Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Back to Coffee Creek: Visiting Mommy in Prison

Have you thought about Shannon Hickman lately? I wonder how she is adjusting to prison life. I wonder how her children have dealt with life without their parents.

On several occasions I have brought my own kids to the visiting rooms at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility. We have visited in both medium and minimum security buildings.

I’m going to stop here, and state for any who are curious or concerned that I have no intention of divulging the name and details of the prisoner we visit. This woman deserves privacy and the details of her case are not for me to rehash. I will simply state that I knew well her before she was in prison and I believe wholeheartedly that she is innocent of the charges that have landed her there.

The process of bringing a minor to a prison visiting room is not simple. First the prisoner must add an adult – in this case me – to her visiting list. Then I had to pass a background check (not difficult, but took some time), then the prisoner submitted the names, birth dates, and social security numbers of my children. I then received a notice from the prison stating the crime which the prisoner was serving time for and I had to have a notary public witness me signing off that I was aware of the prisoner’s record and gave permission for my children to visit said prisoner.

Visiting in the medium security prison (where Shannon is) is a nicer experience in my opinion – if for no other reason than the fact that you do not have to stand in line outside (regardless of the weather) for at least twenty and often more than fifty minutes when visiting the minimum security prison.

I pull into Coffee Creek Correctional Facility and stop next to a speaker system, press the button, and wait for an officer to ask how they can help me. I am to state, “I’m here for a visit,” they then invite me in. I park and walk to the medium facility gate, press the button, and wait for the “click” to let me know the gate is unlocked and I can enter. After securing that gate behind me, I walk up to the door and wait for an officer to click the door unlocked so I can enter the lobby.

Once inside, I walk up to the counter and write my name, city, the prisoner’s name, and how I’m related to her (friend). I then hand the officer behind the counter my driver’s license and each of my children’s social security cards and tell them who I am visiting. The officer checks the system to ensure I and my children are cleared to visit said prisoner, hands me back my IDs, and calls the K-Unit of the prisoner to send them to the visiting room.

I then purchase ten dollars in quarters and secure my purse in a locker. I am allowed to bring in only quarters and our IDs (though when my children were in diapers, I could bring in a diaper, wipes, and an empty Sippy cup). I sit on a grey plastic chair while my children play with an activity bus or sit next to me, then an officer calls out, “Visitors for X.” That’s us, so we approach and I place our IDs and quarters into a bowl and send my kids through the security scanner, then I walk through and the officer hands me back my money and ID.

Visitors are not allowed to wear blue denim since that is how the prisoners are dressed. This doesn’t apply to children under ten.  Women are not to wear underwire bras, but the consequences for making this common mistake are not predictable. The first time I did, I was turned away, so I drove the few miles to Target, bought a sports bra, then drove back for my visit (this wasn’t cool, because visiting hours are set and I lost about 40 minutes to that mistake). Another time, an officer instructed me on removing the underwire (I regret ruining one of my favorite undergarments!), and still other times they have let it go, done a pat down, or put a note in my visitor file that I’ve been warned.  OK, so if you’re going to visit, you’ve been warned: no jeans or underwire.

When we make it through the security scan, we go into a small room, wait for it to lock, and then we are allowed into the prisoner visiting area. It’s a large open space with rows of chairs facing each other (the prisoners sit on the grey chairs), and several round tables where people visiting with children can sit. We approach a desk where yet another officer (or two) sits, tell him who we’re visiting, and he assigns us a seating area – we usually get a table thanks to the kids. There are also rows of the type of visiting stalls you see in movies with the glass partition and telephones – those are for prisoners who have gotten into trouble and are wearing an orange or green shirt as part of their discipline.

There is a play room, but only prisoners and children can be in there, so my children only go in (with my friend) and grab a toy or two and come back out.  There is also an outside playground that is a nice place to visit, and only prisoners and their visitors with children under twelve are allowed in this area, so it’s fairly private.

We sit at the table and wait for our prisoner to come. It can take a while for her to get there, but usually only a few minutes. Some of the things we do while we visit include playing board games or cards, spending our quarters on soda, candy, and chips, playing outside when the weather is nice enough, getting our picture taken together in front of one of the backdrops around the room - both seasonal and permanent, and talking while the kids color or play on the playground.

My friend, the prisoner I visit, has children too. They visit her about once a month. She has been locked up since they were toddlers. When they are confronted with a typical question about what they like doing with their mom (or what is their favorite food that their mom makes), they don’t have too much to choose from (though prisoner’s kids do get to come to the facility for family activities other than the visiting room I have described here).


  1. When my ex was in prison, I refused to take my kids to see him. His crime, not theirs.

  2. I have no doubt that Shannon is suffering a lot, very sad. Her husband Dale is also suffering in the penitentiary, very sad. At every marriage today in the followers of Christ in Oregon City, they something about "if you do the things you have been taught, you will have a good and happy marriage". Dale and Shannon are victims too, of doing what they were taught. What a lie, how is being in separate prisons a good and happy marriage?

    Their children who are completely innocent are also probably missing them very very much, which is also very sad. Then to also process the loss of a child could be almost unbearable. It is also terribly sad that they believe this is what they had to do to please God. Someday they may come to realize that God and His grace did not require them to do this, and that would make the whole situation very difficult to process.

    I pray they someday come to understand God and His grace does not require the exclusion of doctors. I pray that if that happens, they are able to cope with the choices they made. I pray in Jesus name, amen.

  3. Very interesting, Susie. Keep on writing.

  4. Nice information, many thanks to the author. It is incomprehensible to me now, but in general, the usefulness and significance is overwhelming. Thanks again and good luck!

  5. The DOC visiting rules are not available online right now. Do you know the maximum number of visitors who can go in to see an inmate at the same time? There was a woman yesterday who was trying to bring in four children and they turned her away. I forgot to ask before I left how many people can go in at a time. But I see they don't have any tables bigger than what seat 4 people total. So I'm thinking maybe only three people at a time can visit...? Would you know?

    1. It may be different in medium and minimum security facilities. I visited a medium security inmate with another adult and 3 kids. I haven't noticed as big of groups on minimum.


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