The past two years have changed the way many of us interact with other people—even with friends and family members. The days of handshakes and hugs were replaced with social distancing and masks, and in many parts of the world that’s still the case.
The pandemic hit less than three years after I was released from prison, a place that severely affected the way I interact with others. I did four years for marijuana possession and cultivation, which could have institutionalized me, but thankfully, it didn’t.
Institutionalized is a term we used behind bars to describe someone who’s been locked up for so long that the strict protocols and structure of prison life becomes normal. So much so, that individuals can’t function in a free society without restrictions on his/her behavior.
There are a lot of rules in prison when it comes to interacting with other inmates, prison staff, volunteers, and visitors. Today, I’m going to answer the question: can you hug someone in prison?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
When I was in prison, I experienced almost no touching or human contact with another person outside of the occasional pat search from an officer.
Inmates are not allowed to touch one another. If one is caught giving a hug to another inmate or putting an arm around someone for support, there can and will be consequences.
If one is caught getting SUPER close to someone—for females, ones who are “gay for the stay and then straight at the gate”—that will land you in the hole for at least a week.
Of course, there were exceptions. Where I was imprisoned, there were no cameras in the bathrooms or in the cells. So, if one of my friends needed a hug for some reason, it was pretty easy to get away with. On special occasions, when someone was getting released, most officers would allow you to hug your friends before you walked out of the housing unit.
Other than pat searches—which must be performed by an officer of the same sex as the inmate—there is no physical contact allowed between inmates and prison staff. In fact, if an inmate even attempts to touch a staff member or officer, it can be viewed as assault.
Of course, there are plenty of rule breakers. It’s actually pretty common for an inmate and officer or staff member to “hook up.” When I say “pretty common,” I mean that it’s most likely happened at least once at every facility in America. Do I have evidence to back that up? No, I don’t.
I know of three separate instances where it happened in the four years I did my time. That was in just one facility. Common sense tells me that it’s happening everywhere.
To answer today’s blog post question—yes, you can hug someone in prison during a visit if you are an approved visitor. However, this only applies to prisons that allow contact visits. Many facilities and/or custody levels only allow non-contact visits, which take place through plexiglass or via video. This is actually one thing that TV and movies have accurately about prison—contact is at a minimum during a visit.
If you are at a contact visit, you can hug your inmate. You can also give them a kiss. This contact must be brief and is only allowed at the beginning and end of the visit.
As you can imagine, the pandemic has changed things significantly in prison visiting rooms. If the visiting room is even open (many have closed during the pandemic) at the facility, you’ll probably find that there are social distancing rules, as well as mask and vaccination requirements.
However, if the facility is allowing contact visits, you will still get the chance to hug your inmate.
“During contact visits, one embrace between the prisoner and their visitors is permitted at the beginning and end of each visit. No other physical contact is permitted,” reads the Michigan DOC’s COVID visiting rules.
Since today’s topic is about hugs and human touch, I wanted to mention the concept of “touch starvation” and the consequences of restricting inmates from physical contact. Especially when they are placed in solitary confinement for a prolonged period of time.
According to Medical News Today, “Touch starvation refers to the longing for touch or physical contact from other living beings. It typically occurs when a person experiences little to no physical contact for a prolonged amount of time.”
Humans are social creatures, and there is research that suggests many people feel comfort, security, and satisfaction from physical contact.
“Deprivation of physical touch may result in people experiencing negative sensations, such as feelings of emptiness and loneliness,” one study found.
So what happens to prisoners when they go without human touch? For former inmate Joshua Wright, the lack of touch in prison—combined with the fact that touch became associated with violence—messed up his mind.
“For me, it twisted my mind a lot. I just didn’t know how to touch people when I got out. I had to kind of relearn that. I didn’t know what safe touch was. I didn’t know how it’s supposed to feel anymore,” Wright said.
What has your experience been with physical touch and hugs during prison visits? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: In-Person Visits COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions https://www.michigan.gov/corrections/0,4551,7-119-9741_12798-555012--,00.html What does it mean to be touch starved? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/touch-starved Social Touch and Human Development https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7250541/ Physical Contact and Loneliness: Being Touched Reduces Perceptions of Loneliness https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7250541/ The science behind human touch — and what happens when prisoners go without https://www.streetroots.org/news/2021/07/07/science-behind-human-touch-and-what-happens-when-prisoners-go-without Prisons can seriously damage your mental health http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/uploads/documents/Mentalhealthsmall.pdf
Natalie earned her Bachelors degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and has worked in television and radio during her career. When she was a 19-year-old sophomore at KU, she got her first on-air job as a sports reporter for a CBS-TV affiliate. In 2013, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the possession and production of marijuana. She was released in 2017. We've kept her last name off of our website so that she does not experience any professional hardship for her contributions.
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