Do I Have to Stand for This?
by Kimberly Burke

 children-of-prisoners  guard-prisoner-relations  personal-narrative  prison-life

Slowly my eyes blink open to the sound of my alarm. Because it’s my day off, I shouldn’t even be getting up, especially since I just went to sleep a few hours ago. I was so excited last night that it was hard for me to fall asleep. You see, today is my first visit with my 7-year-old son since I was first incarcerated three years ago.

My mother and son flew to Texas from Utah just to see me. I’ve been waiting for this for so long just so I could hug my son. The day has finally arrived. I spend the next two hours getting ready. A hot shower and plenty of baby powder later, I’m smelling sweet. I painstakingly apply just the right amount of make-up and curl my hair. I want to look extra special when they arrive. Each time the phone rings, I watch the guards’ eyes to see if they fall on me. And finally they do, and she calls my name for a visit.

I jump up, dressed in crisp, creased state-issued whites, with my black state boots shining like new money. My heart is racing 90 miles an hour as I walk the 100 feet to the visitation room.

The door opens and I see this beautiful set of green eyes that look so much like the child I left three years before, yet he is so tall, and all his baby fat is gone. His face lights up, but not as bright as mine, and we embrace in a hug strong enough to bend steel. I see my mother, and hug her too. This is the moment I’ve waited so long for.

My eyes float over to the guard and I recognize a glimmer of the hatred that fills so many in her position. Angry prison guards who feel their only mission in life is to make us feel less than human. I notice only one other visit in progress, and they smile our way. They too realize how special a visit is to a prisoner.

As the visit goes on and I get reacquainted with my son, I comment to my mother that she’s doing a wonderful job with him. He’s polite, quiet, well-mannered, and very well-behaved. I can’t help but notice the guard continually spewing hatred with her eyes.

My son gets up to get some children’s books that are there for children on visits. The guard points her index finger at my son and motions for him to come to her. He hangs his head, and very shyly walks over to her. In a rough voice she spits, “You need to stay in your seat, or I will end your visit. Do you understand?” He replies, “Yes ma’am” and sulks back to our table. I am shocked that this guard spoke so harshly to my child, and all he was doing was getting a book to read. Humiliation creeps over me as I realize I can do nothing about it. If I caused a scene then my visit would be canceled. Yet my hurt is strong. I decide to wait until after my visit, and then speak to a ranking officer.

A while later my son becomes excited at seeing a large grasshopper on the window screen. He jumps up to get a closer look but only takes one step when the guard yells with venom in her voice, “I told you once already to stay in your seat and not get up, or I will end your visit, and you won’t be able to see your mom anymore!” He falls back in his chair, lays his head on the table and cries. I am furious. Who does she think she is? She can’t speak to my child that way. I begin to console and calm my son. I tell my mother that the guard is not allowed to speak to him that way. I am an inmate and belong to the State of Texas for the next five years, he doesn’t. He is an innocent little 7-year-old boy, who has now been traumatized by this guard during the only visit he’s had with his mom.

This incident happened to me on July 7. I’m still hurt, angry, and humiliated because I wasn’t able to protect my child from the hate within these walls. It is understandable if a guard speaks to an inmate in such a manner, but not an innocent child.

When I asked if he wanted to return again to visit me, he hung his head and said no. This incident will remain in his tiny memory every time he thinks of our visit. It’s hard enough being incarcerated and having to deal with abuse by prison guards. On top of that we have to deal with them abusing our families when they visit us. It’s no wonder over half the prison population never receives a visit during their incarceration.

Even though this situation is currently being investigated, I doubt if the prison officials take this as seriously as I do. In the end it’s still only an inmate’s word against the word of an officer.


If you’d like to write concerning this incident feel free. Write to Kimberly Burke #938449, 1401 State School Rd., Gatesville, TX, 76599.

Reprinted from Sojourner, Fall 2002 Vol. 28, No. 2