I know. What a somber topic! Not everyone goes through the experience–or should I say trauma–of a loved one going to prison. Regardless of whether it is a minor offence or a major one, one thing is certain–it is never easy: for the prisoner as well as those connected to them. Which brings us to the question: how to help a loved one in prison?
As much as we might not like to think about it or even acknowledge that it is possible, sometimes bad things happen. Whether by accident or design, one of those bad things could be a loved one having to go to prison for a crime. It might be just for a few months, or it could be for many years – maybe even life – but no matter how long their sentence is, the shock and the disruption are going to be hard to bear. A family member or friend in prison may deeply affect your life in the long run.
Something you will want to do if a family member or friend goes to prison, no matter what the reason, is to help them as much as possible, keep them encouraged and there are a few ways to do this.
Here are 7 ways to encourage and help a loved one in prison
Stay in touch
Even if being in prison is justified, it is just not easy on the person’s mental health. One of the best ways you can help a loved one in prison is to keep in contact with them, as this will give them something to look forward to.
Find out the rules about what you can send, or when you visit, what to wear, say and do when you are there. The staff at the prison monitor every communication and have rules about the language one uses. That said, you can write letters, call on the phone and video chat.
Visiting as often as possible is a great way to do this, but it’s not something that you can do all the time; as much as it might sound selfish (it’s not, of course, but you might feel that it is), you have your own life to lead and must put that first. Also, if the prison is far away from your home, visiting isn’t always going to be possible.
When you are unable to visit, send inmate letters to those in prison instead. It might not be quite the same as visiting in person, but it is still contact with the outside world and will help a loved one in prison stay updated with what is happening.
Send photos of your home as life can be quite dreary within those prison walls. Seeing photos of your daily life will feel like a wonderful outing for them that they will treasure.
Do answer your loved one’s phone calls when they call you. Don’t worry about what to say – just share what’s happening in your life.
Send positive messages
Prison life is hard. It is an emotionally difficult time where the prisoner questions their own value or self-worth. When you communicate with them, remind them of their strength. When you visit or write or call, remind them you care is one of the best ways to help a loved one in prison.
Keep them in your lives
Remember your loved one is not just a prisoner number. If they are cut off from the world, they get embroiled in prison politics and that is not a pleasant thing.
Talk to them about everything that is going on with your life without feeling guilty about it. They live vicariously through you, so it is okay to describe all the good things that are happening with you.
Talk to your loved ones about tough times you are going through as well. It is okay to share your struggles, your health issues and your family problems. Your loved one will most likely be compassionate.
Remember their birthday
Send birthday greetings to show them you remember them with love. Maybe inside prison it is just another day but of course birthdays matter. Surprise them by sending them a bunch of letters.
Keep them engaged
Prison is geared to make the prisoner powerless and inadequate. As far as the system is concerned the prisoner is just an inmate. But they mean far more to you. Keep them updated with world news. Ask for their take on it. Form a book club and read books together.
Show them benefits
In many prisons, there are plenty of activities on offer to keep inmates busy and to prepare them for their release – they might be able to learn a trade or gain some valuable skills that will help them get a job or even start their own business if that’s the route they choose to go down once they get home again.
The problem is that sometimes a sense of hopelessness will set in, and the prisoner may feel there is no point in taking up these activities because they won’t be able to do very well at them. If this is the case, you can offer some advice. Encourage them by pointing out how useful it will be to gain some skills and why it would be worth at least trying. In other words, you can be the one to show them the benefit of these additional qualifications. This helps a loved one in prison get ready for their new life.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself
Sometimes, it’s easy to focus on the person in prison and not on yourself, but this is not healthy. You need to look after your mental and physical health to be able to help a loved one in prison in the best way, so take the time to care for yourself just as much as – perhaps even more than – your loved one in prison.
Only when you are well can you do your best for anyone else, including other family members who may need your support. So take time for self-care.
That said, when your loved one is in prison, the best thing to do for them, your family and yourself is to try to stay in control of the situation.