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Supporting a loved one in prison

By L. B.

Transparent image of letter over photo of house in the country.
Write letters which detail every-day life. Do not exclude the “bad stuff.” (Photo by Marty Desilets

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

  1. Continue your relationship with the incarcerated person and include him/her in your life. One of the worst things for newly imprisoned people 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 incarcerated person 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 provide support. Use this time to unite as a family or as a community, which will insure a 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 incarcerated person, not help him identify with victimization.
Incarcerated people

Many incarcerated people from all over the United States correspond with Venerable Thubten Chodron and monastics from Sravasti Abbey. They offer great insights into how they are applying the Dharma and striving to be of benefit to themselves and others in even the most difficult of situations.

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