Prison visits make us slaves of time

A biweekly column in which various contributors from both sides of prison walls explore common ground for effecting change.


I was six years old when my father got arrested in 2002. I turned 21 in August of this year. When I went to Stillwater Correctional Facility in May of 2017 to see my dad for the first time in almost 15 years, I had to wait while my family was allowed to see him.

My visitor’s application had not gone through yet. My eyes stung from the tears I was holding back as I waited through the longest hour of my life.

Fast forward to my first real visit, when I get in with no issues. The door to the visiting room opens. I look to my right and I feel like I am six years old again. I do not see my father, who I barely know anymore. I see my daddy as he was 15 years ago, and I just want to hug him and never let go.

We step onto the “hug mat,” the only place where physical contact is allowed, and finally I am in his arms. All too soon the guards cut our embrace short and we sit down across from each other.

We begin talking and getting to know each other again. We talk about everything from hobbies to the music I like to literature. We then move on to more important topics such as work, plans for the future, and my childhood that he was ripped away from.

Michael Himbeault / CC BY 2.0

While I am filling him in, I see him glance behind me and nod. He tells me that we only have five minutes left. We both have so much to say and so little time to say it, so we settle on goodbye’s, I love you’s, and when I might be able to see him again. And just like that, the shortest two hours of my life come to an end.

We walk back to the “hug mat” with conflicting emotions and untold stories, and we hug until we get cut off again. The familiar prickly feeling of unshed tears returns and follows me all the way home.

The next visit is even more stressful. My nana and I are turned away because our pants look stretchy and there is no spandex allowed in the visiting room. My pants are only seven percent spandex. Still, we are told to buy sweatpants at Walmart. When we return in our new clothes, we are allowed to visit.

This time we start with how we have been since the last visit and then jump into the stories of my childhood again. As I tell him about some of the bad things that happened to me, I start to cry, and I see him reach for me and pull away.

He is struggling not to touch me. He cannot hug me or even hold my hand to comfort me as I recall these painful memories. All he can do is watch his baby break down, and I watch my daddy try to control his own emotions. When we finally get our emotions under control and begin talking again, we get our five-minute warning. We try to say as much as we can before we leave.

I have been back to Stillwater as often as I can during my visit to Minnesota. Every time, it seems the time gets shorter. An hour or two visit will never be enough for a family that has been ripped apart. A “hug mat” will never make us forget what we are missing when that hug ends. We are the slaves of time.


Jhennell Rosado-Martin is a participant in Voices for Racial Justice’s “Bridging the Gap” partnership. Reader responses are welcome to To learn more about the organization’s work, visit