Supporting a loved one in prison

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By L. B., serving his sentence at the Oregon State Penitentiary, with contributions from his friends Jerry and Kathleen Braza.

Transparent image of letter over photo of house in the country.

Write letters which detail everyday life. Do not exclude the “bad stuff.” (Photo by Marty Desilets)

  1. Continue your relationship with the inmate and include him/her in your life. One of the worst things for new prisoners is the feeling that they are no longer a part of their friends’ or family life.
  2. Write letters which detail everyday life. Do not exclude the “bad stuff.” Relate to him/her as if he were in front of you having a conversation like you would normally have.
  3. If possible, visit your friend or relative at least once a month. Being able to see you is very important. Personal contact keeps the prisoner from feeling like they are not a part of the “world.”
  4. Do not treat the incarcerated person any different than you would if he or she were with you at home. Some people treat friends and loved ones in prison with pity, as if they were children in need of protection and only kind words. This can lead to dependency instead of allowing them to stand on their own two feet.
  5. Encourage your friend to do all the right things to ensure an early release. Encourage them to set goals and not to be complacent. The prison environment offers opportunities for both success and failure, just like the outside world.
  6. Work in a unified way to support your loved one. It does not help to have conflict among those who are trying to support the inmate. Use this time to unite as a family or as a community, which will insure the inmate’s healthy integration back into the community of friends and family.
  7. Practice unconditional love and acceptance. Avoid judgment.
  8. Offer reading material, letters, and encouragement that focus on healing, forgiveness, compassion and love for self as well as others, hope, peace, and new beginnings. The goal is to empower the inmate, not help him identify with victimization.

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