By Christopher Zoukis

The plot thickens. 
Last weekend I was called to the FCI Petersburg Visitation Room to visit
with my Prisoner Visitation & Support (PVS) visitor, a woman who’s also a
Christian minister.  On my way through
the initial search area I was harassed by the prison guard (“Guard
#1”) assigned to the Visitation Room because my clothing wasn’t
ironed.  The guard tried to inform me
that there was new Federal Bureau of Prisons policy on the matter, but after a
short conversation, he begrudgingly agreed to allow me to have my visit.*1  So, after my frisk, I was allowed into the
FCI Petersburg Visitation Room.

Image courtesy simpleweeble.tumblr.com 

Once in the Visitation Room, I handed another guard
(“Guard #2”) my inmate identification card and looked for my
visitor.  I didn’t find her.  So, back to the guard’s desk I walked and
asked Guard #2 where my visitor was. 
After a short exchange, he informed me that my visitor had been
“embarrassed,” and had to leave prior to my arrival.  Guard #2 and I returned to the visitation
screening area and spoke with Guard #1, the one who had harassed me about my
clothing.  Guard #1 informed me that my
visitor, a Christian minister, had realized that her pants were see-through and
had left in embarrassment.  I was not
amused.  Upon returning to my housing
unit, I submitted a complaint to the FCI Petersburg Captain.

Two days later I received a post card from my PVS
visitor.  She informed me that the guards
had terminated the visit, but that she would be back two weeks later.  She also expressed her profound sorrow for
the visit being terminated prior to my arrival. 
She had not left on her own accord. 
Either Guard #1 or Guard #2 had officially terminated the visit prior to
my arrival in the Visitation Room.

To say that I was upset about this would be an
understatement.  But my lack of amusement
turned to anger several days later. 
While working out on the FCI Petersburg recreation yard, another man who
had a visit that day filled me in.  He
said that Guard #1, the one who had harassed me, had terminated the visit
because of my visitor’s pants.  The man
said that my visitor had been told to leave because of her pants being too
transparent (he said that the guard claimed that he could see her pockets
through the pants) and that she had burst into tears because of the
situation.  According to the man, my
visitor, the Christian minister, had cried all the way out of the prison.  I’m sure that she didn’t only feel terribly
embarrassed by the whole situation, but probably a bit insulted and dirty too
since Guard #1 was staring at her pants for a period of time.

The issue at hand
is that my visitor had been allowed to enter the prison, past the guard in the
front office area who makes clothing appropriateness determinations, who is
usually a woman.   So, she, wearing the
same clothing, had been approved to enter the institution by the guard at the
front desk.  Then, after arrival in the
FCI Petersburg Visitation Room, she had been accosted by the same guard who had
harassed me (Guard #1), and had been turned away.

Obviously there are several problems here.  The first problem is that a visitor to FCI
Petersburg — a Christian minister, at that — was allowed into the
institution, then forced to leave after a second guard, a guard who is not
tasked with making clothing determinations, decided that her clothing didn’t
comport with policy.  The second problem
is that the same guard harassed me on my way into the FCI Petersburg Visitation
Room by claiming that there was new policy which requires inmates to iron their
clothing prior to visits when, in fact, there is no such policy.  This was plainly an attempt at
harassment.  The third problem is that
the same guard involved in both of these instances lied about the visitor
choosing to leave, when he had officially terminated the visit.  And the final problem is that the official
protocol for termination of a visit did not occur.  There is a specific protocol which is
supposed to be followed in situations like this, which includes the involvement
of the duty officer, an associate warden, and the warden.  Since Guard #1 lied about what had occurred,
and Guard #2 rubber stamped the cover-up, these protocols were not implemented.

My plan is to take this matter up with either the Captain,
who has yet to respond to my email, or with an Associate Warden, within the
next few days during the noon meal (when they are present to speak with
prisoners).  I’ll voice my complaint and
try to find out why a guard at FCI Petersburg is being allowed to harass both
visitors and inmates and terminate visits through improper procedures.  While prison guards at FCI Petersburg might
not like following policy, it is there for a reason, and ignoring it and having
fellow guards assist in covering-up instances of guard misconduct is plainly
reprehensible.

I am plainly angry and will not allow this matter to rest
until the guard culprits, both Guard #1, who engaged in the harassment, and
Guard #2, who helped to cover it up, are both held accountable for their
actions.  Disgusting is what it is, plain
and simple.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.  Please feel free to post a comment below,
Tweet at us @prisonerlaw, or post a comment to the Prison Law Blog Facebook
Fans page.  Let your voice be heard!

_____

*1-It should be noted that he really didn’t have a leg to
stand on anyways.  While there is new
local level policy which says that FCI Petersburg inmates must be groomed and
be presentable, there is no regulation concerning ironed clothing. This was
just his way of trying to intimidate those seeking to visit with their families
and friends.

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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