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4 Ways to Support Your Incarcerated Loved One

Updated: Jan 13, 2023

When a member of your family, a friend, or your spouse goes to prison there are many things that will change in your relationship. Being disconnected from one another creates a rift in that relationship. Both you and your incarcerated loved one start filling the gaps in your mind with the ideas that you have created alone. This is unhealthy for any relationship. In this article we will discuss 4 ways for you to fill in those gaps with reassuring actions to continue in a healthy relationship.

The most important thing you can do is educate yourself on these 4 aspects in your respective state or region. For this article, I will be referring to the south-eastern region of the United States (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee). To set the stage we must first establish that there is a difference between jail and prison. Jail is where you await trial for the crimes you have been charged with or spend less than a year there once convicted. Prison is where you serve the sentence you are given upon being convicted. Usually, a prisoner serves a lengthy period of time in whatever prison they end up in. So, let's get started into the four ways to support your incarcerated loved one.

1. Familiarize yourself with the prison and DOC website.

Most of the prison systems in the southeast have a specific website for the department of corrections. A couple have websites for another department that includes corrections.

The thing to keep in mind when looking at these sites is: this is what the department wants the public to see. Sometimes individual prisons have websites as well. What you learn from these sites may not line up with the experience you and your loved one have. If they have a website review option, please share your experiences there. These sites are full of helpful information. Some have their mission statements, policies for public viewing, inmate searches, programs they are displaying, etc. Also, this is where you can find out who is responsible for the prisons. Being familiar with these sites is important in supporting your loved one.

It is important that you know the names of the director, warden, chaplain, and other staff members who are responsible for your loved one's wellbeing. Write down their names, learn their contact information and write it in beside their names. Making phone calls on your loved one’s behalf is a great way to show your support and care for them. Usually, the chaplain is the most willing to take your call and speak with you. Let him know that you want to do everything you can to support your loved one. He should be able to give you and your loved one direction in a tough journey.

Sometimes wardens or directors will have Twitter or Facebook accounts that you can follow to see what kind of people they are. Or the department will have social media accounts. These men and women are public servants who we should be familiar with and not afraid to reach out to. They are responsible for thousands of people. If the staff of the prison your loved one is at knows they have a great support system, they will be less likely to mistreat them.

Establishing points of contact with the staff is important because your loved one might have problems that they cannot handle without your help in calling. When you start making calls and getting others to make calls, they know that someone is watching what they are doing. The prisons need accountability, or they are left to do whatever they want.

2. Join prison advocacy and support groups.

From my research, nine of the ten states in the southeast have support groups on Facebook. Type “inmate support” and the name of your state together (ex. Inmate Support Georgia) and usually there is a group of people who have incarcerated loved ones. They are willing to answer questions and help you make calls or send emails. These groups share all kinds of useful information and offer support to one another.

Most states also have prison advocacy. The ACLU, The Sentencing Project, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Hearts for Inmates, Prison Policy Initiative, Prison Activist Resource Center, and The Marshall Project are a few that come up in a quick Google search of prison advocacy groups. It is important to find the advocate that is involved with the specific plight of your loved one. These advocacy groups usually have a particular focus. It is important for you to know what your loved one needs in prison or needs in order to get out.

Local churches often have prison ministry. Some of them have volunteers that go into prison to teach classes or preach. Prison ministry doesn't just consist of the people that go into prisons. It also includes praying, donating needed items, and providing support for the prisoner’s family. It is a command from Jesus in the Bible to visit and provide for the needs of the imprisoned (Matthew 25:40). As a family member of a prisoner, you will offer a valuable perspective to the prison ministry.

3. Send them mail often and be creative.

Snail mail may be close to irrelevant in modern society, but in prison it is an important link to home. There is no better feeling for a prisoner than to hear their name called for mail (Unless they tell them, "Pack up, you're going home."). Not only does your loved one feel your love through letters, but others see that they have support from home. That's also a way for the staff to see that they have a support system. Sending letters often is a great way to support your loved one.

Prisons are governed by policy. There will always be a mailing policy for the prison system. If you are unable to find this policy online, you need to call the prison and request a copy from the mail room. When you call the prison for any reason, always ask who you are speaking with and write their name down. Prisons are paid for and ran on your tax dollars, never be afraid to call and ask questions. The policy will tell you what you are allowed to send.

The saying goes that, pictures are worth a thousand words. Prisoners treasure pictures. So, make a habit of sending pictures. If your loved one has children, give them the opportunity to draw pictures and write letters to them. Developing that habit in the children will help the prisoners to cope and the child to cope with their absence. Letters and drawings from children are also treasured. Make your letters colorful and creative. Prison is a place full of mundane colors. Mail can bring life to a deadlock.

Every prison has a different person running the mail room, and it seems like they all have their pet peeves. Learn what it is that gets your mail turned around and avoid making those same errors again. It is especially important to know the exact institution, dorm, and room when sending mail. The easier you make it for the mail room the quicker it will get to your loved one. Now get those markers out and go to work!

Check out the mailing policy on sending books. Most prisons want books sent from publishers or companies. Once again, this should be in the mailing policy. Books are an important part of prison. If you want your loved one to make changes in their life, send them books. Ask them what kind of books they like to read and send some books of your choice. Reading books that they like and writing about them in letters is an excellent way to stay connected.

Some books are banned from prison. So be sure that you are aware of what books they are. The Marshall Project has an excellent article about the books that have been banned and are doing their best to complete a list of banned books by state.

4. Visit as often as possible.

There is no better way to show your love, than to show up as much as you can to see your loved one in person. Visiting prison is time consuming and frustrating. It often feels like the institution wants to discourage you from visiting. It is important to persevere through these obstacles and learn the process.

The dress code is important to be aware of. There is nothing worse than driving 2 hours only to be told you cannot visit because flip flops or holes in your jeans are not allowed, for example. There is usually a visitation policy that you should be able to find online or request a copy from the institution.

Many times, the process to enter the institution is frustrating and can put you in a bad mood before you get to see your loved one. Take a deep breath and try your best to focus on them instead of the annoyances you had to go through to get there. These moments are short, and it is important that you make the most of them.

In conclusion, when your family member or loved one is in prison, you are doing that time with them. It is very important that you show them by your actions that you are walking with them. These 4 ways of supporting them are some of the best ways, but not the only ways, to offer support. They need our support and our love. Stay focused on bringing them home and keeping them as safe as possible while they serve their time. If more prisoners have support systems and they are actively pursuing contact with prison administration and legislators, there is much greater potential for success in changing the system that is currently broken.

Please fill out this form to help us collect data from your experience with incarceration. Thank you for your time and effort. If this information was helpful for you, please share it with others who you know will benefit from it.


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