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What to Do When a Loved One Goes to Prison

Parole Law Blog by The Law Office of Greg Tsioros

What to Do When a Loved One Goes to Prison

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Knowing what to do when a loved one goes to prison is often a challenge for friends and loved ones left behind. You may feel grief, a sense of betrayal, anger, and even guilt. When combined, these feelings are overwhelming.

Understand that keeping regular contact with your loved one in prison may be a complex and heartbreaking task. It’s frequently difficult to maintain phone contact because phone access within the prison may be unpredictable.

Sadly, your family member or loved one won’t be able to help you with many of these feelings and frustrations. For that reason, it’s up to you to provide self-support and care to take you through this difficult and challenging time.

Consider the following suggestions when your loved one goes to prison.

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#1: Keep in Touch with Your Loved One in Prison

You must keep in touch to maintain your relationship with a loved one in prison. Make face-to-face visits, send snail mail cards and letters, and place regular phone calls.

Realize these tasks aren’t always easy to fulfill. You must determine the prison schedule and know when you’re allowed to visit.

Know at the start that your loved one probably can’t make outgoing calls from the prison to you. It’s up to you to make calls until he or she is reached.

Communications with your loved one may seem complicated. You won’t have the freedom to interact in a natural way for a long time.

#2: Expect Feelings of Loss and Grief when Your Loved One Goes to Prison

Psychologists explain that family members with an incarcerated love one are likely to experience deep feelings of grief and loss.

These feelings are in some ways like experiencing the loved one’s death.

Although it’s possible to communicate with him or her, you both realize that the world of prison seems worlds away from your life. He or she might not seem like the same person.

When a loved one dies, you mourn and then move on to the next stage of life. You have a funeral and, with the love of family and community, move on.

When your loved one goes to prison, you probably won’t have the level of support and positive acknowledgement that you need to accept what’s happened. Friends and other family members may make it challenging to find new equilibrium—especially if they blame your loved one for everything or express negative emotions in your company.

#3: Anticipate Feelings of Shame, Guilt, and Social Stigma

You must find a way to rid yourself of the guilt, shame, and/or social stigma of your loved one’s actions.

You may improperly assume some of the moral responsibility for his or her actions. You may feel that, if you’d loved him or her just a little more, none of this would’ve happened.

Know that self-recrimination won’t help you find peace.

Find a support group, grief counselor, social worker, or religious counselor as a next step. Don’t keep your feelings bottled within.

#4: Find Support for Yourself to Take Care of Your Emotional Needs

Although your parent, partner, spouse or child in prison certainly needs your support, you must take care of yourself at this difficult time.

It’s common to experience confusion, despair, anger, shame, worry, and fright all at once. These responses are quite normal under the circumstances.

Use these self-care suggestions to help yourself:

  • Understand you don’t need – and shouldn’t – discuss your feelings with everyone. Some friends and family will offer support but others are likely to distance themselves from you.
  • Permit yourself to feel as you do. You may feel angry at your loved one in prison. You may shed a lot of tears. All of this is normal.
  • Take care of your basic and emotional needs. Self-love is healthy.
  • Ask for financial help if losing your loved one’s income has left you in uncertain financial condition.
  • Stay in the here and now. Do your best to avoid thinking about the future. Manage life one day at a time.

#5: Prepare for the Future

Although this suggestion may seem completely opposite to the last suggestion, planning for the future is an important step for you.

Don’t attempt to immediately plan for the future after your loved one goes to prison.

Know you’re probably going to lose some relationships after a loved one is incarcerated. However, if you’re reaching out for social support, you’re probably making new relationships as well. For instance, members of your support group know much more about what you’re going through.

To plan ahead:

  • Make a plan. This includes a budget. If your loved one in prison was the breadwinner, or your shared financial responsibilities, financial realities are different now. Perhaps you need a part-time or second job. You might need to move to a less expensive home or apartment. Review your finances to determine how much money you need to cover expenses.
  • Consider the extra costs of your helping your loved one in prison. Incarceration may be expensive for you. For instance, you’ll need money to buy items from the prison commissary, place or accept phone calls, and he or she needs some money to pay for incidentals inside the prison. Costs add up quickly: having an account in prison comes with fees. If you need more money to help your loved one, ask another family member or friend to help.
  • Household duties. If your loved one previously helped out with the chores, you’re going to have more housework and duties than before. Ask for help.
  • Self-care. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Loss of your loved one in prison involves the grieving process. Because he or she is so important to you, don’t forget to maintain healthy habits. Get enough rest, eat regular meals, and get some exercise. You’ll feel better.
  • Make a visitation schedule. Since the prison limits the times you may visit, it’s up to you to decide how frequently you can schedule these times. The prison may be some distance from your home. Discuss your visitation schedule with your loved one to manage his or her expectations.
  • Prepare what you want to tell others. It may be challenging to know exactly what and how much to share with others in your life. Be truthful when possible, but be true to yourself. If you’re uncomfortable with sharing details, explain to others that he or she moved or that you decided to separate. You may also want to decide with whom you will share information. You may want to discuss matters with your family or include close friends.
  • Decide what to tell the kids. It’s best to tell children the truth if your loved one is in prison. Be prepared to answer their questions. Discuss what the children should say to others outside of the immediate family. For example, the children could simply say that he or she is away or he or she is in jail. Before you decide to bring the children to a prison visit, go yourself. You’ll be able to prepare them for what to expect and to allay fears.

#6: Visit the Prison

Understand the prison’s rules before you go to visit. When possible, contact the prison to learn what to expect:

  • You’ll probably be searched.
  • You might not be permitted to touch or hug your loved one in prison.
  • You can’t give a present to him or her, so don’t bring items from home with you.

Calm yourself. The experience of visiting your loved one in prison will be stressful.

You may feel anxious:

  • Calming techniques, such as using a relaxing scent (you don’t use each day), can help.
  • Breathing techniques may be effective. Try closing your eyes while placing one hand on your solar plexus and the other on your heart. Breathe in deeply, inhale and exhale four times.

Prepare for drama:

  • He or she may lash out. The experience of being in prison is life-altering. He or she may fear losing you. Do your best to stay calm. It’s okay to express that you’re having a difficult time, too.

Have backup support on hand after the prison visit.

The experience of seeing your loved one in prison is difficult. Preparing for the visit, and experiencing the visit, are hard on you both.

Ask an empathetic friend or family member to spend some time with you after the visit. Plan to meet for coffee or a meal, or just have a friendly discussion after the stress of visiting your loved one in prison.

#7: Create the New “Normal”

This is going to take some time.

Your life will feel completely out of whack at the start. You feel a bit lost.

It’s important to stay in the moment.

It’s perfectly healthy to celebrate family birthdays and holidays with your loved one in prison. However, make new traditions or take up a new hobby now.

Rely on your faith. If you’re a spiritual individual, going within and reaching out to the faith community can bring strength, internal wisdom, and comfort.

If you don’t embrace a faith system, take walks in nature. The natural world is soothing.

Keep growing, in peace.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Houston TX

It’s vitally important to consult with a criminal defense lawyer if you or a loved one is facing serious charges.

There are also many reasons to consult with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney after your loved one goes to prison.

He or she may want to discuss the appeals process or learn more about parole.

If we can help, contact The Law Office of Greg Tsioros in Houston at 832-752-5972.

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