09. Communication & Visitation
"There is only one happiness in life - to love and to be loved."
- George Sand
The BOP provides a number of ways for inmates to stay engaged with their family while they are incarcerated. Visitation, phone, email and regular mail represent the ways people stay in touch, but each of these come with rules and restrictions. All are monitored, read or listened to by prison staff, so privacy is at a minimum. However limited, continued communication with those on the outside is essential to surviving prison life.
The first thing you should know about communicating with the outside world is to remember that every one of the ways to do so is considered a privilege and not a right. Adherence to rules and regulations are paramount to enjoying these rights. As a privilege, withholding communication is often used as punishment for inmates who break the rules.
Visiting someone in prison may seem overwhelming, embarrassing or sad. In many cases, a person may experience all of these in that initial visit because their expectations are based on experiences from television, the movies or their own imagination. If you know what to expect, it will ease the concerns you have so that you can quickly adjust to visiting with someone in prison.
With cell phones, communicating by phone has become so easy that we take it for granted. Access to phones in prison is much more restrictive and there are no cell phones allowed. Phones are located in partially partitioned banks on a wall where many people can overhear your conversation. Inmates can only call out and there are no phone calls allowed into the individual inmate. Inmates pay for the phone calls, have monthly limitations on the number of minutes they can talk and all phone calls are monitored/recorded.
The email system used by the BOP for inmates is quite restrictive and also monitored. The system, Corrlinks, is a restricted email system that allows inmates to send, receive and save emails. There is not access to the internet and the email’s cannot have any attachments (e.g. photos, PDF’s or documents of any type).
U.S. Mail is also a part of prison life with mail-call on most evenings during the week. Letters, cards and family photos are all a part of the types of mail that inmates receive. Also, newspapers, magazines and books can all be received but have to be from the publisher/distributor.
Some inmates have taken to social media while in prison to talk about their experience. These is no access provided for inmates to upload anything to the Internet. So any postings you see by inmates from prison is done by someone else on their behalf. Inmates will email or mail information to a person who will post on prison blogs, Facebook or Twitter. If the Bureau Of Prisons discovers this they may take steps to punish the person by removing some of the communications privileges they enjoy. The BOP monitors social media for such activity and investigates these communications. While not illegal, it may lead to loss of communication privileges. The best suggestion is to maintain a written diary or send it via email, just do not have it published until after your incarceration has ended. Again, it is not illegal to have these postings out there but it can lead to problems that are easily avoidable.
Staying in touch is a way to comfort the family and helps keep everyone engaged for a life beyond prison. Prison should be about rebuilding one’s life and communicating is essential for recovering from this experience. This section will prepare you and your family by telling you about how the systems work, the rules and the oversight of each.