Once incarcerated, doing time on the outside can be as difficult for families and for those who do time on the inside. Below are several coping strategies compiled from various places. Many of these actions are easier to read than actually put in practice. Many of these center on managing your own guilt.
Pray. Regardless of your religious affiliation, prayer and meditation should be central in your life. If it is not, today is a good day to start. “With God, All Things are Possible” is the official motto of the State of and a good one for us as well.
Don’t play the blame game. It is not your fault. When you stand in judgment before God, you will only be accountable for your actions and not your loved ones! All excuses will melt in the light of truth. You can feel sympathy but don’t feel guilt.
Set personal goals. Life goes on for both you and your family outside of prison. Although difficult, your personal well-being is primary. If you have children or are the primary care giver for another is particularly important.
Balance. Don’t focus on the incarcerated family member to the exclusion of other family members. Balance your family and care giving responsibilities. Forsaking relationships with others can deprive you of a valuable support resource you may need later. Depriving children of needed attention can have negatively impact them.
Set limits. Setting financial and emotional limits on the incarcerated can be personally painful. Decide early how much time you can spend on phone calls, commissary expenses, mailings, etc. A feeling of guilt is common. Remember, the inmate is just one person in your family and you are responsible for the decisions that put them there. Stick to your limits. It will get easier.
Find support. Choose people with whom you can talk in confidence and won’t judge you or your family member. This may be another family member, friend, co-worker or church member. Find a community support group.
Keep the traditions. Don’t let an incarceration ruin your family traditions and routines. An empty place at the table may be painful, but not nearly as painful as being alone without other family and friends during the holidays. Be creative in involving your loved ones in the celebration.
Undo Obligations. You are not responsible for keeping obligations made by your loved one prior to incarceration. If keeping their promise adds undo burden – let it go!
Don’t be manipulated. One of the biggest fears for the incarcerated is losing friendship/contact with family outside the prison. Acts of manipulation or control may be their way of acting on this fear. Talk about these fears and affirm you love.
Be Open. Be Honest. Immediately after the arrest is one of the most stressful times as new people (police, lawyers, bondsman, etc.) enter your life and daily life is disrupted. Talk about your concerns and fears openly and honestly. This may not go as planned so be prepared mentally for push back from the arrested family member. Their focus will be on them, not you. However you’re feelings, fears and concerns are equally valid and need a voice.
Stay positive. The internet is full of horror stories and pictures of prison life. Yes, prison is not Sunday school, but in general life inside is dangerous for those who continue making the same bad decisions on the inside that they made on the outside. Focus on the good that may occur: education, learning a trade, spiritual renewal, attitude adjustment, etc.