This is a question that I receive by email often. I’m not the expert exactly but here are a few pointers and tips if you’re dealing with an incarceration of a friend or family member.
1. The rights an inmate(or visitor) at a prison has are barely recognizable as rights. It’s a “good” thing for him (and you)to realize that ASAP. He will be treated poorly by guards, medical staff, social workers, etc. and that’s just the way it is. When I say “treated poorly”, I mean that he’s not a customer and shouln’t expect customer service. He will not be trusted and should not be expected to be trusted.
That doesn’t mean everyone will be mean to him. There are good guys.
Encourage them to obey the rules and don’t try to get away with things~consequences are swift and severe.
2. If he’s going to prison, there should be classes he can enroll in, a library, exercise, etc. In a way prison is better than jail–although when Lee transferred to prison I cried and cried. Prison sounds so bad but in jail all they do is SIT 24/7.
Even though the word “prison” is an emotionally charged word, realize it’s usually a better situation for the inmate than jail.
3. Health? You know the myth that they have Cadillac health care–it’s a myth!
I wrote about a time when MRSA was going around the prison Lee was in and there wasn’t even soap in the bathroom. The guards laughed at him when he asked for it. The warden publicly said that those with MRSA were quarantined and everything was being done to contain it but those with MRSA were in general population with everyone else and no precautions were being taken AT ALL. What I had to do was just pray and ask God to help me not worry because there was nothing I could do. MAYBE the canteen will have Vitamin C he can buy but that’s about all I know.
Realize that their health isn’t anything you can control. Pray for God to keep them safe and try not to worry.
4. You will find out the rules about what you can send him when you find out what facility he goes to. Each facility is different. In our experience, things have to be brand new and come from an approved catalog or retailer with a receipt including the price inside the box.
Don’t send things to your friend or loved one until you know the rules.
5. You’ll also find out about visiting rules when you find out the facility. Minor children may (or may not) be allowed.
Visiting hours are very narrow with very tight rules. Often the facility has a dress code as well. Interesting things you’ll learn are don’t wear underclothing with wires–it sets off the security scanner and the process to get through without your underwire is mortifying. Metal buttons on pants can do the same thing.
You may also discover that your friend or loved one is housed in a a facility that is very inconvenient for you to get to. That’s just how it is.
Make sure you find out the rules for visiting at their facility. Do not just show up!
6 . Phone calls from prison are super expensive. We paid up to $9 for a 15 min call. That was hard because we wanted to keep in touch and he needed to talk but I couldn’t pay that bill.
Set up a plan with your friend or loved one for phone calls. Do not feel badly if you have to say no calls or if you severely limit calls.
7. Ministries available just depend on the facility. One of the facilities Lee was in was pretty good but the chaplain retired and they hired a pagan chaplain who stopped a lot of the Christian programs. Much is up to the chaplain.
Encourage your friend or loved one to attend any church services or Bible studies if they can.
8.Write to your friend often. Once again, make sure you understand the rules of the facility before you send things. I once sent Lee a letter that was confiscated because I included a contraband church bulletin! Oops!
9. You may be able to put cash on your friend or loved ones canteen account. You can find out how to do that at the facility. This enables them to purchase postage stamps, snacks, personal care items, and even books or clothing.
Establish boundaries if you choose to do this. You are not obligated to do it especially if you’re struggling to pay your own bills. Having an incarcerated loved on can be very expensive–gas, phone calls, etc. Do not feel that you have to also give them money for their account.
These are just a couple tips from my experience. Every facility is different and you need to be proactive to figure out what’s going on at the facility you’re dealing with.
The easiest things for you to do are to pray for your friend and write them as often as you can.