Instagram like most social media sharing sites is a great way for most of us to show off our latest wares, fancies and generally ourselves living it up. What it has also become of late is a medium in which prisoner’s wives also get to show and reveal their daily lives to other prisoner wives whose husbands and boyfriends who they don’t get to see so often because they’re locked up.
In a compelling article for Vice called called “Instagram Prison Visit,” writer Whitney Mallett sets about interviewing several wives and girlfriends of prison inmates about how access (or, in their partners’ case, lack of access) to instagram has both hindered their relationships as well as put them in touch with other women in their situation.
What the author comes to find is that whilst their loved ones are locked up they too in some way are locked up too. Denied and inhibited from maintaining daily experiences but at the same time still yearning and relishing the opportunity to share nonetheless.
And thus has spawned a new trend where the loved ones of prisoners have begun documenting their solitary existence in lieu of their loved one’s captivity who by virtue of being incarcerated can not go about recording their own existences. But again the human desire to share, to experience to empathize is ever present and necessary.
They set about recording their journey to see their loved ones. The complexes that they are housed in, the long maddening drives or taking of public transport to see their loved ones, the moments before they enter prison facilities and observe their austere rules and mandates and generally anything that helps them stay connected to that part of themselves and loved ones that isolation from society has posited.
Tells one passage:
It’s a three-hour drive from Mindy’s home to Delano when there’s no traffic. When I talked to her on the phone, she’d already been in the car for four hours. She makes this trek every Saturday; once a month she gets a hotel room in Delano and visits Cody on both Saturday and Sunday. Her relationship is documented on her Instagram account, where she posts pre-visit selfies and screenshots of her recent call history after phone calls with Cody, shares letter-writing campaigns in support of allowing lifers conjugal and family visits, and regrams the prison photobooth pictures you can print with tokens during visiting hours—often hashtagged #highschoolsweathearts or #kvsp, for Kern Valley State Prison.
And they share. Share because insanity deems it necessary. Share because one needs to bond. To reflect. To come to terms with the loss, their loneliness and their own kind of imprisonment.
When Instagram is used this way, it’s more than mere vanity for women like Mindy and Alex. Hashtags like #prisonwife, #visitday, and #freemybaby help women connect and share stories and experiences. Mindy told me Instagram is somewhere she can find support without judgment, adding that in the rest of the world “there are too many negative comments and ideas about why I’m with a prisoner.”
In comment threads, women give each other advice on the finer details of the dress codes for various facilities. There are accounts devoted to communities of prison wives and girlfriends like@an_inmate_loves_me and @strongprisonwives that post inspirational text art, regram their followers’ photos from visits, and share the letters and drawings their inmates have sent them.
And yet despite their efforts to stay human, connected, the prison system in some way serves to demoralize, negate and dehumanize prisoner partners as well. From having to deal with rigid codes of visitation, to being harassed as to what one can even wear to such visits (and there is a veil of sexual harassment here too) to being made to feel that in some way they are just as guilty as the individual who they savor.
Even though millions of Americans are incarcerated and millions more come to see them, visitors are routinely treated as if they are abnormal, or as if they have done something wrong. Many family members, asha said, feel like “because I love somebody who has been incarcerated or because I have given birth to someone who has been incarcerated, I too have wronged. There is something wrong with me.”
And while the wives and girlfriends of prisoners on the outside go on to share their experiences with their followers and other similar women going through similar experiences it can never be shared and experienced with the one that they truly yearn for. For that the void only becomes shattered when the occasional letter arrives. And until the next prison visit with selfies and pics being taken along the way before later being uploaded to instagram where they get to document their own imprisonment…