While our visit this weekend was one of our best ~ mainly because the visit room was very quiet on both days, probably because of Cinco de Mayo ~ there seems to always be something that leaves us thinking "Huh?". This time, it was pictures, or rather the lack of them. Most TDCJ units only allow photographs to be taken at the visits of inmates and their visitors on the first weekend of each month. The money made (each photo costs $3) goes to local charities, and the photos are taken by the guards or by volunteers linked to the charity involved. Sometimes, a month will be set aside where photos are available on every weekend in that month. That seems to happen in September for some reason.
I try to arrange our visits so that I am there on a photo weekend. We need those photos to add to my husband's parole packet when the time comes, to show continued support. I may also need them when I decide to try and move to the States. This weekend was the first in May, so naturally we assumed we would be able to have photos. But when I arrived for registration on Saturday there was a sign on the picket door saying "No photos today!". When I asked about it, the guards said that the decision had been made to do photos next weekend instead, because that is Mother's Day in the US.
I didn't make a big deal of it, but I don't understand why they couldn't do the photos on both weekends. In fact, why limit them to once a month in the first place? Questions like this rarely get an answer with TDCJ. It just is.
It was lovely and warm there in Tennessee Colony, cool by TX standards but perfect for me and my pale European skin. My husband's unit has a set of tables outside of the contact visit room, with canopies over them, fenced in within the grass surrounding the building. You would get to them from the contact room. If the door was ever open that is. In the 6 years I've been visiting there, and all the people my husband has asked, no one has ever known those outside tables to be used for visitation. They would be perfect for those bringing young children; the kids could be noisier than in the echoing visit room, and they would be outside in a safe enclosed area. Other units use their outside tables. My husband's unit does not. Those tables are just expensive lawn ornaments.
image from Rick Mauderer's blog
I try not to tell Texans (or anyone else) that they are wrong. Instead, I try to find the reasons why someone might do a certain thing. But with TDCJ you hit brick wall after brick wall. Often the "reason" appears to be "because we can" or "because we say so", and neither of those answers do anything towards rehabilitation or consideration that an inmate's family are not there to be punished as well. Currently, we don't understand why:
- TDCJ inmates and visitors are made to sit across wide tables from each other in the contact sections, so wide that to hold hands you have to sit constantly stretched at an awkward angle
- TDCJ inmates are not permitted to get up or walk around during a visit unless it is to use the bathroom (and even then, they are discouraged from doing so)
- Children visiting TDCJ inmates have to remain seated at the table and have no toys or books to help occupy them. Given that visits are usually between 2 and 4 hours long, this rule can only have been made by a man who has never had to spend any time with a squirming toddler. The alternative reason can only be that TDCJ feels children should not be in the visit rooms at all, and imposing a rule like this will discourage many parents and grandparents from bringing children to visit.
- The table we were assigned (you can't choose your own at my husband's unit) had not been cleaned from the previous weekend. It still had crumbs from the snacks on the table top. There is only toilet tissue available to wipe tables with. I find this very strange, given that there are numerous inmates capable of wielding a cloth and a spot of detergent on at least one of the week days when visits are not held.
- Visits are only held on weekends, with the exception of Death Row at the Polunsky unit. Maybe not so much of an issue at units with just 1500 inmates, but when there are more than 4000 inmates and only 60 contact tables, and always several families travelling more than 300 miles and qualifying for a "special" visit of 4 hours on both days, inevitably some people have to wait before they are able to enter the unit. If you arrive after midday, you are unlikely to get a full 4 hours and many have to wait up to 2 hours for their regular visit. Having visitation during the week would help ease the bottleneck at weekends; weekday visits could also be child-free, and possibly a less restricted experience where inmates could earn a weekday visit for good behaviour and be permitted to sit next to their visitors and walk to the vending machines and select their own snacks. They are strip searched in any case, and if the privilege is earned then it is less likely to be squandered.