Florida bans visitors from wearing "#visitsmatter" T-shirts

An email from FDC’s assistant deputy secretary of institutions alerted employees that the messages are “a potential threat to security”


By Amanda Rabines
Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. — When Ann Beal Salamone went to visit her son in prison last week she wore a white T-shirt with “MY VISITS Matter” written in the center of a big red heart.

On her way out, another visiting mother noticed the T-shirt and asked where she could get one as well. The two women began to chat and were joined by a correctional officer. “We were all there, I could tell you, thinking about how important it is for our loved ones to have family and friends that care and love them,” she said.

As positive of an experience it was for Salamone, it won’t happen again under a new directive imposed by the Florida Department of Corrections.

An Aug. 5 email obtained by the Orlando Sentinel from FDC’s assistant deputy secretary of institutions, Hope Gartman, alerted employees that messages like the one on Salamone’s T-shirt are “a potential threat to security.”

The email singles out T-shirts created by Florida Cares, a nonprofit organization that advocates for people in prison and their loved ones.

Denise Rock, the executive director of Florida Cares, said the T-shirts first became available to the public shortly after FDC proposed a set of modifications to its visiting procedures that could reduce visitation hours to every other weekend at some institutions and limit those who can visit prisoners, among other changes.

“Our intention in creating them was to inform people,” she said.

Rock has spoken with FDC officials on the matter several times and hopes to keep conversations happening to try to create what she calls “an amicable solution for everyone.”

The email from Gartman reads: “The messages displayed on these shirts are considered inflammatory and a potential threat to security.”

“As visitation is intended to provide a calm environment in support of an agency priority for family reunification, this is not an appropriate venue to communicate grievances with pending rule changes. For this weekend only, visitors who arrive wearing one of these shirts should be allowed their visit, but provided with a warning that future visits will not allow this attire.”

The email singles out T-shirts created by Florida Cares, a nonprofit organization that advocates for people in prison and their loved ones.

Denise Rock, the executive director of Florida Cares, said the T-shirts first became available to the public shortly after FDC proposed a set of modifications to its visiting procedures that could reduce visitation hours to every other weekend at some institutions and limit those who can visit prisoners, among other changes.

“Our intention in creating them was to inform people,” she said.

Rock has spoken with FDC officials on the matter several times and hopes to keep conversations happening to try to create what she calls “an amicable solution for everyone.”

The email from Gartman reads: “The messages displayed on these shirts are considered inflammatory and a potential threat to security.”

“As visitation is intended to provide a calm environment in support of an agency priority for family reunification, this is not an appropriate venue to communicate grievances with pending rule changes. For this weekend only, visitors who arrive wearing one of these shirts should be allowed their visit, but provided with a warning that future visits will not allow this attire.”

The possible rules are similar to a controversial proposal in 2018 that was withdrawn after the Joint Administrative Procedure Committee questioned if restrictions complied with the department’s commitment to encouraging family reunification. The 2018 proposal also drew the ire of loved ones and family members of people in prison.

In a statement, FDC press secretary Paul Walker said the new rules being proposed are meant to modernize and define visitation procedures.

“FDC recognizes the vital importance of visitation during an inmate’s incarceration,” the statement read. “Maintaining community and family ties is also an essential component for an inmate to successfully re-enter into society.”

Visitation hours were expanded at several state incentivized prisons, he added.

FDC’s proposed visitation policies are the first step in the rule-making process. Next steps require JAPC to discuss and determine whether the proposed rules, or certain portions of, adhere to the authority of the agency.

So far, FDC has only posted its initial notice and JAPC has not met to review the proposed rules.

“They’re making it about the T-shirts, but it’s not about the T-shirts, it’s about the visits,” Cherie Smith, a wife of a prisoner, said.

She went to visit her husband at the Taylor C.I. in northern Florida this past weekend, where she said she saw a sign with big letters saying the T-shirts are banned and that visitors would be refused entry if they were wearing one.

“It seems to me, anytime the loved ones [of prisoners] on the outside try to band together to have a voice [FDC] does everything in their power to keep us from talking even though they tell us they’re doing everything they can to keep our loved ones safe,” she said. “I’m still going to get my shirt. I just won’t wear it to visit.”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Recommended for you

Copyright © 2022 Corrections1. All rights reserved.