Meeting at jail
I have done many jail notaries, and one of the biggest challenges is meeting the client. The inmate is never the client. They are locked up and don’t have phone access. The signer’s girlfriend, attorney, or mother is generally the client. The problem is that when doing a prison notary job, you deal with the criminal class, they are not always so reliable. Meeting someone at a jail is not so easy. Some clients just don’t show up which is why you should not get in your car to go to the jail until you have received a confirmation call.
If the client doesn’t have a cell phone, I would strongly consider not going to the job, since you won’t be able to reach them if you need to. Of the clients that do show up, finding them is not so easy. One client wanted to meet me at the door to the jail. He always goes in the back, and I always go in the front. I waited for an hour at the front door and he waited near the back door to the waiting room. If you are going to meet at a door, you better specify the door. There is the door to the jail near the street, the door to the waiting room, side doors, and many other doors. Its even possible to be at the wrong jail. There are three jails in Los Angeles within two minutes walking of each other. Maybe its better to meet at Denny’s.
I met many individuals at the parking lot where the Ethiopian attendant was. It was easy. It was on a particular intersection, and nobody else was there — except the Ethiopian guys who work there and all were on a first name basis with me. Another solution was to meet at the cash register at Dennies. There is only one register, so that makes it easy.
The main thing to remember
You need to remember that it’s not where you meet, its how you identify exactly where you are meeting. This is especially true if you go to a new location that you are not familiar with. Jails are complicated. There is one place to park, and you have to find the correct entrance, and then know which hallway to go down.
The next problem is waiting.
You might be at the jail all day. You could have a lock down, an inmate who was moved to a different cell, moved to a different jail, or who was not identified correctly. The guards might just be slow that day. Anything is possible. If you don’t agree ahead of time how much you charge for excess waiting, you might wait all day without pay.
Identification is another problem.
The inmate’s bracelet is not an acceptable notary ID. Make sure the client who meets you has a current ID that is acceptable in your state, or else it might be a very short notarization. I have used credible witnesses many times in jails too, but in California we need two of them, so make sure you have the right amount of witnesses.
Travel fee up front?
Since there are so many difficulties with jails and jail signings, you might get the travel portion of your fee up front. Then, if there is a problem getting to the signer, or identifying them, you get paid for your trouble instead of having a total loss. You should charge a generous amount for jail signings, because you will get stiffed 10-25% of the time, so be prepared for the realities of life.