Coping With the Incarceration of a Loved One

Prison Wire

My family member was recently incarcerated. People have started asking where they are and I’m not sure how to answer. Visiting prison seems intimidating, and I’m worried that failing to visit to stay in touch with them will deteriorate our relationship. How do I cope with the incarceration of a family member and maintain a healthy relationship with them during their sentence?

You’re not alone. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, approximately 2.2 million adults were held in jails and prisons at the end of 2016. In other words, for every 100,000 citizens in the United States, about 655 faced incarceration. As a result, one in four women have an incarcerated loved one, while one in 28 children have an incarcerated parent.

The incarceration of a loved one can be emotionally devastating and mentally challenging. Whether your close friend or spouse is facing incarceration, it’s imperative to take care of yourself, stay connected, and educate yourself during their time in prison. Here’s an in-depth guide to coping with the incarceration of a loved one.

Maintaining a healthy relationship with an incarcerated loved one requires staying connected. If you’re not sure how to reach your loved one, search for public mugshots or arrest records using an online information site. After you locate where your loved one is being incarcerated, research what services the facility offers.

Most facilities allow inmates to connect with loved ones over the phone. Regular phone calls can help you and your loved one stay updated and communicate regularly. If talking on the phone isn’t an option, consider scheduling an in-person visit or a video call to see your loved one. If the distance is an issue, sending traditional letters is another option.

Visiting a loved one in prison can present a range of challenges. Preparing beforehand by following the tips described by the Federal Bureau of Prisons can make the visit easier and encourage positive visitation experiences. According to the Prison Fellowship, for the 2.7 million children with an incarcerated parent, visitations can strengthen family bonds.

Building a strong support network of close friends and family can help reduce emotional stress during your loved one’s incarceration. Online resources like the Strong Prison Wives Facebook group allow family members of prisoners to connect and share their experiences.

Since the incarceration of a loved one can have detrimental effects on mental health, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help. The professionals at With Therapy pair clients with a personalized list of therapists to ensure they find the therapist best suited to meet their needs. Meeting with a mental health professional can help you develop coping mechanisms and provide you with the opportunity to talk openly about your feelings.

Educating yourself on reentry into society can help you feel more empowered during this time. According to a study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, sharing educational and rehabilitation resources with your incarcerated loved one can reduce their risk of being rearrested.

 In a recent study, Adam Looney, economic studies researcher at the Brookings Institution, found that over half of ex-prisoners failed to find employment within a calendar year of their release, with median earnings of approximately $10,090. Since finding employment after incarceration can be challenging, consider saving money while your loved one is in prison. 

 Your loved one will likely have conditions of parole after their release from prison. Reaching out to your loved one’s probation officer to learn more about their conditions of parole can help ensure that your loved one does not risk returning to prison due to miscommunication.

 Challenges often arise in the days or weeks following a loved one’s release from prison, as emotional boundaries can change during incarceration. As Theresa Zollicoffer notes in The Prison Wives Diary, “What was once a happy home has now been torn apart due to an ignorant decision made by her husband/significant other.” Create a plan for your relationship, as well as a strategy for dealing with the reactions of your children or other family members.

Incarceration can strain the relationships of prisoners and their loved ones. All in all, staying connected, surrounding yourself with a support network, and planning for your loved one’s reentry into society can help you cope during their incarceration.

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