INCARCERATION AND ITS TRAGIC EFFECTS ON THE FAMILY

When a family member is incarcerated, the immediate and extended family oftentimes suffers from having a loved one in jail or in prison or in the penitentiary. Regardless of what society thinks and feels about those who are incarcerated, there are many family members and loved ones who feel as if they are locked up, along with their loved one, because of the emotional, psychological, and spiritual connection and attachment that they have with the incarcerated. No matter what an inmate is convicted of or accused of, the inmate is still part of a family system that loves him or her. When a family member is locked up in jail or in prison or in the penitentiary, the family experiences a loss within the family. And when someone is taken away or snatched away from the family, there may be feelings of grief, anger, sadness, guilt, abandonment, fear, disappointment, frustration, loneliness, being overwhelmed, or obsessive worry.  Many feelings flood one’s mind and spirit when a loved one gets locked up.  

The incarceration of a loved one creates many hardships on the family, particularly financial hardships. In many instances when a loved one gets in trouble with the law or becomes a part of the criminal justice system, most family members do not have the financial resources to pay for good legal representation. But for those few families who are able to scrounge up enough money to pay for legal fees, it does present a financial burden.  

Although many prisons and penitentiaries have prison industries, which allow inmates to work, the wages that most inmates make are not enough to provide for their basic needs, especially when the inmate earns between ten cents to fifteen cents an hour. If an inmate is paid ten cents an hour for eight hours of work, eighty cents does not even come close to buying needed necessities. And most items that are sold in the prison’s commissary are oftentimes two to three times higher in price than if the same items were purchased on the streets.

A number of inmates take upon prison jobs because some correctional facilities mandate inmates to work. And if an inmate chooses not to work in one of the prison industries or decides not to work on a particular day, then a disciplinary report is oftentimes written up on the offender for refusing to work in a prison industry or in a prison job detail, thus violating policy and procedure. Also, the inmate’s refusal to work may land him or her in the hole (which is called segregation).

There are many inmates who are happy to work in a prison industry or in an assigned job detail because it gives them something to do and it decreases boredom. In some instances, an inmate can learn a valuable skill. On the flip side, there are offenders who will not work period but who would rather freeload off of family and friends. And there are a number of inmates who do not have a support system to help them during challenging times in their lives.

Although society writes off those men and women who populate the jails, the prisons, and the penitentiaries all cross the United States, people often forget that the offender is part of a family system and that there is a mama, a daddy, a brother, a sister, an aunt, an uncle, a grandma, a grandpa, a cousin, a wife, a husband, a son, or a daughter who loves the offender and who will always be emotionally, psychologically and spiritually connected to the offender.

When most inmates are locked up in jail, in prison, or in the penitentiary, especially when there is a lengthy incarceration, family members and loved ones have to shoulder many financial burdens from month-to-month. For example, family members send their incarcerated loved ones money orders or wire them money through Western Union or through some other financial setup to help them to buy food, hygiene and cosmetic items and other toiletries, clothes, a television (if the prison allows it), a clock, or a fan (for the hot summer months).

Family members have to shoulder the cost of collect prison phone calls. Some of the prison phone providers have expensive phone rates, and some state prisons receive financial kickbacks from phone providers. If a parent has a child who is incarcerated, naturally, the parent is going to accept a collect phone call to ensure his/her child is alright.

There are many family members and loved ones who would love to visit their incarcerated loved one on a regular basis, but the travel time can be long and expensive. Sometimes it can take family members four to five hours to drive to a prison or a penitentiary. If visiting hours start at nine o’clock in the morning and if it takes four hours to drive to the prison, this means that the visitor must leave home at four o’clock in the morning in order to get to the prison in time to be processed for the visit.

Again, family and friends of the incarcerated experience loss and challenges from having a loved one incarcerated. There are family members and loved ones who grapple with shame and isolation and have a difficult time coping from having a loved one in prison. I am here to tell you, no one is perfect and we all make mistakes in life.  

Unfortunately, we live in a very judgmental, condemning, and punitive society when a person makes a mistake, and we live in a society that does not believe in giving people second chances to better their lives. We live in a society in which we fool ourselves into believing that people do not make mistakes, at least, not “those” mistakes.

I believe most people on the streets who consider themselves “somebody” could not survive in jail or in prison or in the penitentiary. Unless someone has a loved one who is locked up in prison or in the penitentiary, most people have no idea or even a clue about how rough and dangerous it is behind prison walls.   

I am a Christian who totally and absolutely believes in Jesus Christ of Nazareth. What made me decide to accept Jesus Christ of Nazareth as my personal Lord and Savior was how Jesus Christ showed compassion, love, mercy, grace, kindness and forgiveness to people who were marginalized within the culture of His day. These Christ-like qualities I find to be significantly lacking in today’s culture. The culture of today is: lock ‘em up and throw away the key. But I would like to remind you that Jesus Christ of Nazareth was locked up in prison. And when people and society show a lack of compassion, love, mercy, grace, kindness, and forgiveness towards others, particularly those who are marginalized and downgraded in the culture in which we live, how can we possibly expect for God to show compassion, love, mercy, grace, kindness, and forgiveness towards us?

At least, for me, living out my faith as a Christian is an everyday challenge, and living in faith is most definitely not a rose garden. I encounter a lot of thorns along the way. Feeding my spirit with the Word of God and humbling myself in prayer tremendously help me to navigate the day. I am often reminded of the words of Jesus Christ of Nazareth as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, verse 40, which says, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to Me!” I truly believe that when we show compassion, love, mercy, grace, kindness, and forgiveness towards others, we end up blessing God.

Life can be very unpredictable and we never know what is around the corner. And we never know when we might find ourselves in a situation where we might need some compassion, love, mercy, grace, kindness, and forgiveness just like those who are incarcerated.