COMMENTARY: What does a hug cost?

By Marie E. Matyjaszek

When I think of prison, I don't think of sunshine, palm trees and beautiful 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 simply provided. For example, there was a soft serve ice cream machine that was available in the cafeteria area. I wasn't exactly expecting this treat to be housed amongst some of our state's most violent offenders.

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

Back in 2012, King's dutiful wife came by for a quaint prison visit. In case you were unaware, conjugal visits are not allowed in Michigan, so there shouldn't be a lot of hanky-panky that goes on between visitors and inmates. King claimed that a prison guard, with whom he had a bad relationship, refused to allow him and his wife to hug each other.

When serving a life sentence, you have all the time in the world to ponder what to do about this dilemma. King is no stranger to firing off lawsuits relative to his treatment in prison, so naturally, the decision to sue came quite easily. And this time, he won.

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

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

Assuming the hug was only going to be just that, it seems like 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.


Marie E. Matyjaszek is a family law attorney whose blog site is: She can be reached by e-mailing her at

Published: Fri, Aug 21, 2015