When a Loved One is Incarcerated
There are often emotional, relational, and financial implications when a loved one is incarcerated. The time served does not only affect the incarcerated. Family members commonly express feelings of guilt, shame, or embarrassment. Whether the imprisoned is a spouse, partner, or dependent, emotional concerns for their well-being are normal and can take over daily life.
Beyond emotional adjustments, family members must manage new expectations and routines. What will the “new normal” look like? Relationships may feel the strain as families sort through the logistics of visitations, communication, finances, or other challenges. Whether you have an imprisoned family member or friend, you may find the following information helpful.
When a Child is Incarcerated
Having an incarcerated child is a reality no parent is hoping to experience. As much as you find yourself waiting for phone calls or worrying about your child, it’s important to continue to live your life. There are caring individuals ready to help you transition during this difficult family time.
- Professional Support Systems- Though many parents express feelings of shame, embarrassment, and regret, you are not alone. A professional counselor, religious leader, or even a trusted friend or family member can help you process through these emotions. Find people in similar situations or consider joining a support group. Family counseling is also a helpful outlet for each member to share about how the current situation is affecting them. Life will continue to move on, and it’s important you’re able to function as your best possible self.
- Care Networks- Additional responsibilities, such as other children or employment, could hinder your availability to attend court dates or visitation times. Have childcare options or other resources available to afford those opportunities to you. If finances are tight, think creatively: trade off childcare responsibilities with a friend in exchange for a meal, light housekeeping, or a time you watch their children.
- Communication- Phone calls, emails, letters, and personal visits are wonderful tools to maintain relationships during a time of imprisonment. Not only does it provide you with a measure of comfort, it gives your loved one a sense of hope and excitement. Communication from a parent or guardian can offer the prisoner a sense of connection, dignity, and acceptance.
- Finances- Tax dollars do provide housing and food, but many prisons require inmates to pay for their own clothing, toiletries, shoes, and communication charges like phone calls and computer time. Decide how much you are able and willing to send to help offset these fees.
- Research- Since policies can change or differ between prisons and jails, learn the visitation procedures. Know what it requires and expects of you in terms of schedule, forms of identification, and what you’re allowed to bring or carry in with you.
An Incarcerated Spouse or Partner
Imprisonment is not an easy life circumstance. Support is necessary for both you and your incarcerated spouse/partner. Consider the following as you determine how much support you’re able to give while maintaining your daily responsibilities.
- Family Meetings- Undoubtedly, people will have questions about what’s happening. While it may or may not be appropriate or legally wise to discuss the details, your family unit is likely experiencing mixed feelings. Talking through as many details as possible could greatly benefit your family members.
- Consider the Children- It is confusing for a child to understand why a parent is gone. In a developmentally appropriate way, be honest with your child about the situation. Allow them opportunities to ask questions or speak their feelings. Encourage other adults to always speak respectfully about the child’s parent in front of them.
- Visitation with Children- Some prisons have specific programs in place to allow incarcerated parents time with their children. If you bring your child to visiting hours, be mindful to educate them ahead of time about the changes they will see in their parent, such as appearance and clothing. Talk to them about the prison setting, going through security, and following specific rules.
- Financial Implications- An important step is to review your budget. Do you want to maintain your current lifestyle while your spouse/partner is incarcerated? You may find you need to increase your income or cut back on expenses. Estimate expenditures you’ll acquire from visitation times. Gas money or bus fare to and from the prison should be included in your budget. Remember to factor in money you may need to deposit into your spouse’s inmate account for necessary charges and fees.
It is helpful for families to remember that today is not forever. Though feelings of anger and blame are natural, be courageous and seek to forgive your loved one for choices made. Remind yourself why you have hope for the incarcerated. Use this circumstance to plan where you’d like your life to go from here. Write a new ending. Change is possible, and your future is hopeful. If a loved one has been incarcerated consider reaching out to talk to a counselor.