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.
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.
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.