Prisoners Have Families Too


October 22, 2018

Whenever there is a life-altering incident, whether it is a car accident or a diagnosis of cancer or dementia, the ramifications reach far beyond the individual involved to family and often friends. The same is true for those who have family members or loved ones who are incarcerated.

When a teenager dies in a car accident, or a young mother is diagnosed with cancer, or an aging parent who has provided love, strength and guidance is diagnosed with dementia, we often feel great compassion and sorrow for their families and close friends, for we recognize that they, too, are suffering.

When it comes to criminals, however, we tend not to feel concern or compassion for the criminals’ families and close friends. Truth is, we rarely think about them, if we do at all. Our concern and compassion is for the victims and their families. If anything, we probably cast some of the blame for the criminal’s actions on his or her family or friends.

No one can or should be blamed for having more compassion for the individuals and families who suffer from circumstances beyond their control. But it may be time to reassess what is either our malignant or benign neglect of the families of those who are incarcerated.

Several years ago we received a call from a grandmother regarding her son’s arrest. He had been arrested a few times before in other states and had committed a felony in this county, which we reported. While she was discouraged that her son had been arrested, she had no problem with law officers arresting him, for she knew that he had broken the law. She hoped that maybe this arrest and his subsequent incarceration would be the catalyst for him to change his life. Her greatest concern, however, was for her grandchild who was in elementary school and was constantly being reminded that his father was in jail. She was worried about the negative effect her son’s incarceration was having on her grandson.

Such instances are not unusual. Prisoners have families, too – mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. Maybe a few of them contributed to the criminal’s illegal behavior, but most of them did not and many may have tried everything they knew to deter such behavior.

Two years ago Susan and Steve Martin joined the Prison Ministry at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. About the same time, two members of the church approached Rev. Dick Tucker, who coordinates the Prison Ministry. They discussed with him the difficulty of having a family member in prison.

This is understandable. People often feel embarrassed or humiliated when a family member is incarcerated. They would prefer no one know. So, they often suffer in isolation, unable to reach out to those in similar circumstances.

For a parent whose spouse is incarcerated, the challenges can be daunting. One of the great difficulties of life is uncertainty, and there are probably few things more uncertain for a parent than when one’s spouse is incarcerated. How does the single parent pay the monthly bills? Should the single parent move on from the incarcerated spouse or remain loyal? How does one explain incarceration to a young child? How does a young child feel? The questions are labyrinthine, leading to other questions that may offer no good answers.

As a result of the plight of these local families, the Martins founded a Family Support Group. They are not a therapy group; they are a support group in which family members share their experiences and, in doing so, provide firsthand information that might help another member successfully resolve a similar problem. Six families now participate in the Family Support Group.

We have support groups for family members dealing with a parent with dementia or a family member who suffers from alcoholism or mental illness. It makes sense for us also to have support groups for those people who are struggling with having a family member in prison.

The Martins, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church and those in the group are to be commended for attempting to help those who have heretofore been left to their own devices to handle one of life’s greatest challenges – having a family member in prison.

For more information about the local Family Support Group, email [email protected]


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