Wednesday, February 17, 2010

#41 Reassuring your loved one in prison (retro)

Reassuring your loved one in prison

I was looking at the blogs I did last week and I think I counted 12, and at about 4 pages each, that is almost 50 pages of writing last week…

Not posts, as some people on certain sites like to brag about…but pages.

But I wanted to write another blog today from an email that mentioned a slight difficulty in trying to convince their loved one that they won’t be left behind. It’s a sensitive topic because a lot of you have gone through, or GOING through this.

Simply put, how do you reassure your loved one in prison that you will not leave him?

It’s a topic I have to think about myself, because to be sure a lot of inmates worry that someone they care about will leave them alone in the prison, to never talk to them again, never visit or accept a phone call or even receive a letter. And sadly, there are a lot of guys in prison that are truly alone in this world. No family or friends to keep in touch with them, so in all truth, they have nothing left in “that real world”. I mean, think about it, why bother leaving prison if you have done 10 or 20 years, and there is nobody out there who loves you? You might as well stay in prison.

And some of you think that is foolish talk…not knowing how REAL that is….

Lots of guys worry that their families or their girlfriends or friends might give “lip service” and say they will stand by them and stay in touch, but as the months turn into years, the commitment of friendship or a relationship begins to get weaker for lack of personal touch and conversation, and people gradually drift apart. Sometimes it happens and both sides can be cool with that. Many times when it happens, one side will take it harder than the other.

So how can you tell your loved one that you are not leaving him, that you are going to stand by their side. This goes for mothers as much as girlfriends or wives or even friends. How can you convince that person in prison that they still have somebody outside those walls that love them?

The easy part is to tell them…the hard part is to convince them. That’s because we as humans don’t do well with faith, we have to have physical proof that something is as we say. This lack of faith is a very strong reason for a lot of our spiritual problems, and yes I put myself at the front of that list.

But that’s what we’re talking about here…faith in somebody. There is nothing physical you can give a person that guarantees them that you will never leave them. A card, letter or not even my prison encouragement certificate can guarantee that kinda promise. It is, after all, just paper.

And your words at first are just that. But the thing about it is that when you tell them that you are not leaving them, that you will stand by them, it gives the inmate a temporary peace that what you say is true. It is the purest form of encouragement that happens when you either say it over the phone, send it in a card or letter, or speak it to them face to face in a visit.

Believe me folks, it means the WORLD when you say those things to an inmate. Well, why does it mean so much, and why then does he not believe you? Both answers are kinda similar in the reasoning.

Remember first the environment we are talking about. We are talking about prison, a dismal place of fear, anger, depression, stress, guilt, shame and sadness. Now don’t go overboard here, that is not every inmate, because you can do your time pretty well in prison if you can hit your marks. But the overall tone of prison is condemnation.

I say once and I will say again, people don’t know constant condemnation unless you are around such people 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 4 weeks a month, 12 months a year. When you are in that kind of realm, you are under attack mentally, spiritually, emotionally every day. It wears you down to where your faith in almost anything can be severely tested. It’s like standing out in the summer sun of 100 degrees with no shade for hours.

But when YOU come to visit, or send a letter or answer that phone, it’s like a refreshing shower that is so cool to the touch, so desired and so easy to enjoy. You bring that person a much needed break from the very difficult days he has had. That break is often all too short, and when it is time for you to go, the inmate knows that he has to return to that difficult life he had, and must continue to live.

If you understand what you mean to them, you can see how very important you are to them, and can also see why someone would ask you constantly if you will leave them. It’s easy to understand why a person would feel that way if you are bringing something very valuable to the table…but in many cases the inmate feels that he has nothing to offer, which in his eyes makes it seem that maybe he isn’t pulling his weight, or that he is “unworthy” of you.

I think I felt that way more than once, which is why I never asked my family to come visit me. I really felt that I wasn’t worth it, that if everybody left me alone in prison, and I had no family to go to when I got out, it was probably what I deserved. I felt that I had no say in how much my family loved me, and so I spent a lot of time in prison never asking for a visit, never asking for a transfer closer to home. I just felt I had to deal with what I had.

But that wasn’t true. My family wanted to see me, they wanted to visit, and if they knew I could have gotten a transfer closer to home, they would have wanted me to pursue that. But for a lot of you, there is a confusion as to why your son, husband or boyfriend or friend would keep asking you if you are going to stay with them, to not abandon them. I realize it can be frustrating after the 10th time, because you start to wonder if he is really listening to you.

In many cases he is, but perhaps the best way I can share how he might feel is by using numbers. Let’s assign a number, representing how he might feel after a good visit or phone call with you. Let’s assign values from 1-20, with 20 being the best he can feel, and 1 being lowest.

In many cases, when you visit him, or have a good phonecall with him, his morale shoots up (if you are keeping the contact upbeat, positive and faithful). He gets off that phone or leaves that visit feeling really good about you caring about him, so his feeling might be a 17.

(why not 20? Because he’s still in prison…unless you’re gonna tell him he won the lotto and they are gonna let him out tomorrow)

But just as soon as those good feelings came, the life of prison comes back, and it often comes back much faster than an inmate can handle. Suddenly he has to get his mindset back on the daily life of prison, so that feeling drops from 17 to 15.

He can be doing fine but any number of things can wear down his feelings. The guy next to him might be a complete jerk, and might make things hard for him one day…now it drops from 15 to 12.

The meals in the chow hall might not be as good as he would have liked, then it drops to 11.

Some of the officers got on his case about something, and it rubbed him the wrong way…now it’s 9.

Somebody might have stolen something from him, or an inmate who owes him something might be trying to duck out on him…now it drops to 7.

Little by little, the feelings he had for you are being broken down, not because of you, but because of the life he lives. And he can’t change it, he just has to adapt and do the best he can. But with the trials and the constant negativity, the condemnation sets in… I mean, after all, if he had not broken the law, he might not be in prison, right?

(as one with no compassion or understanding might say)

In times like these, it may force the inmate to take a look at himself and see his value…if any. Often times the self esteem of an inmate is very low because he has very few things to really be happy for. For many, the bright spots are you, and they begin to wonder how long you might continue to hang in there with him. Times like these will cause an inmate to wonder if you still love them, if you still care about them, and if you ever thought about leaving them.

On your side it seems repetitive, but I say to you this, he needs to hear it. If you said it once to him, say it ten times. If you said it ten times, say it a hundred times. If you said it a hundred times, say it a thousand times. Say it because he needs to hear it.

Say it because it’s his foothold on his faith in you.

Say it because you love him.

Say it because he loves you.

For whatever reason, say it, and try not to get burned out with it. Try not to see it as somebody who just does not listen. I am sure he heard you the first time, but faith in prison is hard to keep…wait, let me amend that…

Faith in a PERSON while in prison is hard to keep. Now why did I say that? Because we change, but faith in God can be more stable. The Bible does not change, so whether I read it today or next month, the words will still be there. But for human beings, things can change. Feelings for one another can change, our lives can change, anything can change for a person. And time certainly has a major factor in that. So yes, it is hard for in inmate to have complete faith in a person while he is in prison.

This does not mean that he is giving up on you at the drop of a hat, because each inmate has his or her own level of faith to deal with, some are better at it than others. But for many, it can wear down to the point where you wonder if your mom, or wife, or girlfriend, or pen pal or whomever, is still gonna love you. And the bad thing about prison is that it breeds of idle minds…and as the saying goes, the idle mind is the playground for the devil.

That means that if you are not having positive and reinforcing thoughts, then by default, negative thoughts will come in. And once they come in, they will take root and create doubt, unbelief, stress, false fear and other negative emotions. But if you keep that same person encouraged, faithful and joyful (as best as you can), it can prevent those things and help him understand that you will be there for him.

That’s reassurance! Anyway, I gotta go, email me if you want me to chat on some other issues, ask about my books, cards, prison encouragement certificates and more. Hang in there ok?

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