Limited Intimacy in Prison

By · Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Joe Gonzalez asked me how prisoners coped with prison visiting rules. He thought that rules prohibiting prisoners from expressing more intimacy than a single kiss and embrace at the start and conclusion of each visit could lead to emotional struggle. He was right.

As a prison family, Carole and I have had to cope with prison visiting rules since 2002. Our love and commitment to each other is strong, and we have learned to nurture our intimacy through words. Clearly, however, the rules sometimes interfere.

When my wife sits beside me, I feel an urge to wrap her in my arms, to kiss her, to touch her. Prison administrators consider such expressions of love as threats against the security of the institution. Despite Congressional findings as in the Second Chance Act that show close family ties can lower recidivism rates, prison visiting rules reflect the prison culture’s insistence that oppressive regulations serve the interests of society best.

Carole and I cope with the emotional struggle of separation by writing, talking, and taking advantage of whatever opportunities we have to share our lives together. We live as if in continuous preparation for the love we will create, make, and nurture upon my release. This conscious commitment has carried us through the past seven years, and we live in anticipation of our lives together. We’d be kind of like that couple in the 40-year-old virgin.

Not all prison families make it through the paralyzing rules of imprisonment. Many prisoners lose their families as a direct consequence of the physical separation. Administrators are indifferent to the emotional cruelty visiting rules inflict on prison families. Their expressed concern is security of the institution.

Some prisoners push the rules. They look for opportunities to grope or have sexual relationships. Some succeed, others do not. The penalties for being caught, however, are severe. Such sanctions will include a loss of visiting and telephone privileges. It is the threat of such sanctions that keep Carole and I vigilant in following visiting rules. Most prisoners try to do the same, though some cannot resist the human pull of attraction. If caught, they suffer the consequences.

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