Volunteer Visitation at the Northwest Detention Center

By Pat Gunn

Recently a woman asked me what good visiting detained persons at the Northwest Detention Center does.  “What’s the point,” she said, “of visiting?”

It’s a good question.  People will have different answers.  Here’s mine.

Loneliness is like a gland that secretes pain and fear.  This emotion is a response to the isolation of detainment.  Individuals contend with the emotional pain of separation from their families and the physical discomfort of confinement. They fear their fate–a fate they cannot control. 

So, many persons detained at the Northwest Detention Center live in ever present pain and fear.  The persons in detainment live in separation and hold that loneliness in their hearts.  A visitor is like a salve.  For one hour twice a month, a visitor provides human contact and reassurance that the detained person is not forgotten and is not alone.  Through the process of active listening, a visitor provides space for the detained person to acknowledge their own human dignity.  In this moment, the visitor offers the grace of acknowledgement to the detained person.  A simple and small act of two humans affirming the worth of one another.   I believe it is in this act of recognition that we humans find transcendence. 

Visitation is the starting point for systemic change:  Only through the recognition of ourselves in others can we move forward as individuals and as a society.