How can you support family or friends who are in prison or who are being held at a local jail?
Whether they have been arrested and charged recently, they are awaiting trial, or they have been convicted of a criminal offense and sentenced to time in prison, this is possibly the darkest and most difficult time of your loved one’s life.
Although they are the ones who are incarcerated, this may also be among the darkest times in your life – the pain of being separated from an incarcerated member of your family is real and ever-present. Their absence can also create a financial strain on their family.
Supporting Loved Ones in Prison
Let’s look at some of the ways that you can support family and friends in prison to, hopefully, alleviate some of their suffering as well as your own.
1. Support Them Financially
Whether a person is in the local jail or in a state or federal prison after sentencing, they are unlikely to have a meaningful source of income anymore. Their arrest may have cost them their job.
Do they need income? Wait, doesn’t the government provide them everything they need? Unfortunately, the government’s assistance to persons incarcerated is limited to shelter, food and some degree of medical attention.
But, beyond these “basics,” money to buy things like snacks, toiletries, stamps for letters, and phone cards to call home will have to come from the outside.
Anyone can deposit funds into an inmate’s ”canteen” account now and then – a hundred dollars, or even less, will go a long way towards helping your friend or family member get the things they need to stay in touch with the outside world and provide personal items to offer some comfort when jailed.
2. Keep in Contact
Never underestimate the power of a phone call, letter, or visit from a friend or family member to lift someone up whether they seem to be dealing with being locked up or when they seem to be at the end of their rope and are feeling hopeless.
When a friend or family member who is incarcerated calls, try to answer and give them a few minutes even when it may be inconvenient, awkward, or emotionally painful to pick up the phone. Any details about the outside world, the family, and friends are important to an inmate, and any opportunity to connect with family or the outside world can help an inmate to carry on and ease their pain as they survive the prison experience.
But it is important to note that all communications via phone or from televised visits are digitally recorded, retained and shared with prosecutors. Even though signs are posted in jail near phones which inmates have access to, warning them that all calls are monitored, a person in jail might easily forget or simply ignore this and discuss aspects of their case. This is a mistake and could significantly damage the person’s attorney’s ability to defend him or her.
A family member can assist in avoiding this problem by reminding the caller of call recording and a safe way to go about it is to assume that the police and prosecutor are on the line with them.
3. Write Letters
No one writes letters anymore – why would we, when we are all instantly connected through email, social media, message boards, and other means of electronic communication?
Except, in prison or jail, you do not have instant access to Facebook or your email account. A written letter is a tangible thing that can be saved, read, and re-read, and the time that it takes to handwrite a letter makes it special.
Make sure that you have all the information that you need to ensure the letter gets to your loved one – the name of the facility, the address, and the inmate number, and understand that your letter may take a bit longer to arrive.
As to the content of letters, it is important to be uplifting, positive and encouraging in general terms – not by discussing aspects of the case. Note also, that all incoming correspondence is opened and read by jail personnel who have the responsibility to ensure that contraband is not contained therein nor communications that would threaten the security of the facility, or which constitute threats of physical harm to others.
4. Visit in Person
An in-person visit to your loved one can be priceless for their peace of mind and yours. Although you may be nervous, and the experience can be emotional, it can also be very meaningful. Nothing can replace human contact with your loved ones – conversation, eye contact, a touch of the hand, and a hug when appropriate and allowed.
Prepare ahead of time – research what to expect, learn the rules before you arrive, and schedule an appointment when required. Most rules of visitation are published on jail websites which might have to be reached via the website to the sheriff having jurisdictional responsibility for that facility or via the associated county website. Visitation policies and rules for persons incarcerated at the South Carolina Department of Corrections can be reviewed at the DOC website. If the person is incarcerated at a federal facility, or a Federal Correctional Institute or FCI, visitation and a host of other information can be found here. If the person is federally incarcerated, it is important to know and retain their identification number which at the BOP is referred to as their “register number.”
5. Take Care of Yourself
But what about you? You are hurting, you have lost your family member or loved one, and you are feeling overwhelmed with it all.
Burn-out and frustration are normal when a loved one is incarcerated – if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to help take care of your loved one in prison. Do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself emotionally and physically, and don’t feel guilty about it.
There are plenty of resources for people who have incarcerated loved ones, and you should take the time to review them and find what these programs offer that you may dearly need.
Here are just a few of the resources available:
6. Involve the Children
If you have children with your loved one who is incarcerated, their incarceration can make this time even more difficult, painful, and overwhelming for you and the children. Don’t forget that this is a difficult and confusing time for the children as well – they may not understand what has happened, why their mom or dad had to leave or for how long.
Depending upon the child’s age and maturity, explain the situation to them in age-appropriate terms, providing them as much truth as necessary to help them put things in perspective. Allow them to talk about their feelings and experiences without judgment. Let them know that this time will be difficult but that their focus should turn to helping the parent who is jailed or serving time. Whenever possible and appropriate, help the children to open a line of communication with their parent, whether that is through letters, phone calls, or in-person visits.
7. Support Them in Their Legal Battle
If your loved one is awaiting trial in a county jail, you and they must accept that things move slowly, unfortunately. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic a continuing part of our lives causing courthouse closures due to the threat of the spread of the virus, the person’s case may progress even more slowly. Everyone faces these life changes and can do very little about it. Your continued support during this period, as reviewed above, is even more critical to your loved one.
If they have already been convicted by guilty plea or trial and sentenced to a prison term, their fight may not be over – their legal team may be working on an appeal, post-conviction relief, habeas proceedings, or pursuing parole to return them home as soon as possible.
There are limitations on what a lawyer may disclose to family members and loved ones. The confidential information shared between a client and his or her lawyer is protected by the attorney-client privilege. Family members’ communications with the incarcerated family member or his lawyer are not protected under that legal principle.
However, it may very well be the case that your loved one’s attorney needs to know everything he can about his client. When asked to do so, family members can provide invaluable information about a family member/client that few others can. All family members can help a person’s lawyer in being ready, willing and able to provide this information. An important part of representing a person accused of a crime is humanizing him or her. Pursuit of that aspect is where this information from family can help.
Contact us to speak with an attorney at Kulp & Elliott. Timothy Kulp is a Board Certified Criminal Defense Lawyer in SC with over 40 years’ experience as a judge, prosecutor, FBI Special Agent, and trial attorney.
Call us at 843-853-3310, or fill out our online form.