Prisoner Visitation as an Ethical Act
Randy Best, Leader
Ethical Humanist Society of the Triangle
Once a month, I take a 26 mile trip to visit four men at the Federal Correctional Institution in Butner, North Carolina. I am there to visit. I do not have an agenda. I visit these prisoners at their request, meeting with each one for an hour.
The organization that sponsors and arranges these visits is Prisoner Visitation and Support (PVS). PVS was founded to visit Vietnam War resisters in federal prisons. Once that visiting started, the young men who received visits suggested that they did not need visitors because they were regularly visited by family members. But there were other inmates, many serving long sentences, who would really benefit from having a visitor. PVS changed its focus and now provides visitors to any prisoner who contacts the organization. PVS only visits. The visitors cannot correspond with prisoners, provide resources, or have contact with prisoners after they are released.
I am committed to PVS. My schedule is full, yet I take one Saturday a month to visit prisoners.
What do the men that I visit get from my visits? Most have said that they welcome some contact from "the outside" and a break in the mundane routine of prison life. There is some sacrifice on their part to visit with me. They are subject to strip searches both before and after their visits.
What do I get from PVS? For me, it is an opportunity to walk my Ethical Humanist talk, to recognize the worth and dignity of others who have transgressed and been condemned by society, for I believe that everyone counts. My PVS experience has also expanded my boundaries. The life experiences of most of the men that I visit are vastly different from my own. I visit across a gulf of race, class, education, and often mental illness. These are men who I would never meet in the normal course of my life. The experience of meeting these men, some who have done terrible things, has transformed my outlook and understanding. This has been challenging at times. I have found a shared humanity in my conversations with prisoners.
I believe that I experience life through my network of ethical relations with others – my encounters with others transform me. A diversity that I find in my visits with prisoners has both challenged and enriched me.
If you are interested in visiting prisoners, contact PVS at: http://www.prisonervisitation.org/.PVS remains the only interfaith, volunteer visitation program in the United States authorized by both the Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Defense to visit all federal and military prisons. Over 300 PVS volunteer visitors see thousands of prisoners a year in over 90 prisons across the nation.