Help for Families of Convicted Felons

By John Zaremba
Families, Convicted Felons

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When a felon goes to prison, many people suffer. Felons have families, and the incarceration of a loved one often leads to emotional distress and dire financial trouble. Coping with a loved one's imprisonment is a skill developed over time. Advocacy groups exist nationwide to help that process along.

Explaining Jail To Children

Be honest, be direct, and use terms that are easy to understand. When one parent goes to jail, the other parent or the child's guardian may have difficulty explaining what has happened. The Oregon Department of Corrections recommends telling children that adults have rules telling them how they should behave, and that the parent did not obey those laws. Explain that jail or prison is like a long "time out" for adults, and that what has happened is not the child's fault. Furthermore, explain any changes the child will undergo, such as moving. Give the child a reasonable expectation of how frequently she will be able to see the parent.

Visitation Advice

Know the prison's visitation rules. Prisons are secure and highly disciplined places, and for someone who is used to freedom, visiting can be a bit of a culture shock. Before you visit, know what you can and cannot bring, what you may and may not wear, and where you have to be and when you have to be there. Treat the correctional officers with respect, and be ready for disappointment. If your family member is on lockdown or has had visitation privileges revoked, there's nothing you can do about it. According to the Virginia advocate group Assisting Families of Inmates, it's best to visit on your own a few times before bringing a child.

Speak honestly with the inmate about your emotions and fears, and realize that the inmate may be afraid of losing you.

Learn To Cope

Developing a healthy mindset is key to coping with the incarceration of a loved one. According to the advocate group Assisting Families of Inmates, family members should not blame themselves for the inmate's actions or incarceration. Difficult as it may be, they should carry on with life as normally as possible, pursuing their goals and minding their work and other responsibilities. Money often is a problem, especially if the incarcerated family member's salary supported the family. Family members should decide early on how much they can afford for visits, phone calls and prison commissary funds.

Research Support Groups

Know that you have advocates. Though you may feel alone, you're not. Groups such as the National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated offer help. The group's website has a state-by-state directory of groups and events geared toward families of incarcerated felons.

About the Author

John Zaremba began writing professionally in 1997. He has worked at some of the country's finest small daily newspapers, including "The Beacon News" and "The Patriot Ledger." Zaremba is a graduate of the University of Illinois.

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