How To Cope When A Loved One Is In Prison

I have gone back and forth for a long time now on whether or not to write this blog article. The first thing I had to do was get permission to write it, as it is not just my story. I have had that permission for a very long time now.

One of the reasons for holding back on writing this was because I did not want to put any of my readers off. I appealed to some fellow bloggers for advice on if I should write this article or not. Most of them said yes, by all means, while a few said no, they would not write about this if it were about their lives.

I agree with those who said I should because my experiences and my advice could help someone else in a very dark time in their lives.

Admission time: My son is in prison. 

How To Cope When A Loved One Is In Prison

The first thing I want to state is that he was locked up for a non-violent crime. He was prosecuted for conspiracy to traffic marijuana. To this day, I still do not know for sure if he was actually some giant drug kingpin or some underling.

Another question that has been raised is that he may have silently accepted a lot of the charges to protect his friends or even his family. Until he is out, and back home, we will not know since all calls and incoming mail are monitored I am afraid to ask. Regardless of his true level of involvement, I know for sure he was doing things he was not supposed to have been doing.

I did my best with him as he began to hang out with the wrong crowd as a teen.

Ironically, most of that crowd have turned into fine young men, doing well today.

My son has always been a highly intelligent young man. He received good grades in school, graduated from high school, participated in swim team and had Olympic qualifying times before he was even old enough to go to trials. My son loves sports, was an avid snowboarder and has an appreciation for nature, and animals. He especially has an affinity for sea life. His nickname is Dolphin because he adores dolphins, he also loves penguins. His sense of humor is excellent, and he often reminds me of Chevy Chase back in the Saturday Night Live days, with his uncanny ability for physical comedy. When he was little he was super protective of his little sister, always trying to answer, and speak for her.

So where did things go so terribly wrong? I feel he became bored and lost his way into the thrill of the drug scene and the money one could make in it.

While I am sure he has or had addiction problems, he was always active, never out on the streets, and never cut his family off. The real signs of addiction were not in my face. My feelings and this is another topic I hope to talk to him about once he is out, is that for him, he got a rush from the whole thing, more so than enjoying the drugs himself. I am not wearing blinders, I am sure he also enjoyed the drugs.
How To Cope When A Loved One Is In Prison

So what does one do when a loved one is in prison? Hopefully. your loved one is incarcerated close to where you live. For us, it is an eight-hour drive to see him. Once there, the cost of a hotel room, food, and time away from work become an issue.

Another downside is that one must arrive at the prison super early to get in a line and wait.
The wait can be hours. When you have health problems this is not an easy task.
Waiting in line would not be such a big deal, if we could show up casually, and visit for a few hours at a time, and we could if he were located closer, but since we drive so far to see him, we want to get in line early and get the full visitation time allowed.
Once inside your only food options are vending machines, so you have to show up with rolls upon rolls of quarters.
Not only is this expensive but a killer on those with medical conditions that need to eat healthy, like my daughter and myself who both have Type 1 Diabetes.
The inmates are allowed to enjoy treats from the vending machines as well, which is nice for them if their families have money to spend in the machines because these are things they can not necessarily buy in the commissary.
My son has really enjoyed having a Starbucks coffee from the vending machines when we have been able to visit.

We have only been able to visit twice since my son was incarcerated in 2015.

This is one of the things I have had to learn to cope with. GUILT.

Guilty on so many levels from what could I have done differently, to not being able to visit more often.
My son understands why we do not visit more, but that does not make me feel any better about it.
We are allowed to email, and to receive calls, but we can not call him.
Calls are limited to fifteen minutes each, with a rude beep as a warning when time is about up.
Because he can only call us, calls are sometimes missed, which leads to more guilt of missing his call. When we do speak, the calls are often random, so just by the time we get a good fluent conversation going, the BEEP comes up telling us our time is almost up.

It took me almost a year to get past feeling bad for missing a call from him. I got over it because I know he realizes I can not sit on my phone waiting for his call.

He knows that I work, take showers, and run out to get the mail, although I do admit, I take my phone with me to get the mail now, just in case.

Another thing that I have had to cope with is SHAME.

Shame is a bitter pill to swallow.

I felt shame for mistakes I made when I was younger when he was younger, and I was inexperienced in parenting.

I felt shame for not raising him to know better, which I thought I had, but one always dissects these things.

Shame for having a son in prison and not wanting others to know for fear of judgment.

Coping with this was not easy, but the logical side of me realized that no matter how you raise a child, no matter what a great parent, or perhaps lousy parent you are, people become who they become regardless.
We have seen in media some of the most wonderful people who were raised in the most horrific conditions, we also have seen some of the most horrific people that were raised with the utmost love and care. DNA is not the only factor in who a person becomes.

Another thing people with family members in prison often face or fear facing is JUDGEMENT.

Fear of being judged will keep many people from reaching out for help, and support.

Often times family members do not have the whole story and are struggling to piece it together for themselves, so facing questions they can’t fully answer is not on the top of their list of wishes.

We fear having to take sides, either saying our family member is some horrible person, or loyally defending them, no matter how difficult that may be.

The fact is, they are still our family, and we still love them.

We fear losing friends, being looked at funny, either with sympathy, or disgust.
Then there is worry about what coworkers will think, in my case, co-bloggers, and you, my readers, no longer wanting an association with me.
We also worry about the fill in the gap stories that may come out of our own inability to give enough answers to the questions people ask.
When there are not answers to questions, it is human nature to use one’s imagination filling in those gaps for clarity, which often times makes the “truth” of the story worse than the reality of it.
Coping with this is a lot because there are so many directions one’s mind wanders about such instances when you have a loved one in prison, especially when that loved one is your own child.
For me, I coped with this by telling those closest to me in my circle of friends first. All of them were surprisingly supportive, many of them feel that his sentence was way out of line since legalization is so rampant these days and because pot is actually legal in so many countries, and even becoming legal in the USA now.

Personally, I do not allow my son this cop out.

It was illegal in our state when he did the crime so yes he must do the time.
It is not my intention to come off as harsh or unloving but as a parent,
I have to be realistic with him and make sure he knows that he is not untouchable for when he gets out. So many young kids today think they are invincible.
Loved one Behind Bars

The support I received helped me to accept that telling others was not the end of the world, and those who really love you, or at least those who are open to seeing things from beyond their own scope, will stand by you.

It is important that you do not bottle everything up inside of yourself.
Open up to someone, not just your close family, spouse, significant other, or closest friend, but other people too.

Those who are worthy to be in your life will show concern, care, support, and love.

By opening up to others it will help greatly with your own coping ability. No one wants to walk around feeling they are burying a deep dark secret, especially when that secret is someone you love.
When the person in prison is your child, you have already suffered a great loss, not to be able to ever mention them, talk about them, would be an even greater loss. You do not deserve that.

Another huge issue when a loved one is behind bars is WORRY.

Sometimes a person with a loved one in prison may have first-hand experience themselves, but even so, not all prisons are the same.

When you have no experience of being on the “inside” you worry so much about every little thing.

Will they get enough to eat, will they have medical care if they need it, will they be physically harmed, and so on.

My son is in a lower security facility but that does not necessarily mean it is safe.

Let’s face it there are criminals in there.

Most of the men my son are incarcerated with are in there for drug offenses, white collar crimes, and non-violent offenses, but there are also a lot of pedophiles too.
I was worried because my son was so young when he went in. He is still young, only 23 last August. He is also very handsome, of course as his mother I would say that, but truly he is.
I feared so much that he would get singled out. To be honest, I do not know for sure that he wasn’t.

All I can say is that I have never caught the drift that he has any fears of his own safety so far.

I have found my coping through logic once again, realizing that if something dreadful did happen, I would be notified, so no news is good news.

I have no control over what goes on inside, my worry is not helping my son.

My worry helps no one, is anti-productive, and only intensifies worry in my family.

Worry causes health and emotional issues for myself, and then I can be of no good to others in my life.

Casting aside worry is not easy for everyone.

Those who already are afflicted by anxiety, depression, stress, and so forth should get in touch with a good therapist right away to find effective coping mechanisms for themselves and get ahead of things before it becomes a bigger problem.

Of course. I ask my son if he has been well if he has been to the medical unit when needed if he has plenty to eat, all the things a mother would ask her son if he were living in an apartment on the outside.
A mother is always a mother.
However I have done my best to focus on things that are more productive, and healthful to me rather than focus on worry. My son enjoys our phone and email communication so much more when I am not filled with worry.

Which brings me to SHARING.

For the first six months to a year almost, I barely talked to my son about things we were doing back home.

I was so afraid to tell him if we had a gathering, what we did that weekend, and so on out of not wanting him to feel he was missing out.

I remember when my kids first moved out of the home. Heck, I felt bad if my husband and I went out for a nice meal and the kids were not with us. I got over that fast though when my kids were out living their own lives having fun without us. LOL.

When your kid or any loved one is in prison they want, and they need to hear about life on the outside.

My son told me it gives him things to look forward to and gives him a reality check that he had better be on the straight and narrow when he gets out so he can keep enjoying what freedom has to offer.

I love it when my son says wise things like that. It gives me faith and hope that he has learned some lessons.

The last thing I want to address at this time is MONEY.

When you have a loved one in prison, they, or you pay for everything. Yes, they get free “lodging”, and yes the food served in the cafeteria is free, well as free as your tax dollars are anyway. The point is they do not

Yes, they get free “lodging”, and yes the food served in the cafeteria is free, well as free as your tax dollars are anyway. The point is they do not

The point is they do not need money to survive until their clothing wears out, then they are responsible for replacing it. Or unless they care to shave, as they have to buy shaving cream, and a razor as well.

Then there are a hundred other things they can, and usually, have to buy.

Anything, and everything you can think of that you would use on a day to day basis, they pay for.

Shampoo, conditioner, lotion, over the counter medications, band-aids, shoelaces, shoes, underwear, a soda, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, blah blah blah.

They can also buy if they have enough money on their books nicer things for entertainment.

However, it is up to family, and friends to put that money on their books.

Yes, there are jobs on the inside, but they pay so low that a human’s basic personal needs would not be covered by it, plus this money is saved for their release and not used on the inside.

Money has been a confusing and concerning topic for our family.
No one told us what was normal to send an inmate.
Normal also depends on how good of a life you want them to have on the inside, what they think their needs are, and what the commissary charges.
There is always also that fear that your loved one may be having to pay protection money!

The best thing you can do to over all the confusion is once they are in, and situated enough to have visited the commissary, seen the price list, which is usually available to you online as well, is to have a talk about expenses.

Together you should be able to average out what your loved one’s needs will be. My son went in with money to get him started off, which I recommend for anyone who is self-surrendering to do.

My son prefers to buy a lot of his food from the commissary because it is healthier.
This is not a necessary purchase, but one of the luxuries that he enjoys.
Granted most of his meals still come from the cafeteria, but he gets enough money from family to purchase some meals for himself. So far, once since he was incarcerated he has had to buy new boots. The boots available are not cheap. I am hopeful they last him until he gets out!
Hand me downs are often a thing in prison. Guys leaving the system will “sell off” their items to the other inmates. Sometimes they will gift them if they are prison-issued items they would not want to take home with them.

Keep in mind each state is different on what they will allow a prisoner to leave with.

So if you have a loved one in prison that is asking for money, be cautious, no one wants to be taken advantage of, but know that every phone call they make, every email they send, everything they need, has to be paid for by their families, with the money you put on their books.

I realize that this article reads very factual and somewhat cool. I made it a point to write this out of a place of help to others, not as an “oh poor me” story.

Trust me, I have been through hell and back in my healing process.

There were so many nights I laid in bed with thoughts racing through my mind about my son, and all the sorted details of what my life and his life had become.

Panic attacks, bouts of tears falling, and so on. This has affected me, and our entire family. This is not why I wanted to share this article however, I wanted to share for anyone out there looking for answers, and ways to cope.

Healing does come, a feeling of calm does come.

I can’t say if it is just because you get used to the idea of a loved one being in prison, or if you become numb to it, or if it is something else entirely. I believe it is having knowledge, experience, and time to adjust, as well as the outreach and help of others.

That is why I wanted to share some of my tips for others. Maybe having this little extra knowledge, and knowing you are not alone will help someone out there. 

Healing is always an on-going mission for me, and other members of my family. We all struggle in different ways with my boy being in prison. For me writing this article is a form of catharsis and I thank you for reading it. Whether you are in the same boat as I am, or simply curious. Please feel free to comment, or ask questions. I will respond to all.


  1. February 27, 2017 / 12:26 am

    I’m sorry to hear what your loved one has gone through to protect those they care about, and the toll I can only really imagine it has had on you. I hope he returns safely to those who care about him soon.
    Lalia Frolick recently posted…Tea Love: Australia Collection (February 2017)My Profile

    • February 27, 2017 / 12:42 am

      Thank you. That is very kind of you to say. It means a lot to me. Just a little over a year for him to come home. Time goes fast usually, things like this not so much. Looking forward to him being out and starting a new life. XOX

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