Loving someone in Prison
When you love someone in prison, it forces many challenges and life changes to continue the relationship.
First of all, telling others of your relationship at all. As a parent of a son incarcerated, it's almost easier to not tell anyone of his situation. That then equates to a "non-existent" son. If no one hears about this other son, they will assume naturally that you only have one son. I love my son, but many people make unfair judgements about you when you mention your son is an inmate. I could say I don't care, I could say it doesn't matter, but if someone isn't aware of all the facts, or doesn't know me personally, it's easy to make even benign assumptions.
1. They must have been a horrible parent, or did something really wrong.
2. This child must have been a terror or something is wrong emotionally with him.
3. Why didn't they seek help earlier?
4. That could never happen to me.
There is the visitation of the one in prison. Do you go alone,or take their children and the issues that involves? I went alone once and was emotionally low that day, and for some reason I could not stop crying when I saw him. This was hard on him to watch, obviously hard on me, and other prisoners observing this behavior had opportunity to use this against my son later. If I take a child, babies need diaper changes, supplies, and drinks etc that are very difficult to get inside with you. If crying or discipline issues are needed, it can end a visit planned to be 2 hours in length down to one hour. There is no air conditioning in Texas prisons, so arriving all hot and sweaty is not desired, so a change of clothes from a fellow inmate sometimes happens. This can also cause delays which affects the time frame for the one visiting and children's naps/eating times.
Then of course talking with the child as they get older about why their Daddy is in prison, or why he can't live at home with them, why they shouldn't talk about their father to other kids and so on. Would you want your child playing with another kid who's Dad was in prison? I didn't even like my sons playing at a single parents house for fear of no one being home to supervise.
My parents suffer too, this is their grandson. Comments and questions most proud grandparents gladly respond to are now muted in downplay or ignored all together. Pictures proudly displayed either show no grandson, or look oddly like prison photos to knowing eyes. Or they simply remind you of where they are each time you look at them in their prison whites, mostly not smiling. The mother of his child is affected whenever asked about the father of her daughter. If she shares, again questions like, how could you be involved with someone who did that? Do you let your daughter go see him? She is stuck with being an unwilling single parent who doesn't even get every other weekend off for father visitation. She is forever linked to a felon. Yet she committed no crime.
It's like your entire life is put on hold. No presents to buy at Christmas or birthdays, no regular photos.Only plain cards are allowed. Prisoners are not allowed out for siblings weddings,graduations, or even funerals. Sadly a parent can die and the inmate hears about it from a prison official or perhaps worse, a letter. No comfort to give from outside. Phone calls are allowed at some prisons, but can wreck a budget quickly if too many calls are made.
You live counting days, months and years for when they will be eligible for parole. You have their ID number memorized. You put money in their commisary accounts for food, supplies and possibly gifts they want. You forward their letters to siblings and to former friends when they are low on stamps, or envelopes. You remind yourself mentally to send letters once a week minimum and feel guilty if you forget. Setting aside time to visit requires planning ahead especially if you work weekends. Using a free day to visit a prison instead of something fun for yourself or relaxing also is a choice.
Since my son is 2.5 hours away. Driving there requires getting up early, 1/2 minimum check in with metal detector and pat down. Then the usual 1/2 hour plus wait for him to get from his block to visit and the required checks on his end. The 2 hour visit starts with coin change brought to buy snacks from limited vending machines. I am wheat gluten intolerant so not much hope for me here. I eat a large meal before I go. Then the mental let down after the visit and still a 2 hour drive home. 7 hours easily of your day is gone. Some people visit their inmates every other weekend. I cannot as I work weekends, so choosing when to go is difficult. I also have to deal with making sure my weekend visit does not coincide with his divorced father's visit. Only one visit allowed per weekend. There is also the matter of lock down. I drove a friend 2 1/2 hours to visit my son only to be turned away at the gates. Because of swine flu scares, they were on lockdown. Calling ahead is a must before visit.
There are people who make unknowing comments about prisoners too. Comments I have heard include:
They have a life of luxury in there, unlimited tvs, regular meals, and a nice gym. (reality check, is no AC with 100 degree heat in summer, tv on certain channels only, cheap, low quality foods with inferior meat and rarely fresh fruits or vegetable, and gyms with handmade equipment such as books to substitute for weights)
Let's do testing on prisoners, they deserve what they get, leave the innocent animals alone.(These are real people and still have rights as human beings.)
We should put those bad prisoners on the top floor of the jailhouse where the really mean guys are, that'll fix their boat. (Let them get raped or beat up, or injured permanently since they don't matter anyway).
Has your son been raped yet?(notice the yet and the assumption).
Let's just kill them all then we don't have to pay for them. I say chop off their arm if they are caught stealing. An eye for an eye. (I am not God, and if someone did not deserve the death penalty in their punishment, then they have a right to serve out their crime.)
My son is a living breathing human being. People make bad choices all the time. Some never think about the consequences until it happens to them. Some are so out of control that consequences don't apply or not even considered. Driving home after drinking with friends does not make you stop and consider you could wreck your car and kill someone and go to jail on involuntary manslaughter. Using drugs and your parents paying for treatment doesn't make you consider they just lost a cheaper auto insurance policy, a good credit rating because of accumulating bills and tighter job security if screening suggest you might be a be at risk. No, he simply was living selfishly for himself, but I still love him, just not the behavior.
When I visit, I have so much I want to tell him and talk about, but paranoia runs rampant in prisoners. Listening, prying ears are ever eager to hear things to use against the inmate. I continually get shushed or stopped in my conversation if it is causing duress on his end. Names become initials or acronyms for people, such as cricket or the little dude. Touching is allowed at the first greeting and saying goodbye. Holding hands is your only option during the visit although small children are allowed to sit on their laps. If you've ever sat for 2 hours and held hands with your grown son, then you will understand the oddness, yet touching emotion of this action. Can you honestly say you could sit and talk with your son/daugher for two hours; someone you may be annoyed with still for whatever wreckage they caused in their past and it's affect on you. Perhaps you have custody of their children and your entire way of life has drastically changed. Television shows on visitation show such different versions of this, it's laughable almost sometimes. And no, you cannot carry pictures in to give or even show the prisoner. All these things must pass through the mail room first.
Finally there is the thought of when they finally get out. Technology has definitely left them behind, cell phones are all new, neighborhoods have changed, people moved away. Where will they live or work? They have no money, so family members either open their homes or they find halfway houses to live with other paroles hopefully making positive decisions in their lives. Job hunting and getting hired as a person with a criminal record, misdemeanor or especially a felony is extremely hard. Jobs are hard enough to find for college students or recently downsized employees. Try adding the prisoners rap sheet to your list of limitations.
Some of you may say, well, he made his bed now he had to lie in it. True but who can say they possibly know the mind of someone who commits a crime and stand in judgement of them. Especially if it occurred at a young age, or under the influence of some mind altering drugs. Punishment must follow, that law of cause and effects, but once punishment is served, when does it stop. Your child comes out of his room after discipline and it is over. An inmate comes out of jail, and his room follows him through every job search, unexplained time lapses in employment and lack of job skills. Our prisons are over-flowing with inmates all of whom will eventually be released to make their way in society again.
My hope is for inmates who had alcohol or drugs involved in their crimes be offered a choice of a hard core rehab program option. If they relapse again after this year program, then they face their normal sentence originally intended. The choice would be put squarely on their now sober shoulders to change their lives or not. Having different levels of prisons for varying crimes as well might help parole violations.
Once released, the current program where companies are paid government stipends for hiring former felons is an option, and watching to see how successful it is. Changes need to be made for sure. Prison ministries are having a tremendous impact on inmates and changed lives.
My hope is that you will read this and have compassion on your neighbor or friend who is trusting enough to share their personal misery with you. They too are "prisoners" of their loved ones choices to a degree. Until they are released, if ever, their life too has forever changed and suffered a loss, just like a death, in their dream or hope for the future for that person. But hopes can be resurrected and dreams can begin again. And trust can be restored and lessons learned. I say, "There but for the grace of God go I".