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How to Cope When a Family Member Is In Prison: Five Practical Tips 

Has one of your family members been incarcerated? This may have come as a huge shock or it may have been something you were expecting. 

Whatever the exact situation, you’re likely to feel a mix of emotions: upset, worried, maybe angry. You may be struggling with your mental health or you might be anxious about how you’ll manage practical things while your relative is in prison.

Here are some simple things you can do to help you cope:

1. Get Support From Other Family Members and Friends

It can be very tough to reach out to extended family members if someone close to you has been incarcerated. You might feel worried about how they’ll take the news. Or, you might be embarrassed to tell friends what has happened. Don’t be: half of all Americans have a family member who’s been incarcerated.

Think through your family members and friends and choose some of the most supportive people to reach out to. You might want to ask them to spread the word to others so that you don’t have to.

Let people know how they can support you. That could be making the time to chat to you, helping out in practical ways, or (if you’re religious) praying for you.

2. Look Up Contact Details if You Don’t Have Them (e.g. in Tennessee)

You might be unsure how to stay in touch with your family member while they’re in prison. In most cases, you’ll be allowed to send letters and photos, and they’ll be able to make phone calls to you. (Note that this costs money, so you may need to put money into their prison account so they can afford to call you.)

To contact your family member, you’ll need their inmate ID number. You can find this using online databases. For instance, you can look up a prisoner in Burleigh County Detention Center or any other jail in Tennessee or beyond. You can even search by state, if you’re not sure where your family member has been imprisoned. 

3. Reach Out to Organizations That Can Help and Support You

There are lots of organizations out there that help people with family members in prison, particularly if you’re close family (e.g. a spouse, parent, or child). They may be able to help with financial costs, with emotional support, or with practicalities such as helping with transport so you can visit.

4. Let Your Kids’ School Know About the Incarceration

If you have children, let their school know about the incarceration. You should do this even if it’s not your partner who’s been incarcerated. If their older sibling, uncle, aunt, grandparent, or cousin has been imprisoned, that could still have a huge impact on them.

Your child’s school may be able to arrange counseling or just some extra support. If they know about the incarceration, they can be aware of this and how it may impact the child’s behavior.

5. Find Information About Having a Loved One in Prison

You may feel very anxious about your family member being in prison. Perhaps you’re worried about how they’ll be feeling or coping.

You might find that it helps to look up more information about having a loved one in prison. You can find out how prisons work, what to expect in terms of contact, and get more information about the way in which your family member will be living in prison. The Prison Fellowship has lots of online resources plus book recommendations.

When a family member is incarcerated, it can throw everyday life into upheaval. Make sure you get the practical and emotional support you need in order to cope.

Jeff Campbell