If you have never had a loved one in prison, it is almost impossible to imagine how, over time, the experience negatively affects physical and emotional health.
No matter their crime or the time, inmates are our children, spouses, or relatives. We know their personal histories, problems, and weaknesses. We acknowledge their wrongdoings (as well as any victims of their crimes).
We also know the complex factors and circumstances that can underlie criminal behaviors, including mental illness, substance or alcohol abuse, family disruption or dysfunction, and psychological or emotional issues.
Because society often deems inmates as irredeemable, we take on the roles of supporter and/or advocate.
Unfortunately, departments of corrections frequently transfer inmates to facilities miles away from their families and communities; hence, visits are less frequent and long-distance travel is more expensive and burdensome.
Both inmates and family members cope with the pain of separation and isolation .
Mostly, however, we struggle with competing emotions: guilt, sadness, anxiety, helplessness, even anger. They can cloud our judgement and squeeze the enjoyment out of our work lives, family lives, and personal lives.
One Mother’s Voice (podcast) offers these tips for self-care:
- Acknowledge and respect your emotions—sadness, fear, anger, or helplessness. These feelings are inevitable, however, do not let them dominate your life.
- Find a group—online or in your city that provides support or assistance to families of inmates.
- Do fun things without feeling guilty or regretting that your loved one cannot be with you.
- Spend only as much as you can afford on clothes or other items for an inmate. Don’t saddle yourself with debt OR regret that you can’t do as much as you’d like.
- Give up the notion that you can make incarceration easier for your loved one. Your job is to provide support and empathy.
- Share responsibility with others for visiting, sending packages, and accepting collect calls or buying private provider phone services.
- When you cannot visit, write as often as possible. Inmates who have regular contact with families, spouses, or friends are less likely to have problems with prison authorities or to suffer from depression or anger.
- Know the rules of a facility so you don’t waste money sending packages or other items that might be restricted. Visit your state’s department of corrections’ website to see what items are allowed.
Inmates depend on family members or spouses to keep them connected to the outside world and to relieve the monotony, boredom, and harshness of prison life.
On the other hand, it is easy to let worry or anxiety overtake our lives.
The remedy? Seek enjoyment in the small pleasures of life–a walk in the park, a relaxing bath or dinner with friends–to promote mental and physical well-being.