The Brandy Letter: Family in Prison
Like many Americans, I have close relatives who either have a criminal conviction or have served time in prison. Currently, I have a niece who is incarcerated. The prison experience is anything but positive and death by prison is real. We can neither free her nor truncate her sentence. Thus, my niece must survive the prison ordeal as best she can. The issues which confronts our family is whether we are morally obligated to assist her while in prison and if so, how? These are fundamental yet difficult questions for all who have prison relatives.
Some of us are so far gone; so monstrously evil, as to belong in prison, even if kin. Others have committed sins so egregious as to make it difficult to forgive. How does a father embrace a son sent to prison for pimping out his own sister or mother? There are times when all we can do is to cut family loose.
Even if deserving of assistance, helping family in prison is a burdensome proposition. As correctional facilities are intentionally located far from most urban areas, visiting a confined relative is a costly and taxing endeavor. And providing financial support to incarcerated family in times of economic distress imperils the remaining family.
What to say to prison family is equally dicey. As a general rule most don’t take well to criticism. And inmates know that they screwed-up if for noting else than they got caught. Lectures are therefore counterproductive. But sugar-coating the situation helps no one.
I recently received from my niece. In keeping with the above and via this post, my response is as follows.
Dear Niece: I am happy that you are doing well and understand the weight of your situation. Please know that we all wish you well.
Stuff happens to the best of us. Thus, if you are on this side of the ground you will know heartache and pain. So we try not to judge you, even though at times we may fail. Nevertheless, with your permission, I offer this advice. I wouldn’t be your uncle if I didn’t.
First, take ownership of your situation. You put yourself in harm’s way by being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing, with or for the wrong people. So search your soul and ask what did you do wrong? What better decisions could you have made not only regarding the situation which resulted in your confinement, but your entire life? What has this experience taught you and how can you make the best of your current situation?
Always remember, you and you alone are responsible for your life. Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you deal with it. So learn whatever this experience has to teach you and grow from it. If you can do better and you can, then you must do better and you will.
Second, it is not enough to do your time. Instead make their time work for you. One way to do so is by taking every educational and/or self-improvement program/course the correctional facility has to offer.
This is especially true of the skilled trades. Cement mason, pipe fitters, crane operators, boiler makers, millwrights, plumbers, carpenters, welders, heavy equipment operators and aviation mechanics are in high demand. Not only do these careers pay good wages but because skilled tradesmen have little contact with the public, licensed and certified ex-offenders have fewer employment related problems.
A licensed trade also helps you deal with the stigma of a criminal conviction. The bottom line is this. Do not leave prison without some type of license or certification.
Third, do all you can to secure an early release by avoiding any an all disciplinary actions and violations. You help your cause by expressing the 5 R’s, of rehabilitation, i.e., 1) realization of wrong doing, 2) taking personal responsibility for said wrong, 3) expressing remorse for your misdeeds, 4) offering to pay restitution or to otherwise make amends and 5) the sincere exhibition of redemption, i.e. that you have learned your lessen and will never re-offend. Repeat this mantra until both you and the prison officials believe it.
You might also consider seeking a position of trust and responsibility within the correctional facility, e.g., prison trustee. An above all, be careful of whom you associate with in the joint. Keep your own counsel as much as possible.
The fourth point relates to family. As we indicated above, life is hard and we all get our butts kicked. So despite what you might believe none of us consider ourselves better than you. We instead believe that you are better than you.
Soon enough you will be released. But if nothing else, understand this. No matter what has happened, regardless as to what either of us has said or done, we are still family. Nothing, absolutely nothing will ever change this indisputable, unalterable fact.
Uncle Leo, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum