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Visiting california from the UK

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sallydavies1984
sallydavies1984's picture
Visiting california from the UK

So... I met my pen pal in May last year. I'd say in the last few months things have moved on and I would say we are in a relationship as best as we can via jpay and writing letters to each other. It's constant.

My plan was that I would go over and see him early next year January or February.

I really can't wait until then and I don't think he can either.

He is not up for parole until 2025. So it would be a case of continuing as we are and me visiting as often as I could.

I'm excited yet nervous about the whole thing but I need to go and see him and make sure these feelings are there in person.

I'm just wondering flight wise, how is best? He's at the california substance abuse treatment facility. He tells me it's in the middle of nowhere. And visiting is only Saturday and Sunday. I've checked and the nearest airport is fresno. But would it be easier to fly to a bigger airport and then drive?

Just after some advice on how would be best to work it and places to stay etc if anybody can help.

Thank you

athenaathena40
athenaathena40's picture

Hi Sally, sometimes flying into a bigger airport is cheaper. American Airlines international has always been my choice, you get both a purse and free carry on bag, great staff.  As far as driving goes: you could check with your hotel, hotels in the US often have a free a shuttle that will pick you up at the airport.  Sometimes there are hotels connected directly to the airport via sky bridges so you have less traveling around to do and more time for visiting.  Here in America, we have car services that you can use by putting the app on your phone, if you decide don’t want to drive during your visit, as renting a car can be very expensive and time consuming.  Uber is a popular one, so is Lyft.  I highly recommend Lyft, I use it when I travel to big cities, it’s very affordable and the service is excellent.  You download the app, set up your account, have your card info saved, request a driver, then they come to pick you up.  You might want to let your bank know you are traveling internationally so your card works here.  Have a wonderful visit, safe travels, and best of luck to both you and your pen pal.

algorithm
algorithm's picture

Sally, you are very brave...I would say...too brave, lol.

Mateo
Mateo's picture

No tips for you yet but I too am travelling from UK to CA and will visit my Penpal when I'm there so hopefully you and I both share a good experience with it. Enjoy your trip

lamorena
lamorena's picture

How exciting!

I have a few tips that I hope will help.

First off, as athena mentioned, flying into a bigger airport, probably LAX in this case, is usually cheaper and you will find more options on incoming and outgoing flights. That will give you more flexibility on controlling what time you get in and leave. Unfortunately that usually does mean renting a car and driving to the prison. Looks like LAX is about a 3 hour drive from the facility your pal is at. The drive shouldn't be too bad as California is pretty scenic, plus you'll be so excited to meet him that the drive will fly by. 

As far as where to stay goes, call the hotels in the area and see if any of them offer a family rate for those visiting the prison. That rate usually wont be any cheaper than what you will find online, but it give you a good idea of what hotels are usually used by the families of the inmates. Also look on tripadvisor for reviews of the hotel. 

The other option for where to stay is to stay in the nearest big city. You'll have a wider range of hotel options and things to do after visit, but you'll just have to get up a littler earlier the morning of the visit to drive a little further. 

I'm sure you've already discussed the visiting process with your pal, but I would like to give you a few pointers on this too. California uses the VPASS system to schedule appointments, however, since you are coming from so far, I recommend calling the prison and finding out if they have someone who can help you schedule a visit due to your circumstance. In my experience, the prison is willing to help you schedule a visit if you are travelling over a certain distance. In my boyfriends prison, those VPASS appointments are gone within a minute and it is so hard to get a visiting appointment.

The visiting dress code is often stricter than what it appears to be on the handbook. Each facility has its own set of rules on what is and what isn't acceptable. A good place to get a good idea about this is the forum on prisontalk. They have a forum for each prison in California and they should have a thread all about visitation. The forum for your pals specific prison will have a lot of good information in general. I would highly recommend browsing through that to get a good idea of what to expect when visiting.

Lastly, and this is the part that saved my sanity when visiting for the first time, see if your pal can connect you with a wife, sister, mother, etc. of one of his trusted fellow inmates to give you some guidance. Someone who visits often. They know how visits work, where to stay, how to dress, what to bring, etc. They can answer your questions tailored specifically to that facility and can give you a good idea of how it all works. That will take some of the stress off of the first visit so you're not overwhelmed and can enjoy yourself fully. 

Good luck! 

Mateo
Mateo's picture

Thanks for this lamorena - it will come in handy for me too. Especially the forum with information on specific prisons. And I never knew about the VPass system so I'll definitely read into that ahead of time too. Is there a period of time you should apply for the VPASS thing? Like 2 weeks before you visit, for example? And yes, luckily I have contact with my penpals family and I talk to his dad relatively often so although there's a slight language barrier, I can probably get help when I'm also in CA from UK to visit my pal.

lamorena
lamorena's picture

Hello Mateo! I honestly can't remember how long it took to get into the VPASS system, but I do remember that I signed up for it about a month and a half before flying out to California and I was approved fairly quickly. The nice thing about that system is that it also notifies you of lockdowns. For example, if the yard that your pal is in goes into lockdown that usually means visits are cancelled or modified, therefore the system will automatically send you an email with the status change of their yard. This comes in handy when mail or phone calls slow down, you'll know ahead of time that it's happening so you won't be so worried.

The bad thing about that system, at least in my experience with the facility that I visit, is that there are only a certain number of appointments for visits that are allowed to be scheduled on VPASS. After they're gone, you're out of luck. It used to be that you can call in to the facility and schedule a visit through the phone as well, but that is no longer the case. Those visits are gone within a couple of minutes, literally! What I found to be the common practice (again, this is in the facility that I visit) is that the inmates family will log on and grab those appointment times just in case they are able to make it that weekend. If they are not able to make it that weekend, they will drop the appointment the weekend of, or the morning of, and someone local will pick it up. That works ok for those who are local and are off every weekend, but makes it near impossible to get an appointment for those of us who have to travel. That's why I highly suggest getting in contact with someone at the prison who can help get you an appointment to visit by bypassing the VPASS system altogether.

Mateo
Mateo's picture

Okay that's perfect, I'm not visiting CA for another few months so I got time to sort it all out. The facility I'll be visiting is Kern Valley State Prison so hopefully it will be okay but who knows, it'll probably book up quickly as well. I had my visitation Questionnaire confirmed finally though, so I definitely can visit. I'll just have to be on the lookout to book an appointment super quickly because I think the drive to the facility is within 1-2 hours away.

lamorena
lamorena's picture

That's the facility I visit! You should be able to bypass scheduling throught VPASS since you're coming all the way from the UK. Email me anytime and I'll give you the contact information of who you need to email so you can get a visiting appointment. 

masvalesola100 [at] gmail [dot] com

Mateo
Mateo's picture

Oh awesome, I'll save your email and message you nearer the time I'll be visiting CA & KVSP to organise it a little more! Thanks for all your help 

lamorena
lamorena's picture

You're welcome, I'm happy to help!

KateAndrews
KateAndrews's picture

I went to colorado to see a pen friend in 2018. Flew into Denver did the tourist bit for a few days. Used greyhound buses then an uber taxi to the city I needed. Yes it was expensive the way I did it but I have to have it easy n stress free due to my health.
Can you drive? Are you willing to drive even a short distance?
Have you tried prison wives n girlfriends and getting to know others in California. They have their own website.
Does your man have a friend who has someone visit so you can share fuel expenses.?
There are ways n means.

KateAndrews
KateAndrews's picture

Oooh I have a penpal at Kern too.

Mateo
Mateo's picture

@KateAndrews how does he find it? My pal got transfered from Corcoran to KVSP and didn't like the change. He did say he gets given more food now though LOL

KateAndrews
KateAndrews's picture

Out of all the facilities I deal with this is the third least favourite. My penpal is more or less confined to his unit if not his cell to keep things from setting off.
Jpay always takes time to come through and can be out of order. I haven't even tried to get a book in yet. Not that they would stop them I think it would just be an age before my penpal gets one. I just don't get good vibes which is really putting me off visiting. I'm sure I am fretting for no reason though.

lamorena
lamorena's picture

From what I've heard, you are absolutely right Kate. They are confined to their cells for a majority of the day and often have their programs cancelled due to being short staffed, training, etc. Seems like they cancel things more than they actually run in there. 

I've had a few books and letters that never made it to my boyfriend for no apparent reason. He has told me several times that things tend to disappear in that mail room. Most of them do make it through tho! It can take awhile at times. KVSP is very inconsistent. 

Mateo
Mateo's picture

@lamorena very true! My PP keeps writing me double the amount because he thinks I stop writing to him. But it's just the slow mail room taking over a month to process each of my letters. Ridiculous

lamorena
lamorena's picture

Mateo- It can be very frustrating! I'm in the states, only a few states away from California actually, but my mail still takes over 10 days to get to him. Crazy!