AID TO FAMILIES
Our mission is to help families cope with incarceration and prepare for release and the reuniting of the family.
On Mother’s Day 1986 I gave birth to a son, Nathan. He was the apple of our eye. He was an only child, an only grandchild and on two sides of the family an only great-grandchild, and I must admit he was spoiled shamelessly. It was a childhood filled with family, school, sports, church, and all the things that make up middle class America.
In May of 2004, he traveled with his grandfather and a mission team to Russia. They witnessed and passed out Bibles. He returned to graduate from high school, and I felt that he was on track for a wonderful Christ centered life. That road was to encounter serious bumps and detours..
After high school Nathan seemed to lose his way. He drifted in and out of jobs and floundered for a couple of semesters at Wilkes Community College. By the summer of 2008 I knew something was wrong and suspected drug abuse. On New Year’s Day 2009, Nathan stole musical instruments from his dad. When confronted he admitted to an addiction to narcotic pain pills. On Mother’s Day he was arrested the first time for breaking and entering and larceny. I had never been before a magistrate to post bond. I had never been to a jail. I was swimming in uncharted shark infested waters. For the next six and half years he racked up 30 charges, spent two years on probation and served two stints in prison totaling almost 3 years.
I learned a new vocabulary — Opus (offender) number, Paytel, Global-Tel, Holiday packages, visitation schedules, and words like terminate, revoke and curfew. I learned this new way of living by suddenly being immersed in it. There were times I felt as if I was drowning. The memories are still vivid and sometimes overwhelming — the first time I stood in line for an hour to speak to my son for ten minutes through a metal vent with small plexiglass window in the county jail or the first time my bag was searched after having driven two hours to a mountain prison. I remember the shame of having a friend ask if I was part of a jail ministry.
Later on in this journey I noticed that there were many people like me, confused and uncomfortable. There were times when I realized I was not alone, when a veteran visitor would smile and help me find my way.
God said in His word that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord. If any good has come from my son’s struggle with addiction and his imprisonment, it is the knowledge I gained that allows me to be a help and support to others who find themselves in the same situation.
This page is designed to let you know you are not alone. There are many of us who understand your pain, your anger, your shame, and the overwhelming sense of how do I do this? The sites and information provided pertain to North Carolina Department of Corrections policies and procedures. Each state has comparable information available.
As I have tried to lay this out chronologically the first thing you would encounter is the arrest and arraignment of your family member. When a suspect is arrested he/she is taken by police or deputies to the county jail. A deputy showed up at my house and arrested Nathan. In many jurisdictions, he/she has the right to make a telephone call, or calls, once they are placed into custody. Generally, he/she is not entitled to make a telephone call until after booking is completed. Nathan was allowed to call me from the holding cell in Intake. Even after several years my stomach still lurches when the phone rings from an unknown number.
The police will take any personal property or money that the suspect has and put it in a safe place after performing an inventory. The suspect will be asked to sign the inventory after reviewing it.
During the booking procedure the police will ask for basic information (such as address and birthdate), and take fingerprints and a photograph (mug shot). The suspect may also be asked to participate in a line-up, give a handwriting sample or do similar things.
A magistrate whose office is usually located in the courthouse or jail will set the initial bond amount. You have the option of bonding your family member out of jail. One option is to use a bail bondsman who will charge 10% of the bail amount in order to post the bond. You will have to meet with the bondsman, pay them and sign necessary papers. He or she will go to the jail and secure the release. You may also see the magistrate yourself, if you own property, and use that property to secure the release. In the case of a secured bond over 14,999.00 the magistrate will require a deed/title search in order to use your property. All taxes and liens have to be paid in order to gain the release of a suspect with a bond over this amount. If the suspect does not report to court on the appointed day you may be required to pay the total bond amount to the clerk of court. It is often beneficial for you to keep up with court dates yourself. Nathan often had several cases on different days. His court appointed attorney would continue them until they were finally all on one date. You can find these court dates at The North Carolina Court System.
In Nathan’s case we used all three bond methods. We posted bond for him repeatedly. As a mother, I could not bear the thought of my son in jail. Eventually it reached the point where we could not financially do the bond and I learned first hand about small county jails in North Carolina.
Visitation was on Saturday on a first come first serve basis. David and I would stand for 30 minutes to an hour outside in the heat or cold waiting for our turn. The visit was ten minutes with a large wall separating us from Nathan. There was a window about 8” by 12”. Under the window was a vent that David and I called the cheese grater. This allowed us to speak to Nathan. I was too short to reach the vent and had to stand on tiptoe. I had to back up in order to see him through the small window. While we were standing there trying to have a conversation there were three other families simultaneously visiting. It was loud, hard to hear and provided no privacy. Today, Wilkes County has a new jail with video visitation. You must register online for these visits. If you have no access to a computer or internet at home you may use the public library, free wifi at local businesses and restaurants or churches, or a smartphone.
In jail, basics are provided, but there are opportunities for an inmate to purchase paper, pencils, stamps, and snack foods. Some small jails still allow family and friends to bring cash to the jail to leave for the inmate. All newer jails use a debit card system. You put money into an inmate’s account online through Access Corrections. You can also purchase commissary items online for an inmate through Access Securepak.
When Nathan was in jail I lived for phone calls. Talking to him allowed me the comfort of knowing he was well and surviving. I set up an account through Pay-Tel that allowed him to call me. North Carolina prisons do not use Pay-Tel, so when Nathan went to prison I set up a similar account through Global-Tel. It works the same way. One thing to understand is that all communication with an inmate is monitored, and phone calls are recorded.
Nathan was allowed to take his Bible with him and I took books regularly to the jail, although the women’s jail in Wilkes did not allow books. Each county runs its jail differently. A call to the jail will save you time, money and disappointment.
Once in prison an inmate is assigned an Opus or offender number. That number will never change no matter how many times a person is incarcerated. That number is necessary for mail and the online systems for money and phone service. You can use the inmate’s name and number to search to see what prison holds them and their status. You can search for inmates at Department of Corrections Offender Search.
Inmates may receive letters and pictures no larger than 8 1/2 by 11. Books and magazines have to be shipped from the publisher. Nathan had a subscription to our local paper and to Sports Illustrated. I also regularly shipped books to him from Amazon.com. He was allowed to bring his Bible from the jail.
There is so much more and I know you are pushing information overload. If you have questions feel free to call (336) 984-0542 or email through our contact page, and I will answer them or send you to the people who can. We are currently getting ready to start a new support group for families of inmates. We do understand what you are going through, and we do so want to help.
A last thought to give you hope — my son Nathan has been out of prison for over two years. His probation is finished and he has no pending charges. He will always battle addiction, but every day is one more day clean. He is active in our church and has found a woman who loves the man he is. With God, all things are possible.