled the length and breadth of the country to visit their loved ones. They all seem to know every detail about every prison, the visits hall and who’s been ghosted or shipped out in the past month.
You’ll be able to spot the guys who have been in prison themselves, with a look of excitement and disbelief to be the visitor and not the visited. You may hear them addressing staff as Miss, Guv or Boss.
You will find yourself in the company of parents and grandparents waiting nervously to see their son/grandson. They avoid making eye contact and keep their heads down. I try to engage them in conversation, not just because of my own anxiety and my inability to stop talking, but also to show compassion and support. Ok, I admit I’m also incredibly nosey and love listening to their stories.
You don’t have to like the rules or agree with them, you just have to follow them. Accept it and focus on seeing your loved one.
There is absolutely no point in kicking off at a screw. I’ve visited people in prison since 1987, not once have I ever heard a screw say:
“Madam. As a result of your aggressive shouting and name calling, I’m going to throw the rule book out of the window just for you and let you wander over to the visits hall without an escort.”
It’s never going to happen!
8 Dress Code
Frankly, I have seen more nipples, cleavage, camel toes and thongs in the visits hall than I have ever wanted to see. I totally get that you want to look your best and send your man wild with desire in your sexiest outfit. Stop yourselves! He really won’t care how you dress, he knows exactly what’s underneath!
When it comes to banter, there is no line to cross, no political correctness and no low is too low for men in prison. It’s not just ‘Ya Mum’ comments, it’s also ‘Ya Missus’ comments, anyone is fair game. Do you really want your camel toe discussed on the landings?
I have seen tears flowing and hearts breaking when visitors have been turned away for not complying with the dress code. Check the prison website for what is acceptable to wear and stick to it! Don’t make the mistake of thinking the same dress code applies in all prisons. Yes, you might have been able to wear ripped jeans at the last prison you visited.
Never assume that you can wear ripped jeans in every prison, because you can’t!
9 Disorderly Conduct.
Once again, rules are rules and you don’t get to decide which rules to follow. You HAVE to follow all of them or live with the consequences.
We’ve all heard of people getting their pad spun (and worse) as a result of a loved ones behaviour. Don’t risk it. Your man won’t be overjoyed at the problems you have caused for him.
You also need to consider the risk of a visits ban or closed visits. Oh, he’s just gonna love you for that!
10 Sit back, relax and enjoy the visit.
You’ve gone through security, you’ve been in the waiting room for an eternity and you finally get to see your man’s face light up when you enter the visits hall.
If you’re really lucky you would have used your cunning to get to the front of the queue and the first in the visits hall. If you’re unlucky you’ll get caught up in the stampede of visitors also trying to be first in the queue. (Contact me if you want to know some of the tried and tested tactics I have used to be first!)
Most importantly, just enjoy the visit. You’ve been waiting for this day forever, make the most of being in the company of the man you love.
As with all my blogs, I like to have fun and add some humour, whilst delivering a key message.
When it comes to prison visits, there are two key messages
1 Not all prisons are the same. Check details for the prison you are visiting on http://www.gov.uk
2 Follow the rules, whether you like it or not.
Coming soon, my next blog – How to love a prisoner. Part Two. Communication.
I certainly have a lot to say about that!
Thanks for reading. I love feedback on my blogs, good or bad and hearing the anecdotes from others, so please let me know and we can laugh together.