Touring Rules

 A Prison Primer: Rules for Touring Prisons 

You are about to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime experience: you can only experience a "first time" event once, so to get the most out of this one, you must prepare yourself. Start to read some things about prison and prisoners. I suggest Chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Robert Johnson's Hard Time, 3d., for example, as a great introduction to the world you are about to enter. I also suggest writer/prison teacher Robert Ellis Gordon's The Funhouse Mirror: Reflections on Prison (Washington State University Press, 2000); former inmate Mike Posey’s Reflections on the Wall (ICAN Press, 1994) or Pete Earley’s Hot House, for a description of life in and after prison. There are a lot of other good books about prison written by people on both the inside and outside. Get some and read them! You will get a lot more out of this experience if you know what you are in for and know what to look for!

There are a few thoughts and rules I want to share with you before we leave: I hope you will think about them seriously and often. I assure you that how you respond to them will make a big difference in what you take away from this incredible experience.

First and foremost, if you cannot conduct yourself responsibly and intelligently on this trip--at all times and in all places--we cannot afford to have you go. The biggest problem in this regard is alcohol consumption. If you can't control yourself, we don't want you on the trip: you will be a danger to yourself and everyone else. 

When you go on this tour, you represent not only yourself, but me, all Criminal Justice students from whatever university you hail, that university, and our sponsor, Adams State University. The impressions you make on the institutional staff and inmates—as well as on hotel and travel personnel we will encounter—will last a long time after you have graduated and moved on to the world of fame and fortune. Specifically, for better or worse, you will leave a legacy that others must follow--i.e., to live up to or to live down, as the case may be. How you act determines the treatment your successors will receive, just as the treatment you receive is already largely determined by the actions of your predecessors.

Further, the treatment you will receive in the institutions is equally dependent on how you behave and how you are perceived by institutional staff during your trip. Unfortunately, prisons often deal with groups of "outsiders" who are ignorant of things that insiders take as axiomatic, and who are completely insensitive to things that insiders take very seriously. Over the years, I have witnessed many occasions when people (and groups) have received cursory treatment and superficial explanations because of their inappropriate or insensitive behavior.

In any case, I am happy to say that our legacy is a great one. I am repeatedly told by institutional staff--all the way from inmates and public information officers to wardens that "my" groups are consistently among the very best they see. Many even look forward to visits by us! Interestingly, they often get as much from doing the tour as we do from being on it.

So, keep that in mind. If I express concern about what you may regard as harmless antics, it is nothing personal. but be assured: it is important. After we leave the institution (or the situation), I will be happy to explain the cause for my concern, if you ask. In the meantime, understand that any behavior which disrupts or threatens the orderly operation of any PrisonTour--at any time of day or night, inside or outside of the prisons--is sufficient grounds, by itself, for a failing grade and to have your excluded from the trip. Prepare to have to make your own arrangements to get home (at your expense); you may also be referred to authorities for appropriate action. While I use these sanctions reluctantly, be advised: to protect and preserve the PrisonTour experience for others, I will use them. Both your paper and your behavior on the trip must be acceptable in order for you to receive credit for the class.


It is of the utmost importance that each of you understand that we are going into a world that most people know little about and even fewer understand.

The rules we are asked to follow may seem foreign, even ridiculous; but note well: the people who have imposed and will enforce those rules are deadly serious about them. Violation of any of the rules may result in your exclusion from the rest of the trip and/or a failing grade; violation of some could even result in arrest and criminal prosecution. Institutional staff we will be dealing with are used to a very strict routine in their institutions. As civilians and "outsiders" (and being a large group), we constitute a substantial aberration in their routine. We all need to realize and appreciate that from the outset. 

The staff we will be dealing with are used to a very strict routine in their institutions. As civilians and "outsiders" (and being a large group), we constitute a substantial aberration in their routine. We all need to realize and appreciate that from the outset.


The quality/value of our tour and your individual experience on the tour will depend in very large part upon you--individually and as a group. I have been around the state on this sort of tour more than three dozen times. I have seen the same guides give both terrific and mediocre tours of their institutions. I have seen every institution, at different times, appear to be--or to be represented as being--everything from dull and tedious, to exciting and challenging, to nothing short of terrifying. The point here is not which version of the institution is the "true" vision; I suspect there is some truth in each perspective. Rather, the point you must understand is that the picture of any prison that is painted for you will depend partly on the personality of the guide we have, his/her role in the prison, his/her mood on that day, and, most significantly, on how you conduct yourselves within that institution.

This is partly true because our guides, while competent to do what they do in the institution, are not professional tour guides. They do not get paid to excite you about what you are seeing, so that you will run out and tell all your friends to "go on the PrisonTour." Consequently, what our guides do "on tour" and how they do it is very much in your hands. If you appear interested and excited about their world (which they have agreed to share with you), and if you appear curious, inquisitive and genuinely appreciative of the insights they are willing to share with you, then they may open up with incredible stories and fabulous insights about what they consider to be the "real world" of prison. Conversely, if you appear disinterested, indifferent, or impatient, rest assured that your guide will "pick up" on it and give you good reason to feel that way, as he or she "a,b,c's" you through the place. When someone asks, "Any questions?" try to think of a good one.[1] 

NOTE: Most people like to be “respectfully” challenged; but there is no point in starting an argument. One student from a group from another college many years ago, for example, engaged in a prolonged and embarrassing debate with the warden about legalizing drugs. The warden wanted no part of the discussion; yet the student persisted. In the meantime, we lost valuable time sitting in a conference room while the prison awaited.

You should also understand that just because two people don't give you the same story/tour, it doesn't mean one of them is lying or "holding back." As you will learn, different people––including your fellow students on the tour--will often see a single event or setting from totally different perspectives. Naturally, the things our guides "see" will not always coincide with the things you "see." All we can fairly ask is that each be as honest (and communicative) as possible about the world that he or she sees and how he or she understands that world.

Your role in making the tour meaningful is to be prepared--alert, attentive, intelligent, interested, burning with curiosity, surprised, full of questions (to which you should give considerable thought before we leave), and most of all, anxious to learn as much as you can about the grave new world of prison.[2] Because it is so important to the success of the tour, let's make every effort to make things run as smoothly as possible. Be extra-conscious of the rules below; furthermore, make a special effort to obey promptly and courteously all requests and/or orders given to you by any representative of the institutions we visit.

In your appearance and actions, by what you say and do, you are representing not only yourself, but also me (since I am the one who told the institution you would be a worthwhile participant on this tour). The less trouble we cause for the institution and our escorts (and, on the positive side, the more we can impress them with our maturity and seriousness), the more valuable your experience will be and the greater the possibility will be that excursions like this one can continue for other students interested in getting a truly unique, first-hand look at a world known only to a privileged--or underprivileged--few. So learn and enjoy!



If you are improperly dressed, you will not be allowed into an institution.

1. Absolute prohibitions: Wear nothing that resembles inmate clothing. That means, regardless of color, you may not wear denim (of any color), sweatpants, sweatshirts, skirts, dresses, tights, Capri pants, stirrup pants, shorts, overalls, T-shirts, tank tops or sleeveless shirts, under-wire bras, running gear, camouflage, hats, and scarves; that includes pants, shirts, jackets, vests, etc. Certain colors are also prohibited. You may not wear anything that is solid blue, white, yellow, gold, orange, burgundy, or green—since they may look like inmate apparel from a distance. Inmates generally wear blue denims and T-shirts or plain cotton blue shirts, denim jackets, yellow rain slickers, etc. Special uniforms are green, orange, burgundy, yellow, or white. You should avoid wearing anything that is dark green; since that is what CDC officers wear. If your clothing--I'm speaking to men and women--even slightly resembles either inmate or officer attire, officials at the front gate will not let you enter the prison. Some institutions also prohibit sunglasses,

2. Dress with respect for the institution and its residents. Official are highly offended by--and will deny admittance to--anyone thought "too casually" dressed. Wear a shirt with a collar or wear a sweater-style top. Shirttails that are designed to be tucked must be tucked in. Officials assume that you will think and act as you look: if you dress like you're on a casual outing, they figure you're not taking them (or the danger of prison) seriously.

3. Avoid "alluring" and "provocative" clothing. So, the following are prohibited: high-heeled shoes, low-cut, or see-through blouses, or shirts that do not cover the stomach. Other than your arms, you may show no skin below the neckline; (i.e., no cleavage). You should dress nicely, but not to stand out.

4. Minimize all metals. We must pass through very sensitive metal detectors at the entrance of each institution. Accordingly, you may neither carry nor wear any metal--e.g., body piercings, belt buckles, coins, watches, jewelry, hair clips, belts, suspenders, pins, necklaces, etc. Further, avoid bringing any clothing that is made with excessive metal or has excessive metal parts--e.g., snaps, buckles, rivets, heavy metal zippers, etc. You may carry nothing--yes, that means nothing--in your pockets or on your person (except for your picture ID, e.g., a valid CA or other state driver’s license) when you enter the institution. Also you must carry your own ID; do not give it to someone else to carry for you. That is strictly prohibited.

What's it all mean? Dress "conservatively" and in good taste: decent cords or slacks (of the Dockers© variety are fine; pick black or tan; plan to wear a single pair of comfortable sneakers or shoes. "Flip-flops" and sandals are not allowed. Most prisons will require everyone to remove their shoes and place them on a desk before passing through the metal detector. Look decent, but plain; dress not to draw attention to yourself. (Inmates love to razz "preppies.") Finally, belts with metal of any sort (including buckles) must be left on the bus.


Pack reasonably! We have ample room for stowing, but limited time for handling, luggage. Limit yourself to two pieces of "luggage" (or what you can carry comfortably, by yourself, in a single trip to or from the bus).

1. Bring a backpack, briefcase, or large hand bag to keep with you inside the bus to hold your purse, wallet, clipboard, notes, books, cassettes, walkman, etc.

2. Bring a larger suitcase for your clothing--to be stowed beneath the bus. You will not be given access to stowed luggage until we arrive at our hotel, so keep important items with you in the bus! (e.g., to change clothes before or after a tour, bring the clothes onto the bus when you board at the beginning of the day.

3. You may want to bring a pillow--and a light blanket--from home. (The days can get long on the bus.)

4. Bring a coat/warm jacket, preferably water-resistant, especially in winter months. (gloves, if you like; but you cannot wear them into the prisons). 


1. Be 18 years of age or older; if not, you cannot go. I recommend that you be 21.

2. You will be denied admission to prisons if you have a felony or DUI conviction, are on probation for any crime (including DUI), or have an arrest record with no clear disposition of the charge.

3. Anyone who has contact with any inmate who is in--or might be transferred to--any of the institutions we will visit must notify the excursion leader at least one month before departure.

4. At least one month before departure, you must inform the group leader of any metal implants you have on your body; any special medical problems you have--e.g., epilepsy, diabetes, hypoglycemia, pregnancy, etc.; or any medication which you must have with you inside the prisons. You must receive prior approval to enter the prison with any medication whatsoever.


1. Always be prompt! The itinerary is based on years of experience. It is intended to be taken literally! If it says we leave at 6:30 am, then we leave at that time, not 2 or 3 minutes later. That means you must be in the bus and ready to go at 6:30 am--NOT leaving the dining room, or finishing in the bathroom, or on your way out the door, or running across the parking lot, screaming, "Wait for me!" And please don't count on the "I'm-not-the-last-one-and-he-wouldn't-leave-two-(or more)-of-us" rationale. The bottom line is that if you are not at the appropriate place at the appointed time, you risk being left behind. (It has happened! So don't let it happen to you.) I do not like to "police" and "herd" people around; so please don't make me. If you feel inclined to test this rule, bring airfare to get yourself home!

2. No possession or consumption of alcohol or controlled substances will be allowed on the bus at any time! (It is a felony to bring alcohol or drugs onto prison grounds; that includes the parking lot.) In no case will you be allowed to consume alcohol if we have a prison visit ahead of us on a given day. (e.g., no alcohol as part of lunch on the road), REASON: I don’t want anyone smelling like beer when we stroll into a maximum security prison! Further, you are encouraged to refrain from consuming alcohol during the entire week. Intoxication or excessive consumption of alcohol at any time may be grounds for exclusion from the trip, for disciplinary referral, and for a grade of "NC" for the class.

3. No smoking on the bus or in the hotel rooms. (I have requested all non-smoking rooms.)

4. I will bring snacks, as well as coolers stocked with sodas and water on the bus; Students are responsible for filling the coolers with ice in the mornings. Your assistance is greatly appreciated.

5. You may bring a "walkman-type" radio or CD player and a small selection of music. But leave the ghetto-blasters, etc., and the huge music libraries at home.

6. You may bring non-perishable snacks (in limited quantities) on the bus. Do not bring perishables or your own cooler; Open-topped and “lidded” containers (eg, cups with or without lids) are not allowed.

7. There will be trash bags available on board to stow the trash. Use them! Anything you leave on or around your seat is subject to being discarded each night, so trash what you don’t want to keep.

8.    The only drinks allowed on the bus are those provided in the bus coolers or ones like them--i.e., cans or bottles with "screw-on" tops. No "open" drinks of any sort that are contained in cup-type holders--even if they have a "pop off top" are permitted at any time. That means no coffee, sodas, shakes, slurpees, etc. (in paper or plastic cups)! And no glass containers.

9.    If you tend to suffer from motion sickness, you may wish to bring appropriate medication.

10. Plan to use on-land bathroom facilities. Bus bathroom is reserved for "emergencies" only.


1. All rooms are triple-occupancy suites, with 2 beds in the bedroom and a queen fold-out couch in the living room. Roommates should alternate sleeping assignments. Room phones may be turned on IF a room member provides a credit card to the desk. Local calls may cost as much as 60¢ or 75¢.

2. NO ONE is EVER allowed in a room that is not his or her assigned room. That also means that there may never be more than three people in a room at any time. If anyone is found, at any time, in a room that is not theirs, everyone in that room will receive a "no credit" for the course. That is the ONLY way to keep noise levels down. And keeping noise down in all hotels is a priority. We stay in very nice places, which treat us very well. We want to do the same.

3. Inform me of roommate choices at our first meeting; otherwise, roomies are randomly assigned. All rooms are same-gender rooms. No exceptions, even husbands and wives. This is necessary, as all rooms are triples.

4. Keep noise under control at all times.

5. I have requested no-smoking rooms, so don't smoke in the rooms.

6. Alcohol is probably the biggest single potential problem on the trips. We have cut back on free time to eliminate some of the problems. But there may be some opportunities to drink, including the hotel happy hours. IF YOUR DRINK, YOU MUST DRINK RESPONSIBLY. If alcohol becomes an issue, NO ONE will be allowed to drink, and the people causing the problem MAY be denied credit for the class and sent home. Drinking is the biggest single potential problem we have on the trip. So, irresponsible drinking will not be tolerated.

7. A free buffet-style breakfast or continental style breakfast of rolls, cereal, fruit, eggs, pancakes, French toast, sausage, bacon, etc. is available each morning from 6:00 or 6:30 AM. (See itinerary.) We will seldom have much time for lunch, so a hearty breakfast is strongly recommended!

8. Most of our hotels have a pool and spa; bring a swimsuit if you want to use them.

9. The hotel in Sacramento also provides a light snack during happy hour; and we usually sponsor our own BBQ on Thursday evenings.


1. Cameras/tape recorders are not allowed on prison grounds. (felony). So, if you have one for souvenir shots, keep it  stowed when we enter upon prison grounds. I am permitted to take some quick group shots in front of San Quentin and Folsom prisons. I will post those for downloading after the trip.

2. Turn OFF your cell phone as soon as we enter onto prison grounds.

2. Do not bring anything that might be construed as a weapon (e.g., pen knife, letter opener, etc.)

3. No narcotics or alcohol (that includes beer) are allowed on institutional grounds. (felony)

4. Prescription medicines require an MD’s written authorization; medication may not be taken into an institution without prior approval by the institution.

5. Do not dispose of anything on the prison grounds (including parking lot).


We will be asked to pass through a metal detector before entering each institution: this can be extremely time-consuming, if not done properly . To expedite matters, we will do the following:

1. [see “clothing,” above]. Wear no "unnecessary" metal, i.e., metal that is not part of your body or clothing. Remove body piercings. Avoid shoes with steel arches or metal tips, etc. Avoid clothes with extraneous metal, e.g., snaps, rivets, buckles. Zippers should be the only potential problem. A good pair of tennis shoes is perfect. Leave all coins, wallets, jewelry, watches, belts, etc., on the bus. Accordingly, do not bring anything of particularly great value on the trip. NOTE: anyone with structural metal on or in his/her body must inform the group leader immediately so that special clearance may be obtained prior to the trip. Such persons must also carry a doctor's authorization explaining such devices.

2. Prohibitions: chewing gum (Gum is contraband, since inmates may use it to jam locks during a riot or as a mold to fashion a key, or as glue to accomplish other illicit objectives.), purses and handbags, cell phones.

4. YOUR picture ID is the only thing you are allowed to carry into the prison. (i.e., Cal. driver's license--and certificate of validation, if appropriate). Always carry your own and no one else's. Some prisons will also stamp your hand and/or issue visitor tags/passes. Make sure your hand is stamped! Attach passes near your neck or chest--where they are visible and not likely to be knocked off (i.e., NOT on you waist or belt). Check frequently to assure you still have your pass & ID.

5. You will line up alphabetically--first the women, then men--and present your ID, as we enter and leave the front gate of every facility.

6. Stay clear of institutional traffic and doorways as we process through each metal detector.


1. Obey all orders and requests by institutional staff immediately! Don't ask why--just do it.

2. Stay close together and close to the staff escort--for your safety, as well as to hear what is said. Be disciplined. If you move quickly and efficiently, it will be safer and you will see and hear more.

3. When a tour guide or institutional representative is addressing the group, listen! Do not talk to each other or another staff member or inmate, even if it is difficult to hear the person speaking. You will discover that you can control the pace, direction, and quality of the tour by your questions and behavior and where you ask your questions.

4. Do NOT TALK with inmates, unless your tour guide has authorized it. Otherwise, you may say little more than "Hi" or answer a brief question, like "Where are you guys from?" ("college" is an acceptable reply.) Anything more than that is an "extended conversation" and is not allowed. This is not a matter of censorship: we will have ample opportunities to interact with inmates at length. It is a matter of security and keeping on schedule.

5. Do not give or accept anything to or from an inmate. Do not leave anything inside or take anything from an institution. It is inappropriate, and it could also be a crime!

6. Stay cool; be mature. Inmates will whistle and cat-call the ladies--and some of the guys. Their game is to get a rise out of you. They may try to intimidate and harass you. Don't react. And don't be silly! Just keep moving. It may happen that an inmate (who was not invited to speak to us) says something funny. If it is at the expense of someone else, especially staff, don’t laugh or react. That will only encourage behavior that the staff do not like. And that puts us on the wrong side of everything.

7. YOU are responsible for yourself and your belongings. Neither the California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, San Diego State University, Adams State University, the University you come from, the institutions we will visit, nor anyone affiliated with JustUs Educational Partners, nor I will accept liability or responsibility for your personal injury or death or any property lost as a result of your participation in this excursion. (Also see state of California "no hostage policy" on distributed materials.)

8. All prisons have a "no hostage" policy, meaning an inmate will not be released in exchange for a hostage. This applies to everyone--staff, visitors, the governor. And on that note...


Notwithstanding all  the rules, this ought to be

the experience of a lifetime.


[1] Obviously, if you can't think of a good one, don't force a discussion with a bad one. Prepare by reading some good stuff on prison and thinking about what you want to learn on the tour. Know what questions you want answered.

[2] IMPORTANT: As difficult as this may sound, it is even more difficult than that. Our tough schedule will not admit of late-night partying; yet some of you will be inclined to try. Be forewarned: falling asleep on the bus or inside an institution or otherwise suffering the ill effects of late-night activities can—at the very least—affect your grade. Inappropriate behavior can also result in one’s exclusion from the tour, non-credit for the course, and even disciplinary action by the university. For purposes of your behavior on this trip, class is always “in session.”