What does a hug cost?

By Marie E. Matyjaszek

When I think of prison, I don’t think of sunshine, palm trees and sparkly baubles (my preferred daydream items). I toured a prison once, and even the weather cooperated for my general impression of living behind bars – stormy, dark and overall creepy. I was, however, surprised at the amount of amenities and items inmates could buy, earn, or were provided. For example, there was a soft serve ice cream machine available in the cafeteria area. I wasn’t exactly expecting this treat to be housed amongst  violent offenders.

A recent jury award of more than $1,000 to a Jackson prisoner had me again questioning what is appropriate to allow prisoners serving their time. Convicted murderer Kevin King was awarded $1,251 from a jury, who found his First Amendment rights were violated (the violation garnered him $1, and $1,250 was awarded for punitive damages).

In 2012, King’s wife came for a prison visit. Conjugal visits are not allowed in Michigan, so there shouldn’t be hanky-panky between visitors and inmates. King claimed a guard, with whom he had a bad relationship, refused to allow him and his wife to hug.

King is no stranger to firing off lawsuits, so the decision to sue came quite easily. And, this time, he won.

I don’t think prisoners should be deprived of all forms of intimate expression; if we expect them to “reform,” they need to be able to feel love, and know there is a reason to change their behavior. States that provide conjugal visits hope to keep relationships intact, in part to continue the support system once prisoners are released.

Hugs are something I look forward to after a bad day; I would say that  in prison, you probably have a lot of bad days. Hugs  can make you feel better physically and mentally, and I doubt King’s attitude was improved after his hug was a no go.

Assuming the hug was only going to be just that, it seems it could’ve done much more good than harm in this case.

And let’s not overlook the fact that it cost a lot more than $1,251 to fight the lawsuit.

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Marie Matyjaszek is a family law attorney whose blog site is: http://legalbling.blogspot.com. She can be reached by e-mailing her at matyjasz@hotmail.com.

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