Your friend landed in prison. While you do not support criminal behavior, you do care about your friend and you want this sentence to be the last “time” ever served. You want your friend to know that there are people on the outside who are waiting for his or her release. You are not sure, however, how to comfort your friend during this trying time, especially since you have no idea of what it is like to be incarcerated.
Contributing to Personal Dignity
Jorge Antonio Renaud, former prisoner and author of “Behind the Walls,” says that one of the most important things prison inmates require of their friends and family is help maintaining personal dignity. One way to do that is by being honest at all times. Your honesty keeps communication open and clear, and stands in contrast to all the humiliating experiences your friend may face in prison. That means that if you are hurt or ashamed by having a friend in jail, for example, be honest about it. Honesty gives your statements credibility, so when you say "I care about you” you friend will know that you mean that too.
Visits are Important
According to a report published by the Minnesota Department of Corrections, almost 40 percent of prison inmates never receive visitors; that same study found that visits by friends and families can help reduce the chances of recidivism. When you do visit, understand that your friend may not be feeling sociable on some visiting days and it will be a comfort to him or her if you are tolerant and compassionate in spite of that.
If You Cannot Visit, Send Mail or Packages
Keep your friend in the loop. Send photos and letters with funny uplifting stories of what is happening in your life. Renaud recommends also keeping your friend abreast of unhappy news, such as sickness, death and other events. Not hiding the distressing news helps your friend feel still in touch and part of the normal life that awaits outside the prison gate. You can contact prison authorities to get information regarding what kinds of gifts you can send to your friend. Be aware that all mail will be opened before passed on to the inmate.
Encourage Your Friend to Participate in Prison Programs
The Oregon Department of Corrections “Handbook for Family and Friends” recommends that you encourage your friend to attend educational and therapeutic programs offered in the prison. Even if these do not contribute to early release, they do help prepare the inmate for a healthier lifestyle once released from prison. Encouragement means even more if you, yourself, use the time to enter an educational or therapeutic program to better your own life.
With an Master of Science in marital and family therapy, Sheri Oz ran a private clinical practice for almost 30 years. Based on her clinical work, she has published a book and many professional articles and book chapters. She has also traveled extensively around the world and has volunteered in her field in China and South Sudan.