In November, 54-year-old Denice Rainey sat in a small, cubby-like visitation room at Crossroads Correctional Center, staring at her shackled son through barrier glass.
“‘Oh my gosh, you know, we’ve been here for a long time,'” she recalled telling her son, who she requested remain anonymous.
Rainey said she left the isolated room and peered into the larger, public visitation room, but found no other families or inmates visiting.
“I went to go look and everybody was gone, and I tried to get somebody’s attention and then, you know, [my son] says, ‘‘’Well, don’t worry about it ’cause they’re gonna be doing count soon and they’ll come then,'” she said.
She had arrived around 3:15 p.m. for her visit. Three hours later, the scheduled time for inmate counts came and went, but no one from the prison came by their visitation room.
“Count came and left again, nobody came,” Rainey said.
She said she began banging on doors, knocking on windows, pushing buttons and yelling for help, but eventually exhausted her options. She was also forced to urinate on herself, as there was nowhere to use the restroom.
It wasn’t until about 3:30 a.m. — nearly 12 hours after arriving for her visit — that a correctional employee finally noticed Rainey after she left the cubby-like room to look into the larger visitation area.
“I pushed that button again and they said, ‘Can I help you?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve been here since 3:30 at visiting time,’ and they started laughing at me,” Rainey said.
“I said, ‘This is not funny,’ and they continued to laugh. And so I got kind of aggravated and went back to the cubby room and sat down and I told my son, ‘They know we’re here now.’”
When she arrived at the prison 12 hours earlier, Rainey said she signed in, handed over her driver’s license, received a key to a locker and placed all of her belongings, including her cellphone, inside.
Having never signed out, and with her car still parked in the lot, she said she is baffled by why the staff didn’t notice her earlier.
“How do you keep somebody locked in a visitation room like that and not even remember?” she said.
In a phone call with KTLA sister station WDAF, a spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Corrections admitted that prison staff had made a mistake.
The spokesperson blamed the blunder, in part, on the recent consolidation of Crossroads with another nearby prison, saying some reassigned staffers are still unfamiliar with the layout.
But she also blamed Rainey, saying the staff later reviewed 12 hours of video footage and claimed they didn’t see Rainey try to alert anyone.
A lot of employees have cars parked in the parking lot, too, so Rainey’s car didn’t seem out of the ordinary, the spokesperson said.
Missouri state Rep. Richard Brown has called the prison’s excuses ridiculous, saying it shouldn’t have been Rainey’s responsibility.
“When you are in a correctional facility, there really isn’t any way to notify anyone. It’s up to the correctional officer to keep an eye on you, for the most part,” he said.
Rainey said she contacted the department’s central office in Jefferson City, but staff seemed to be unaware of the situation that unfolded at Crossroads that evening.
“I said, ‘Do you not know what goes on in your facilities?’ and they said, ‘Well, we had no idea,’” Rainey said.
The experience was appalling, said Rainey, who has still not received an apology from staff for her treatment.
So what went wrong? Is the Crossroads Correctional Center dangerously understaffed?
WDAF requested Crossroads’ staffing numbers, but the department insisted that information was confidential for “security reasons.”
Brown, however, has said it’s no secret that Missouri prisons have struggled to find and maintain employees.
“In fact, in some of those communities, you have warehouses that are paying more money than they are paying the correctional officers,” Brown said.
Despite the panic she endured, Rainey said the silver lining is that she was able to spend so much time with her son.
“That is the plus in the whole thing, is I got to stay there with him for that long,” she said. “We didn’t run out of things to talk about, you know, I enjoy visiting him.”