As I’ve mentioned before, I make many prison visits. It’s part of the job in Georgia appellate practice. All the appellate courts, the parole board, and most of the counties where convictions originate are in or near Atlanta. And most of the prisons are south of Macon. I’ve learned some things over time about how to do them right and how to do them poorly. Here are my tips for a successful prison visit.
- Remember that it’s about the relationship as much as it is about the case. Representing a person on a major legal matter in a situation where you don’t get to talk that much is a formula for alienation, misunderstandings, and frustrations for both the lawyer and the client. So, make sure you carve out some time to learn some things about the person you’re representing as a person and not merely as a client.
- Do some homework up front. When you can, tell the client that about your upcoming visit, list the things you would like to discuss, and ask him about the things he’d like to discuss. Prepare a loose agenda for your meeting.
- Avoid scheduling visits near count time. Every prison does a count of all the inmates at least once a day. The count takes a while to do and can either delay your visit or shorten it. When scheduling your visit, be sure to ask when count is done.
- Plan to wake up early or to stay overnight before. You have a long drive ahead. But it’s possible to have a visit early enough to make it back to the office for some quality time in the afternoon.
- If you want to bring in a laptop or iPad, be sure to ask first. Even when you do, have a pad and pen ready in case the person at the gate didn’t get the memo. Every prison is different when it comes to allowing electronics into the facility, but most don’t allow them.
- Don’t bring in items from family or friends to give to the client. If you are going to give the client anything, be sure to clear it with the facility first.
- If you will need a document to be notarized, be sure to make arrangements with the facility
- You’ll have three choices for lunch: something brought, something fried, or subway. If you want to sample local color, you’ll be going with fried. For years, I’ve been thinking of publishing a book for lawyers called habeas food, to serve as a guide for the best places to eat on a South Georgia Prison visit.
- Bring in your keys, two forms of ID, your pen, and your paper. Leave everything else in your car.
- Know your car tag number. You’ll have to write it on the sign in sheet.
- Load the iPod with your favorite music or an audio book. Prison visits always bring out my inner Johnny Cash fan.
Above all, enjoy the road trip. It could be worse. There are much worse ways to practice law. Instead, you’re on the wide open road south of Macon.