Losing a loved one to incarceration is like losing a wall to your house. Suddenly, family life turns upside down. Even if the support and protection that loved one provided was weak, losing your family member or significant other still leaves you reeling with shock. Just as a house missing one of its walls faces structural instability; your family structure may be wobbling- adjusting and counter-adjusting to the sudden gap. Just as a house missing a wall risks greater exposure to damaging outside elements, so you and your family are now exposed to unanticipated danger and hardship. So, what can you do to minimize that damage?
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Placing short-term fixes
In a house you might nail up a tarp overnight to keep out the elements. The next morning you’d hammer in some supports to maintain structural integrity. These first steps are crucial to your family’s safety and stability as well. For your family this might include:
· Registering for economic assistance if your family is dependent on the loved one’s income.
· Rescheduling appointments that you or the loved one will not be able to attend.
· Arranging appropriate supervision of any children for court appointments or other related events you plan to attend.
· Accessing how much you will be able to support your loved one financially/emotionally long distance
Planning long-term repairs
A tarp and some two by fours might work overnight, but any house facing structural damage will need to invest in new construction material and specialized labor. A family needs these too! A loved one incarcerated will need the specialized labor of an attorney. But, the family itself may need the specialized labor of caring counselors, and community support.
Unfortunately, many families of inmates know too well just how society reacts to their loved one, and the non-incarcerated family members to. Far too often it is not pretty. But, there is hope. A quick search via google reveals many active family of inmates support groups from the Mother’s of Incarcerated Sons Society (M. I. S. S.), to Prison Talk (an internet chat group designed to support inmate’s family members), to Family and Corrections Network (FCN) that seeks to uphold the value of the inmate’s family. In this day community can be just a click away.
Of course, a digital support group is fine, but an internet forum doesn’t allow for supportive hugs, or sharing tears. For that, you need in-person support. Often libraries will list support groups that meet in their facilities. If they don’t have a prison family support group available, you might consider starting one yourself. You are not the only family facing this type of heartache. And the sympathy and support of others facing similar challenges can be a game changer.
An incarceration will change your family dynamic. Family may either reject you and your loved one, or strengthen their bond with you. Friends may stick by you through the difficulty, or abandon you. Even once your loved one is released, life will still be different. Jobs may be difficult to come by. You and your family will have faced intense stress. Stress that may be causing relational fissures. Stress that left undealt with can endanger your family relationships. During and after an incarceration a carefully chosen family counselor can offer valuable insight as they observe you and your loved ones coping with these new stresses.
Loss of a wall does not automatically mean the condemnation of a home. Some walls are intentionally demolished to allow the remodeling of a home into a safer or more comfortable dwelling place. Perhaps your loved one’s incarceration will do the same. Sometimes a loved one who is in a self-destructive spiral is awakened to their life’s direction by an incarceration. While this is not always the case, there is always hope. Combining the resources of a supportive community and competent counselors your family’s chance of successfully rebuilding is strong.
Interested in reading from a loved one of an inmates perspective? Check out Renee Patterson’s book He IS My Mr. Perfect