The past two years have changed the way many of us interact with others—even with friends and family. The days of handshakes and hugs gave way to social distancing and masks, and that remains the case in many parts of the world.
Less than three years after I got out of prison, the pandemic struck, and this place has severely impacted the way I interact with others. I did it for four years to own and grow marijuana, which would have institutionalized me, but thank goodness it didn’t.
Institutionalization is a term we use in prisons to describe people who are locked up for so long that the strict routines and structures of prison life become normal. So much so that individuals cannot function in a free society without being constrained by their actions.
Prisons have many rules when it comes to interacting with other prisoners, prison staff, volunteers and visitors. Today, the question I want to answer is: Can I hug in prison?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
- Physical contact between prisoners is prohibited
- Physical contact between prisoners and staff is limited
- Strict prison visitation rules
- COVID rules make it harder to hug your inmate
- What is exposure hunger?
Physical contact between prisoners is prohibited
While I was in prison, I had little contact or human contact with anyone other than the occasional pat-and-run by an officer.
Prisoners are not allowed to touch each other. If someone is caught hugging another inmate or putting an arm around someone for support, there are consequences.
If someone is caught super close to someone – for women, the ones who “was gay during their stay and then made a beeline at the door” – that’s going to get you in trouble for at least a week.
of course there are exceptions. Where I was imprisoned, there were no cameras in the bathrooms or cells. So, if one of my friends needs a hug for some reason, it’s an easy escape. In exceptional circumstances, when someone is being released, most police officers will allow you to hug your friend before walking out of the housing unit.
Physical contact between prisoners and staff is limited
No physical contact is permitted between prisoners and prison staff, except that searches must be conducted by officers of the same sex as the prisoner. In fact, if a prisoner even tried to touch a staff member or officer, it could be considered assault.
Of course, there are plenty of rule-breakers. It is actually quite common for prisoners to “hook up” with officers or staff. When I say “very common” I mean it has likely happened at least once in every facility in the US. Do I have evidence to support it? No, I do not know.
I know of three different instances that have occurred in the four years I’ve worked. And that’s just in one facility. Common sense tells me it’s everywhere.
Strict prison visitation rules
To answer today’s blog post question – yes, you can hug someone in prison during a visitation if you are an approved visitor. However, this only applies to prisons that allow contact visitation. Many facilities and/or regulatory levels only allow contactless access via plexiglass or video. That’s actually one of the things that TV and movies accurately portray about prisons – minimal contact during visits.
If you are doing a contact visit, you can hug your inmate. You can also give them a kiss. Such contact must be brief and only permitted at the beginning and end of the visit.
COVID rules make it harder to hug prisoners
As you can imagine, the pandemic has drastically changed the prison visiting room landscape. If the facility’s visiting rooms are even open (many are closed during the pandemic), you may find that there are social distancing rules, as well as mask and vaccination requirements.
However, you still have the opportunity to hug your inmate if the facility allows contact visitation.
“During contact visits, inmates and their visitors are permitted to hug at the beginning and end of each visit. No other physical contact is permitted,” reads Michigan DOC’s COVID Visiting Rules.
What is exposure hunger?
Since today’s topic is about hugs and human contact, I would like to mention the concept of “touch hunger” and the consequences of limiting physical contact among prisoners. Especially when they are held in solitary confinement for long periods of time.
according to medical news today“Touch hunger is a desire for the touch or physical contact of another living being. It usually occurs when a person has had little or no physical contact for an extended period of time.”
Humans are social animals, Research This shows that many people feel comfortable, safe and fulfilled from physical contact.
“Deprivation of physical contact may lead to negative feelings, such as feelings of emptiness and loneliness,” one study found.
So what happens when prisoners are left untouched? For ex-inmate Joshua Wright, the lack of touch in prison — combined with its association with violence — has clouded his mind.
“For me, it twisted my mind a lot. I didn’t know how to touch people when I first went out. I had to relearn. I didn’t know what a safe touch was. I didn’t know what it was supposed to feel like. ,” Wright said.
How did you experience physical contact and hugs during prison visits? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: In-Person Visits COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions What does it mean to be touch starved? Social Touch and Human Development Physical Contact and Loneliness: Being Touched Reduces Perceptions of Loneliness The science behind human touch — and what happens when prisoners go without Prisons can seriously damage your mental health