Helpful Hints

Extended Family has collected Helpful Hints for families of prisoners, their children, and returning citizens. Do you have a Helpful Hint? Please send it to us through our Contact Us page.
 
Take time to have fun! This is very important for families with children. Remember, we don’t have to do their time.

Saying, “I’ll write every day,” is common, but it is a difficult promise to keep. Just do your best. Don't set expectations about how often you will write to them, or how often they will write to you. Prisoners’ lives are more scheduled than we think, and they don’t always have the time to write as often as they might like.

Find out if you can keep health insurance for children and/or spouse through the prisoner’s former employer.

Find all the local support you can! You may join a women’s or men’s community club, a church group, or continuing education class. It is important to fill our lives with positive, helpful activities while the one we love is incarcerated.

Schedule a day and time for the prisoner to call. Include the expense of phone calls in your family budget. Having a set day to receive the call is helpful to you and the inmate. You can both be prepared to talk and look forward to that moment.

Get a power of attorney for the family member who is incarcerated. This document will allow you cash income tax checks made out to both of you, sell items owned by the incarcerated (such as vehicles), and make many other transactions for your loved one and yourselves.

Surround yourself with positive people! Especially in the beginning, you need all the energy you can get, and negative comments will drain your energy. Hang out with those who encourage you in this new phase of life, and you will find more strength than you thought you had.

During the holidays, please give yourself a break. You will probably feel a great sense of loss without your loved one there to join in the festivities. To deal with this, you could start a new tradition, or find ways to include your loved one in an old tradition. Have them call during dinner and talk to everyone in the room. Send a “Wish Gift” to them in a letter – wishing them something specific. "I wish for you a different bunk....the class you want to take....a whole new outlook on life." Click  “Stressed for the Holidays” for more Extended Family tips on how to get through special times without your loved one.

Attend families of prisoners conferences, workshops, and gatherings as often as possible. You will learn about solutions available for your family, and meet others getting through the prison experience. Organizations other than Extended Family that offer help include When explaining incarceration to small children, use the "time out" example. "Daddy made a bad choice and broke rules we call laws. So he has to go in a long time out with other grown-ups who broke the rules." 

Experts say it is harmful to tell small children their loved one has "gone to school" or "gone to work" when that person is actually incarcerated. When that child starts school, he or she is fearful that they will not get to go home! 

When sending a package to an inmate, read the directions carefully! Any deviation from the directions may result in the package being cancelled.

Don’t stop dreaming – for yourself or the inmate. When our loved one is incarcerated we may feel like life is over as we know it. But many family members and returning citizens have gone on to lead productive lives and see their dreams come true. Even if your loved one is incarcerated for life, their life (and yours) is not over.

Consider seeing a counselor for a period of time so you can learn new life skills.

Remember that prison rules are in place to keep your family member safe. When the rules change often and without notice, it is the prison's way of keeping harmful things out of the facility (such as drugs or weapons). There is a one-word answer to every question about why the prison has changed a rule. That answer is “Security!”

When you visit a prisoner, always take an extra set of clothes. We recommend
  • Tennis shoes with closed heels and toes
  • Long, heavy pants, no sweat pants
  • Long-sleeved shirt, no see-through material
  • Long shirt covering the waist and hips
  • Dark colors, nothing close to inmate uniform
  • Loose fitting clothes
  • High neckline
These will be your “fail safe clothes”. You might arrive for a visit and find the dress code rules have changed. You may accidentally wear something you could not wear (such as sleeves too short). In that case you still have a change of clothes in the car and can still get into the visit.

If the prison visitation rules are “don’t wear white”, this means no white, tan, beige, khaki, or anything resembling white! Do not even wear a white shirt with a logo or picture on it.

Ask the prison for a written set of rules regarding visitation and other contact with the prisoners. Some of these may be on the prison’s Web site. Remember that they will change from time to time.

Every state’s rules are different, and every prison’s rules are different. Don’t take advice from a family member who is not experienced with the rules of the prison you are visiting – and remember that the prison rules change frequently.

Most prisons have a visitation list – you must be on that list in order to be allowed to visit the prisoner. Sometimes there is a waiting period before getting on that list. The inmate will be given the rules for who can visit and when, and it is up to the inmate to put you on the visit list. Call the prison before you visit and make sure you are on the official visitation list. Ask what documents you need to bring with you. Some prisons require a drivers licence, others may require more documentation for you or a child who is with you.

Realize that visitation is an emotional time, and you may not feel like yourself when you leave. You could be harsh with your children, feel overly tired, or even confused about how to drive home. If you think these things will happen, you can prepare for them. After a visit give yourself a “quiet time” of 30 minutes, where you can’t talk to the kids. (They will think this is a fun game, and try to get you to talk!) Make time for a nap, even if it is late in the day. Have someone drive you home.

When your loved one becomes incarcerated, review your bills and income. Make a list of these on paper. Get help from a family member or friend if you don't know how to do this. Some churches and community groups offer financial freedom classes. Then decide the amout of money you can send the inmate each month that is comfortable for you. There is no reason to put your finances in jeopardy by sending more money than you can comfortably send. When you have a plan on how much you are sending and when, the prisoner can make a plan as to how he or she will budget the amounts they receive. You do not have to literally pay for your loved one’s mistakes. 

If you question a prisoner’s request for funds, contact Extended Family at 256-927-7997, or through our Contact Us page, and we will research the question for you. One family learned a prisoner’s cost for dental work was $3 and not $300!

Understand how important it is for you to “not do their time.” This takes practice! When you get invited to a fun event, but won’t go because you are waiting on a 15-minute-phone call from prison, that is “doing their time.” It is okay for us to have fun while the one we love is in prison. "We don’t have to do their time!

Figure out what causes you stress - and then practice one of these 14 Stress Busters!

Tell children - repeatedly - "It's not your fault!" This is true for children of any age.

Find out about all of the government, community, and church agencies in your community that offer services to help you in this season of your life. Many of these are listed on our Resource Database page.

If your loved one is coming home from prison soon, you may feel more anxious than excited. This is normal. Life is about to change, you don’t know what to expect. Extended Family’s Going Home workshop and other re-entry resources, can prepare you for this change. Check out our Re-Entry page for more. Or you can send your questions through our Contact Us page, and someone experienced with returning citizens will answer.

Volunteer! It helps you to be helping someone else. There are hundreds of ways to volunteer your time and experience to help others. To become an Extended Family volunteer, visit our Get Connected page for information. Or check out this national volunteer matching site for those 55 and older, Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP).

Ask for help. You may need assistance with Christmas gifts for your children. You might need emotional support or counseling. Or a friend to go with you when you have to buy a car. Maybe your grocery money does not last until the end of the month. Whatever the need, if you let your friends and family know what is overwhelming you, they may be able to help.


Find local support
Join a women’s or men’s community club, a church group, or continuing education class. It is important to fill our lives with positive, helpful activities while the one we love is incarcerated. 

Don't do their time
It is important for you to "not do their time." This takes practice! When you get invited to a fun event, but won’t go because you are waiting on a 15-minute-phone call from prison, that is “doing their time.” It is okay for us to have fun while the one we love is in prison. "We don't have to do their time." 

Quiet time works
Prison visitation is an emotional time, and you may not feel like yourself when you leave. You could be harsh with your children, feel overly tired, or even confused about how to drive home. After a visit give yourself a “quiet time” of 30 minutes, where you can’t talk to the kids. (They will think this is a fun game, and try to get you to talk!) Make time for a nap, even if it is late in the day. Have someone drive you home.

Volunteer
Volunteer! It helps you to be helping someone else. There are hundreds of ways to volunteer your time and experience.  Your local Humane Society, Boys and Girls Clubs, or library are good places to start. Check out this national volunteer matching site for those 55 and older,Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). To become an Extended Family volunteer, call 256-927-7997 or e-mail extendedfamilyhelp@gmail.com for information.

 

Positive people matter
Surround yourself with positive people! Especially in the beginning, you need all the energy you can get, and negative comments will drain your energy. Hang out with those who encourage you in this new phase of life, and you will find more strength than you thought you had.



Resources
Find out about all of the government, community, and church agencies in your community that offer services to help you in this season of your life. Many of these are listed on our Resource Database page.



Making financial plans
When your loved one becomes incarcerated, review your bills and income. Make a list of these on paper. Then decide the amount of money you can send the inmate each month that is comfortable for you. There is no reason to put your finances in jeopardy by sending more money than you can comfortably send. When you have a plan on how much you are sending and when, the prisoner can make a plan as to how he/she will budget the money they receive. You do not have to literally pay for your loved one’s mistakes. 



Conference connections
Attend families of prisoners conferences, workshops, and gatherings. You will learn about solutions and meet others going through the prison experience. Organizations sponsoring these events include:
Wings for Life International
Kairos Outside
Alabama Families of Prisoners Conference
International Families of Prisoners Conference
Coalition of Prison Evangelists



Holiday hints
During the holidays, give yourself a break.  You may feel a sense of loss without your loved one there, and need to get creative on how to celebrate. Start a new tradition, or find ways to include your loved one in an old tradition. Send "Wish Gifts" in the mail - "I wish for you a new bunk" or "I wish for you the class you want to take." Click Stressed for the Holidays to learn more ways to make this time of year less stressful.  


Talking to your child
When explaining incarceration to small children, use the "time out" example. "Daddy made a bad choice and broke rules we call laws. So he has to go in a long time out with other grown-ups who broke the rules." 
 

Phone call solution
Schedule a day and time for the prisoner to call. Include the expense of phone calls in your family budget. Having a set day to receive the call is helpful to you and the inmate. You can both be prepared to talk and look forward to that moment.