Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Turned Away at the Gate -or- Legal Representative Refused Entry

The law student scheduled to do two days of interviews with prisoners texted me last night when she arrived in Crescent City.  She and her friend had hitchhiked all the way from Portland, Oregon, where she attends law school.

I picked them up at McDonald's, brought them back to the horse ranch/campground where I have a "guest tent." We got to know one another and I showed them the amenities available at the Orman Ranch.  After they settled in, we visited about the HS, Solidarity Coalition actions, her upcoming interviews, and of course, Bryan.

Preparing for a prison visit is a delicate process: no underwire bras, no jeans, no cell phones-so I loaned her my watch, and all layered items must open in the front, so I loaned her my cardigan sweater.  I think I should just put together a Prison Visiting Kit in one size fits all to keep handy. With no car of her own, I drove her to PBSP.

We arrived at the gate at 8:45 am where, again, a CO who is familiar with me was working.  They took our IDs and asked us to park while they made a few calls.  As I am on Bryan's visiting list and not a legal representative, I am not allowed on the facility property except on visit day.  That is completely understandable and the same in Washington State DOC.

After about 15 minutes (9:00, the time her first appointment was to begin), a CO from the visiting staff came in a car to pick her up but still they were making calls.  At about 9:15, the visiting staff member came over and told her there was a discrepancy in her presented ID and the paperwork she filled out.  The standard student dilemma....permanent residence in California, going to school in Oregon.  She had filled out the CDCR paperwork presenting her CA information, but had technically surrendered her CA ID when she applied for an Oregon drivers license.

A huge disappointment to all, but as explained, this is a maximum security institution and all visiting paperwork must check out.  A slight hint of intimidation when a CO spoke the words, "you were not forthcoming with the information you presented on your paperwork," making the student feel that she was being accused of misrepresenting her identification intentionally.

All in all, the truth is that I have heard many stories from families that CDCR will deny visiting privileges for the smallest thing.  One mother said she was denied because she left off a misdemeanor that was dismissed over 35 years ago.  When she got a notarized copy proving it was dismissed, she resubmitted her application recently, and is still waiting for its approval.  Her son is on hunger strike and she can't visit him...all because of this small discrepancy.

In the interest of safety and security, the denial today was reasonable, but it is so intimidating and disheartening to families who just want to visit their loved ones and others, like this student, who want to assist.  I think my presence and knowledge of how the system works was helpful in explaining all of this as we drove away.  She was crying and upset that this unintentional error meant the men, expecting to be interviewed, would be disappointed.  I explained...they are used CDCR toeing the hardest line, often resulting in disappointment or worse.

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