Incarceration doesn't only affect the incarcerated individual. Anyone who is related to someone who is imprisoned can be financially and emotionally affected. Even though the loved one is paying his or her "debt to society," the prisoner's family may be ignored, socially ostracized or even blamed for their relative's crimes. The stress alone of having a loved one incarcerated is enough reason to offer consolation to someone whose family member is in jail.
Make regular contact with the person. According to the New York State Department of Corrections Family Guide, incarceration can lead to changes in the behaviors of the person in jail as well as their relatives. Isolation and depression due to decreased contact with previous social supports can occur for the relatives of the incarcerated person, so make regular calls, or send texts or emails to the relative. Keep the conversation light but always ask them how they are feeling. While you may not have the time or resources to be with them in person, you can be an important source of emotional support.
Allow the relative of a person in jail to direct the topic of conversation. When you make the effort, whether it be in person or via phone or email, it can be a challenge to determine the appropriate topic of discussion. Allowing them to identify what they want or need to discuss can take the onus off of you. Even if you want to talk about the incarcerated relative or something related to the alleged crime, it may be too difficult for the relative to discuss. This can change with time and you may very well end up discussing difficult subjects at a later time.
Offer to help in areas wherever possible. Your friend or loved one has experienced a loss that can have as much impact as a death -- one that can be especially challenging where young children or elderly parents are involved. Add a part- or full-time job on top and you have the makings of a life that can stressful to the point of debilitation. Before your friend succumbs to the added stress, offer to help in ways that don't also stress you -- anything from occasional babysitting to grocery shopping but remember to take your own responsibilities into consideration.
Console your friend just by listening and offering a hug. The power behind a good listening ear and a gentle hug cannot be overestimated. In fact, NIH News in Health explains that hugs have been found to encourage the body's release of hormones like oxytocin, which make you feel good. Listening without judgment can also be therapeutic. Skills of active listening such as clarifying and being nonjudgmental facilitate a kind of therapy that you can administer in the comfort of home.
- Harvard Medical School: 11 Ways to Comfort Someone Who's Grieving
- California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: Visiting a Friend or Loved One in Prison
- New York State Department of Corrections: Handbook for the Families and Friends of New York State DOCCS Offenders
- NIH News in Health: Hugs and Cuddles Have Long-Term Effects
Maura Banar has been a professional writer since 2001 and is a psychotherapist. Her work has appeared in "Imagination, Cognition and Personality" and "Dreaming: The Journal of the International Association for the Study of Dreams." Banar received her Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Buffalo State College and her Master of Arts in mental health counseling from Medaille College.
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