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Family & Friends of the Incarcerated: Our thoughts & feelings

Updated on May 26, 2014

It's not easy having a Loved One in prison!

It's not easy having a Loved One in prison. My term of "Loved One' is open to interpretation; It can mean family, friend, spouse, girlfriend/boyfriend, child, etc. My Loved One has been in jail for about 8 years now. The emotions that I have felt in that 8-year time span have varied greatly. It is normal to have different types of emotions. Trust me, you are not going crazy. However, I will admit that it was my family, a few really close friends, my fiancé, and a good therapist who helped me through it all. Do not ever be afraid to ask for help.

"This is traumatizing. I don't think I can get through this!"

The moment that I found out my Loved One had committed a crime and was in jail was devastating for me. It did not help that the way I found out was by a news program on television. Talk about traumatizing to see my Loved One on the late night news after not being able to get in touch with her for a few days. My initial reaction had been to sob uncontrollably. I couldn't stop crying and I think I cried for a few days straight. I called out of work for a couple weeks. I became socially isolated and very depressed. I didn't want to get out of bed in the morning. I felt numb and in a daze. I felt like it was all a bad dream and I was going to wake up. Unfortunately, it wasn't a nightmare and there were a lot of things that I had to take care of. My depression immobilized me in multiple ways and made it impossible to keep good on promises I had made and things that I had to get done. I remember thinking to myself, "It's almost like she died. I can't talk to her or see her when I want to".

It is common to feel this way at first because having someone go to jail is a big shock. If you don't feel this way at first, you are not abnormal. It takes some people a while to feel these emotions. Some people are "numb" right away. Some people get angry. Anger was my 2nd emotion.

"It is so weird visiting my Loved One in jail"

Within the first week of my Loved One going to jail, I visited her with another family member. I didn't know what I was getting myself into, so I prepared by going on the jail's website. I wasn't aware that there were so many rules and regulations, especially regarding the dress code. I remember feeling extremely uncomfortable. I had always felt so comfortable in the presence of this Loved One so it was strange to me that I was having severe anxiety/panic upon visiting her. There were a lot of things that I had to talk to her about but it was weird having almost 100 other inmates and their visitors sitting around me. I had maintained a straight face during that first visit but I cried for a long time when I went home.

My depressive thoughts and feelings remained for a long time. Sometimes, they still creep up on me. Do not judge yourself regarding these feelings. You may recover quickly or end up feeling depressed for months, or even years. If this is the case, seek help by a professional. You do not need to suffer alone.

"I'm Angry!"

The second powerful emotion I felt was anger. I started analyzing every detail of what had led her to go into prison. I started critiquing her decisions and "mistakes". I know it wasn't fair of me to do this, but I was angry. I kept these feelings to myself and didn't tell her this though. I didn't want to make her upset. I knew she was going through a lot. But I was mad: mad that she wasn't going to be at my wedding (unless I postponed it until she got out, or just eloped.......BTW, I have yet to get married as of this date), mad that she might not be there when I get pregnant and have a baby (yet to happen as well), mad that she was going to miss my graduation ceremony from Graduate School, and mad at multiple other life events that she was going to miss. Even just mad that I wasn't going to see her on holidays and birthdays. I was mainly angry because I felt like she could have avoided this whole entire mess. And she was ALIVE, not dead, and I couldn't even see her. It was so frustrating to me.

This emotion may last for a short time or a long time. Allow yourself to feel the anger. Anger is a normal emotion, even though some people like to say that it is not. Anger can just become dangerous when you turn it into aggression. You have to let out your anger in effective and healthy ways. Again, this may be the first emotion that you feel (not depression). However, keep in mind that sometimes anger can mask sadness/depression. Talk to a therapist or other professional, if you like, to determine if you are having trouble expressing your true feelings.

"I'm used to this. I'm even okay with this"

It took me a long time to get out of the depressive and anger stages. Again, it's important to note that sometimes the depression and anger still creep up on me. I don't judge myself for having these thoughts and feelings. After the majority of anger subsided, I started to feel "okay" with my Loved One being in prison. After years of her being in there, it started to become normal. I started to open up to other people about my situation; I didn't feel ashamed or embarrassed. These feelings lasted for quite some time, up until recently.

"She's probably coming out soon. Now what"??

My Loved One was in jail for so long that it became "normal" to me. She is up for parole sometime this year. My Loved One seems to think that she will not get parole on the first try. It is definitely a possibility, and most likely, that she will not get accepted on the first go. Even if not, she will be up for parole again next year. This has had me thinking so many different things: "Things are different now in my life", "She has missed so much", "Where will she live", "Will she be okay", etc. etc. I have noticed an increase in my anxiety level. I like to be in control and when I can't be in control in a situation I get anxious. This is one of those situations where there is not much I can do. I can not wait for her to get out of prison and start her life fresh. But at the same time, I'm scared of all the unknowns.

You will most likely feel anxious and scared for similar reasons. I think the anxiety and fear increases with each passing year that the Loved One is in jail. For extremely short jail terms, these emotions may not be severe or even present at all because perhaps not much has changed while they were away. But for longer jail terms, these Loved Ones really have to start their whole life over again. And they are scared too. We may feel pressure to do everything we can to help. But it's important to take care of ourselves too.

For anyone reading this article who has a Loved One in jail, I know what you are going through. I sincerely hope that everything turns out well for you. It has for me (so far) so I hope that helps. It's good to know that you are not alone.......there are people who understand. Good Luck!! :-)


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      Alex Londo 3 years ago

      Thank you for this article. My Son just started his prison sentence this week. It hurts beyond belief. I am devastated with the fact that he will be locked up. He is still so naive and vulnerable and that scares me and I fear for his safety. I am trying to be strong for the rest of my family because I do not want to deprive them or punish them for his mistakes, but it feels so incredibly hard snap out of these feelings. I pray that his time will pass by quickly and I can talk of this nightmare as a past experience. For now I need to find a way. Thank you again for your article. It has helped