Many families with a loved one in prison experience economic hardship, especially if the incarcerated person was a primary wage-earner of the household.
Spouses lose a co-parent to jail, and find themselves raising children alone.
It goes without saying that the impact of having a parent incarcerated on the children is enormous. Children of inmates in jail are at a greater risk of being incarcerated in the future.
As if this weren't enough, families with an incarcerated loved one experience social stigmas in their community because their loved one is in jail.
How to cope with a loved one in jail:
Depending on your situation and the type of relationship with the individual who is now incarcerated, it’s important that you develop some coping strategies to help you deal with the incarceration in a productive way.
Above all else, make certain that your coping strategies help you, and your loved one without compromising your own well-being.
- Remember that your loved one is responsible for their choices in life, choices that led them to jail, not you.
- Make decisions early on as to how much emotional support you can provide your loved one in jail. How often are you willing to visit? How many times per week or month do you plan on talking via telephone? How often do you plan on writing letters? Set these benchmarks ahead of time and stick to your guns. Don’t commit more than you are capable of providing.
- Decide how much financial support you’re willing to provide, and how often. Be mindful of your budget and what you can afford. Don’t feel bad if you can't spare anything.
- Find a friend, family member, or support group to help you through this difficult time. Remember that you, not just the incarcerated individual, are affected by this and need care and support as well.
- Continue to live your life and work on your own personal plans and goals. You should be your number one priority!
- Understand that your family’s normal routine (on a day-to day-level and also during special occasions or holidays) can continue as normal. Try to find ways to involve your jailed loved one if possible.
- If you see or hear something on the news about prison life that upsets you, remember that your loved one will be safe if they make good decisions and lifestyle choices while incarcerated.
- Remind yourself that you have no control over the decisions that they make. Avoid watching television shows or movies that may trigger anxiety and make you feel upset.
- Anticipate stressful times and prepare for them. These stressful times usually include the following: when your loved one is arrested, transferred, reviewed for parole, and released.
- Communicate as openly as possible with your loved one and set expectations both for them and yourself. Understand that things don't always turn out as planned, but that your family can and will adapt.
Your incarcerated loved one may act out in various ways during contact with you, by acting manipulative or controlling. Remind yourself that your loved one may simply be afraid of losing you and is feeling disconnected from their former life. 45% of all inmates lose contact with their family members while in prison, and this may be something that they're afraid of. Keep this in mind and reassure them, but don't compromise your own self-respect.
The first thing to remember when your loved one goes to jail is this: their incarceration is not your fault. No matter what you tell yourself, there is nothing that you could have done to help your loved one avoid this situation. Going to jail is a result of your loved one’s actions alone.
NICRO is committed to turning lives around - We encourage all South Africans not to stand back, but become involved either by donating a monthly amount, a once-off donation or look at the NICRO wish list for support in kind for around the country and see how you can assist.