CAMERON, Mo. – 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 asked to remain anonymous.
She 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, he (her son) says, ‘Well, don’t worry about it ’cause they’re gonna be doing count soon and they’ll come then,’” she said.
Having arrived around 3:15 p.m. for her visit, it was now about 6:30 p.m.
“The count came and left, and nobody came. Count came and left again, nobody came,” she said.
It wasn’t until about 3:30 a.m., nearly 12 hours after arriving for her visit, that a correctional employee finally noticed Rainey.
By that point, she said she had exhausted her efforts banging on doors, knocking on windows, pushing buttons and yelling for help. She eventually urinated on herself, as there was nowhere to use the restroom.
“And then by the time I had gotten their attention, I had went back out of the room again, I had went out several times, and I came back out of the room and saw somebody, I guess, what he (her son) calls ‘The Bubble,’ and 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.’”
Upon arrival, Rainey said she signed in, handed over her drivers license, received a key to a locker and placed all of her belongings, including her cellphone, in it.
Having never signed out, and with her car still parked in the parking lot, she said it’s baffling that staff didn’t notice her.
“How do you keep somebody locked in a visitation room like that and not even remember?” she said.
A spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Corrections told FOX4 Problem Solvers in a phone call 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 staff are still unfamiliar with the layout of the prison.
But she also blamed Rainey, saying the prison reviewed the entire 12 hours of video and insists Rainey didn’t try to alert anyone.
She said a lot of employees have cars parked in the parking lot, so Rainey’s car didn’t seem out of the ordinary.
Missouri state Rep. Richard Brown said that’s ridiculous, and 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.
She said the experience was appalling, and she has still not received an apology from staff for her treatment.
So is the Crossroads Correctional Center dangerously understaffed?
Problem Solvers requested Crossroads’ staffing numbers, but the department wouldn’t tell us, insisting that staffing levels are kept confidential for “security reasons.”
But Brown 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 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.”