The early days of my incarceration were difficult. Time felt like a great weight, and I couldn’t see the end of the dark tunnel of my sentence. I had no contact with family, and I found myself incarcerated in a state where I knew no one. To make matters worse, I was on a crash course of discovery about the ways of prison life.
Serving time is difficult. Why they call it ‘serving’ eludes me. We serve in the military or in the federal service. But in prison? Gah. You serve nothing other than to pull time. No one here cares about you. It would be incorrect for me to say that it gets easier as time passes. It doesn’t. It’s only ‘easier’ in the sense that you learn how to cope with your situation and the daily madness around you.
Being away from loved ones and away from the freedoms of life weigh on you. There’s a saying, and everyone knows it but few truly understand it: “You don’t appreciate something until it’s gone.” Yeah. Incarceration puts an exclamation point on this one.
For most guys incarceration marks a key low point in their lives. They may suffer from feelings of depression or sadness, and for some there’s frustration, even despair. Prison can be a lonely place.
Some guys don’t make it. I’ve witnessed men at the end of their ability to cope any longer. I know what despair looks like because I see it on the faces of men around me every day.
Those facing long indefinite sentences (where release is determined by a parole board) often feel that there’s no end in sight. Guys pulling short definite sentences (sentences with predetermined release dates) suffer too, except for them worries and concerns tend to center around near term issues. There’s concerns of losing a girlfriend or a wife or fears of falling behind on the bills. There’s fears of missing milestones as their children grow up while Dad is in prison. Long or short sentences, the impact is similar but felt in different ways.
Incarceration is a constant struggle. Guys struggle in nearly every way you can think of, and if you don’t manage your time carefully it will affect your health. If you have a loved one that’s incarcerated it’s likely you don’t know a fraction of what life is like here. You don’t know the true depth of the struggle that your loved one may be going through or the day to day issues inmates face. Most guys shield their loved ones from worry about life behind bars.
There are a number of things that you can do to help ease the pain of incarceration for both your loved one and yourself. If you have the means, send money once a month. It doesn’t have to be a lot, $20 even $30 can dramatically ease the burden of incarceration. Inmates earn a monthly stipend for working a prison job that amounts to about $20 here in Ohio. Yeah, $20. Think about that for a moment. With that money court fines are paid and a month’s worth of hygiene is purchased.
Extra money from home allows your loved one to buy food amenities from commissary. I can’t emphasize how much this relieves stress when you are able to grab a snack. The meals served to inmates are small portioned, where costs dictate amounts served. Most men find themselves hungry in between meals. It’s a terrible feeling to go to bed hungry.
Extra money also provides the opportunity to purchase a variety of products and services provided by private vendors with state corrections contracts. Products range from sundry and food items, to electronic services and products.
One of the best things that you can do is to stay in regular contact with your loved one. Inmates in many states have access to limited email services. These are custom app based services under contracts with state corrections departments. Write from time to time. Accept phone calls when you are called (even if to ask the caller to call back later when you aren’t so busy), and remember birthdays and special occasions. A good way to commemorate such occassions is to send a card to your loved one.
Yet, the single most appreciated thing that you can do is to write letters. A good old fashioned pen and paper letter. Yeah, I know, who does that nowadays? Why do this? Because every letter and photo you send will be cherished. It will become a source of reflection and strength during difficult times here. Everyone that’s incarcerated for any duration of time at some point feels this way. Even the toughest guys.
Letters are a way to reset yourself on difficult days, and letters and photographs are tangible. Letters show you care. Try holding an email in your hand and see how personal that feels.
*Know someone who has a loved one that’s incarcerated? Share this post with them. They will thank you.