I followed the comments by adding some more encouragement in the following:
“I suppose the key here is finding a way to stay positive in the midst of the worst situations of your life. It isn't easy, as anyone can tell you, and most people here at PTO are here because of a similar feeling of helplessness for a loved one. Some are here because they experienced the pain of prison firsthand. In either situation, you have got to find a way to get a grip on your situation. Staying positive does not necessarily mean you are dancing in the streets knowing nothing in the natural looks right. Some might be able to do that, but I am a human being, and that does not come natural to me. When I get surrounded by negative situations, it is a very difficult thing to stay positive. But sometimes the smallest of things starts the change. Whether you are flooded with daylight when you go outside, or a tiny crack of light from the bottom of your door, it is still light. You have to start where you can. If that means putting on some music, or going to a movie, or talking to a priest, or praying, or slicing a couple of slices of that cake WITH ice cream, do something to take your mind off the negatives. It is when you do that that the possible answers materialize. You give yourself a chance when you are willing to not pay homage to problems. Recognize they are there, but determine to do something about it. There is always a way. I will admit, just because I said that does not mean you will always FIND it, we all lose at some things because we missed the mark,but rarely will a diligent person really lose, they just have setbacks.”
What I wanted to do was to keep going back and adding what I can to help those that were reading this for some form of help. That post was put up August 7th, about 5 or 6 weeks after I initially put up the post. I was more than willing to add more if there were people that needed to discuss this further. Think about it like having a virtual meeting, with people sitting in a circle, talking about this situation. I didn’t want to start a discussion and leave people hanging on one or two posts. If they were interested in talking more, would share what I could.
After that last post, I had a question from a reader about how to get the rules and policies of the prison. I answered that in the next post, and about a month later, I added a new post to the discussion, dated September 10th 2004:
“I was reading some of the older posts and this caught my attention again. This post is about what to do when you don't know what to do. The last couple of days had me thinking about that, and what is said here. You know, this does not necessarily deal with just prison, it deals with real life. It is too easy to become overburdened with things you cannot directly control. Let me give you a recent example. If you watch the news on tv, you have no doubt seen all the terrible things going on. From the situation where over 300 people (women and children) were murdered in another country. A terrorist bomb goes off in an Australian embassy. Here in the US Florida is repeatedly pounded with hurricane after hurricane. Even in personal lives the same thing; in mine two people that I knew growing up passed away. Spaced out, most people can handle it well, but put it all together in a short period of time, and it can really wear on you. Life is like that, but in each situation, it was not in my control. I sometimes wish that I had some super power to know ahead of time, so I could do something about it, but that is not the case. Sometimes you go to bed wondering if God is taking a vacation and won't be back until 2005 (or 2006). It really causes you to worry, and makes sleep a bit difficult.
It is no different here at PTO, when loved ones worry about the inmates doing time. How many of you go to bed wondering if your son ate enough at dinner, or if he ate at all? Do you wonder if he is making it ok, or is he sleeping with one eye open? You know he is not likely to tell you because he knows you will worry, but you worry anyway. There is no television show that you can turn to that helps you ease your worries, and as instrumental as churches are, the pastor in most cases can't really answer your questions. Even if you pray over a situation, you still carry that burden to bed with you, and you pick it up when you wake up. You just don't know what is going on, and that really worries you.
How do you deal with that? What can you do to eliminate that negative feeling? I suppose there might be two ways of looking at it; things you can control, and things you can't. I can control what I wear each day; if I wore a blue long-sleeved shirt outside and it is 90 degrees out, I can turn right back around and go inside the house and change shirts. Or I can roll the sleeves up, or loosen the collar; a number of things. The fact is I can do something about it. I can't change the weather to suit my desires, but I can change my appearance (outside or INSIDE, did you catch that?). With loved one in prison, there are things you cannot control. You cannot control his everyday life in prison. You can't make him brush his teeth; you can't make him call you before he goes to bed; you can't make him eat his vegetables, but you can be there for him. You don't have to tie yourself to the phone, waiting for his call, but you can still be there in spirit. If he knows you are doing your best to support him, that means far more than you think. Keep in mind that sometimes knowing what you cannot control means letting go of it. I don't think my mom ever worried about me brushing my teeth; I KNOW she never lost sleep over that idea. Why? Because she could not control that situation anyway, regardless of whether it was of such minor importances in the overall scope of things. But that is the point, it was something she could not control. But she assumed that I would do that anyway. Inmates can take care of themselves when they have to, they are human beings (not animals as some DOC officials like to have you believe).
When you don't know what to do about something you cannot control, you have to come to the realization that you have to trust your loved one that he will take care of himself not just for him, but for you. He is a very precious item to you, far more valuable than anything you own. He means the world to you, and you need him to keep it together.
But you must trust that he can, regardless of how many mistakes he has made. How many mistakes did YOU make in your life? You simply must believe in him, if for nothing else, in just that he will take care of himself. If you can believe that, and resolve that, then you may well have control of the things you cannot control, because you have put your faith in that situation. It then gives you the strength to tackle the things you CAN control, like how much money to give him, telephone calls to keep his spirits up, pictures from home, visits, or even going to bat for him when he feels DOC isn't treating him like a human being. If you can do that, I assure you that you will feel more in power for your loved one, and can rest easier knowing that you are not helpless at all or just tossed like a leaf in the wind. Now that does not mean that you will go to sleep or wake up with a great big smile on your face; there may well be days you feel bad and want to cry. That's ok, grieving is part of human nature. I worry about those killed in that horrible incident overseas; I am very concerned about our fellow citizens in Florida and surrounding states, I am concerned about the families of those here that passed away this week, but if I give in completely to such sorrows, I don't do any good to myself. Times like this you have to find positives to help take control of your life. I am a big football fan, especially college football, so I can find some joy in that. I can pop in a video game, or watch some Godzilla movie (love those classics!). You have to do the same. Your loved one is counting on it. Remember he is feeding of your energy, so you have to be positive so he can feed of that. In an ironic way, it's kinda like nursing, which proves afterall that you mean so very much to him,and you can always do something for him, if nothing but support him.”
To which followed these comments:
“Masonik4- Once again your posts have provided answers to my questions (and anxieties). I don't have a son incarcerated but I do have a brother and I worry about him so much - your posts always seem to come around just when I really need your kind of philosophy and comfort.Thanks so much and bless you. Your mother did a wonderful job!”
“Thanks Masonki4, I loved your post, I now am working nights, its an adjustment on my part, my baby boys ages 11 and 4 are off to school, my 18 year-old dtr. is at college, and my eldest dtr. is on the "hoe-squad" being rehabilitated. I needed some encouragement now that I will sleep during the day. But I will wake up, pick my boys up from school, wait to here all about the upcoming election from my 18 year-old at college she is really fired up about the elections, and knowing she can vote and become involved with our country. She is campaigning at school to get young people to vote. I think I will make spaghetti for dinner. I felt down when I got home, but I now have pleasant thoughts to go to sleep with. Thank-you for your words of advice, and with that thought I will say good-night. Have a great day to all our PTO friends.”
“Thank you Masonik4 :-) We appreciate you...my boy is in there and I go through every emotion you talked about. It helps to hear what I should already know in my heart.…”
Remember, I started this blog in late June, and now in late September there is still discussion on it. After the last comment, it went quiet for awhile, through October and November. But knowing how many people felt with a loved one in prison during Christmas, I came back and posted another one on December 1st:
“Wanted to pull this one back up because during the holidays the stress of inmates and families tends to multiply. As I am writing this, we are between two holidays; Thanksgiving and Christmas. Most loved ones have already gone through a difficult time with Thanksgiving because they have a loved on in prison or jail. It just kinda seems like the holiday isn't worth celebrating. How can you celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas if you have a loved one in jail or prison. It almost seems unfair to sit down and have that turkey, or to put up Christmas decorations when your loved one is not there to enjoy it. Maybe it feels like by celebrating and being joyous, you are turning your back on them, as if to say that your life has to go on and it will not include them anymore. Do you ever feel that way?
It is a tough feeling, and usually during the holidays these feelings are so heavy. I kinda sit here now, enjoying putting up Christmas decorations (even though I broke a bulb and an ornament, and a string of lights won't work :angry: ) I have been playing Christmas music and watch Christmas cartoons on tv at night. I am really into it. But when I was in prison, my family never put up any decorations. I was always the guy who did it, and with me gone it just was not the same. They felt that it was not fair to celebrate so much while I was in prison. Do you feel the same way? Is it hard to play Christmas music because it might cause you to cry, knowing your loved one won't be home for Christmas? I know my family felt that way. They felt so bad for me, but if I had known that, I would have felt miserable. When I was in prison, I had to believe that everything would be ok for my family. I had to. If I even thought for a second that they were being very sad, it might have broken my heart. How can I do my time when my family feels so sad on a time like Christmas?
I spent a few Christmas seasons in prison and jail, and my first Christmas I tried to kill myself in the county jail cell. No one ever knew because I had a single cell. I felt so miserable that I tied socks and tshirts to a bed post and tried to strangulate myself to the point where I would black out, and die. I was close a few times, where just an extra effort would have been enough, but I could not. I remember crying because I could not even kill myself. Mind you, all this was on Christmas Day. I felt so bad for myself and my family, knowing this was our first Christmas without me being there. No Christmas trees, no Christmas lights, no Christmas cartoons, no Christmas anything. A lot of you know what I am talking about. How do you make it through? What can you do to soften the pain. You cannot eliminate it. Well, maybe there are some ways:
First off, keep in mind the importance of YOU being upbeat. Your loved one needs to hear that you are doing fine. That does not mean you are happy, but it does mean you are doing ok. He has to know that, he has to hear that, because that may be the best holiday gift to him emotionally speaking. He can go to his bunk knowing that his family is ok. When I was in prison, after the first Christmas, I felt better about myself (not perfect, I was still miserable), but what may also helped is that I was around others. When you are depressed, the worst place to be is by yourself. Let me say that again, the worst place to be is BY YOURSELF!!! When I was in that cell, I was by myself, and it is easy to have 10,000 pounds of negativity push you over the edge. But when you are in the presence of other people, even if you don't know them, there is a greater control of one's self. That does not mean you are happy, it means you can still keep in control of your emotions. In my coming writings I will be sharing how I dealt with the holidays, but here I wanted to get the points across on what you can do about being depressed over the holidays.
In the darkest days you have to find some light. When you feel so depressed about your loved one not being there, start from the very basics. Is he alive? Ok, great. Your loved on is still alive, as long as he draws breath, there is still a hope to see him, or hear him, or get a letter. Let that be enough to start. Even if you have a son doing 30+ years, he is still alive. I know this sounds very petty, but in times like this you have to start with the simplest things. You at least still have him alive, even if it is in prison. I have heard and seen very unusual situations happen in prison, where people with very long sentences get parole by miracles; so as long as he lives, even under a long sentence, there is hope, however small it may be.
As an inmate, if you gave me the choice of my mom going out and having a great time at a Chrismas dinner or party, or staying at home worried about me, there is no problem in what I would choose. I want my mom to have a great time, that would make me feel great. I can go back to my bunk after talking to mom and know she is doing very well. Does that mean she forgot about me? Of course not! But her doing ok gives me strength, far more than you know. It will help me sleep at night, and wake up better the next day. Consider the alternative. If my mom told me she cried all night and did not put one ornament up, and stayed home in her room all during the holidays, it would have torn me apart! How could I sleep knowing that the people I love the most were having a miserable time? You have to understand, inmates carry that with them after they talk on the phone, or come from a visit or read that letter. You have to understand how vital it is for you to be positive about enjoying the holidays. Yes it hurts not having them there, I know, and there is no crime in acknowledging that to him. It's ok, you have feelings too. But don't let that be the cornerstone of the conversation; you have to make very sure he understands how much you love him and miss him, but that you are doing ok. He has to understand that, especially now during the holidays.
I realize nothing can substitute your loved one not being there for the holidays. I look around the house here with all kinds of decorations out, decorations I put up myself. I am always reminded of those years I could not put any up. It hurts to be away from loved ones during the holidays, but it is not the end of the world. If you find yourself feeling sad during the holidays, let me first say that 99% of the time inmates do manage well over the holidays; they will be ok. They spend more time thinking about you though, so it is important that you be positive with them so they will feel better. But for you, it is important that you remain in control. It is very easy for depression to grab you, especially when you are by yourself. If you find yourself staring at the wall with Christmas music playing, feeling bad that your loved one isn't there, you gotta break that cycle. Play some upbeat music, go to the mall and just walk around, look at some cartoons for a cheap laugh, call a friend to talk to, visit PTO, do something. It will not stop the pain, I know, but it will take some of it away. All you need to do is make it to the next day...and then the next. Take it one day at a time, don't try to jump months or years to the day your loved one comes home. That is too much time to absorb. If you just take small steps, you can make it.
Holidays are such a wonderful time to be alive, to enjoy life. Keep that in mind when you think about your loved one. As long as he is alive, he can enjoy those holidays too, even if he is away from home. Hang in there, and Season's Greetings.”
This is a very, very tough topic to talk about, especially during the holidays. But I had to try to shake some people to not fall apart during these days, but to try to find some sense of hope. So many times when I read support sites during November or December, it is full of people that are so depressed with a loved one in prison. So they opt not to celebrate, as if it actually HELPS their loved one. Folks, it does not work that way. After I posted that December post, I got a few responses:
“Thank you for posting!
As always your words come to my rescue when I am feeling...heck when I am not sure what I am feeling!!
I was getting kinda depressed about my son being in prison and I was so glad I read your post before he called. It seemed he was worried about how I was handling the beginning of the holiday season. I had just finished reading your post. I took your advise. I was able to muster up a little holiday spirit for my son's sake. I could tell from his voice and words he was relieved and glad to hear we were in good spirits.
Keep up the good work I for one greatly appreciate it!”
Thank you so much for the post on Christmas. I have found myself just sitting and crying. Then I try to put another ornament on the tree and I know that is what my son would want me to do. I'm trying and your kind words really helped me this evening. Thanks again,”
“Mason As always you know what to say and how to explain and give us the right ways to adapt and get on with life! My hat is as always Off to you and I send you blessing each day in hopes that you never leave us. You are an Asset to PTO and hope you know how much you are loved and honor by all of us here!!!!!”
“Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, for your wonderful insight. My ordeal with my son is almost over, and each and everything you had to say I have tried to share with others on this site to help them get through theirs. In my darkest of days I pulled myself together and began making our experience a positive one. Small steps at first and then large ones. That feeling of helplessness will eat you up alive if you let it. I didn't. I decided to take my power and control back over my life and move forward. Instead of wasting my time and energy whining about the things I couldn't control, I instead took a proactive approach on those things I could. It worked wonderfully and I have never felt better than I do today about everything involving my son's incarceration. Yes, he did the crime, and yes, he is doing his time. He accepted responsibility from the beginning and by doing so, he himself moved on while incarcerated to those things within the prison system that would make him a better individual for having been there. He has made the system work for him instead of against him. We have made this entire experience a positive one for our family. By doing so, I was able to move mountains in getting him into work release when we thought he would never be eligible. He will be released shortly and our lives are going to go on. Yes, he will be a felon. But at the same time, he understands that by being one, he has alot more knowledge and insight than many others do about our prison system. He has never forgotten that knowledge is power. He has made this time of incarceration a life experience for himself. And in the end, for him, that is really all that prison time becomes. A life experience that he will move on from after he gets released. We have many of them. From getting our drivers licenses, to graduating, to getting married, having kids, etc., the list goes on. All just life experiences. It's how we decide to deal with the things life has to offer us, that matters. Always, always take the positive approach and you would be amazed at how good you begin to feel about things and how you can accomplish things that you thought would not be possible. It Worked for this family. Thanks again for sharing your story!!!!”
Sometimes folks, when you let people talk, they just might be able to answer their own questions on what to do when you don’t know what to do…kinda proving that the answers are indeed inside of us, if we are willing to look at it in a positive and faithful way:
“Thank You Mason for all your words of wisdom and also all you others. I have been feeling down lately especially with the holdidays. With every ornament I put on the tree there is a memory of each year we all shared in my family. I feel sometimes alone with my thoughts because my husband and my older son really dont say much about our our son and brother. Maybe its because they know it hurts me too much or they are tired of me talking about him. I dont know but we dont always see eye to eye on my feelings. Maybe because they are men. I have gotten better its just really hard at this time and he is so young, only turned 18. We are a close family and he knows all that we do for the holidays. I do send him lots of letters and pics and whatever else I can and we visit when hes not in the box.(which he currently is again) but I somehow cant say a whole lot in the letters about that im decorating,putting up tree, baking cookies,etc. I just dont want him to feel bad that hes missing out on all this. Is this right for me to do? I know he wants us to be happy I do say some things but not a lot. Is anyone else having that problem? I get my days but im not sitting at home being depressed. I have a six year old and we do a lot with him. Writing this im kind of answering my own questions to myself lol I guess I should be telling more of what we are doing. I do always tell him he is always in our hearts when we are all together and how much he is missed. I guess I just needed to vent some. I thank God for PTO because you all have helped me from reading your posts to know that I am not the only one going through this and there is a light at the end of the tunnel for me and my loved one. LOL I feel so much better from talking to you all. Dont mind me I guess I just needed to come to the place where I know someone is listening. take care,”
I followed up this person’s post by sharing the following:
“Pretty cool how you were able to kinda answer your own questions, isn't it? I have done that a few times myself, but it shows a point. Sometimes when you feel down about things, sometimes the best way to get answers is to kinda lay things out. That way you will actually "see" what you are saying. I suppose in that you can also find the answers, since by talking you are slowly untangling the problems. I found myself doing that several times when I was in prison. Sometimes you get so upset that you don't know what to do. But in that very saying is the problem. You get so upset that YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO.
In order to get out of that, you have to DO something, but when you are so upset that you don't know what to do, you tend to stay there, being upset. As long as you stay in that spot, not knowing what to do, you will continue to be upset. But when you find something to do.... then things can change. You did that chickapee by simply talking here on PTO. You did something rather than just sit there and sulk. But by you doing that, you have also shared that with other readers. You may very well help dozens or hundreds of people who may read this post. Gosh, I better stop talking before Dr. Phil tries to sue me for trying to sound like I know something :)
But in all honesty, in order to address a problem sometimes you have to kinda lay it all out there. It is funny that the brain can hold tons of memory and the heart can remember lots of things, but until you pull those things out and deal with it, it may all be too tangled to make sense. I learned that a few times over while in jail and prison, and it is a lesson I keep learning. I hope you pick up some of that as well.”
Remember guys, we are talking about what to do when you don’t know what to do. So many people have loved ones in prison and are at a complete loss as to what to do, the idea of the post was to try to open some venues, create some hope and instill some faith in people to believe that all is not lost. If we can get out of that frame of mind, we just might be able to be in a position to be encouraging and positive. If you can get to this point, maybe you can get some decent rest at night, and not worry so much about your loved one.
One of the last posts I shared on this subject came a couple of days before Christmas, and I wanted to put something up there to help keep people encouraged knowing that Christmas was only a few days away. This is what I shared:
“You know, at this time of year you might feel that there is absolutely nothing you can do about the holidays. The great irony of being in good cheer while your loved one is either in or going to prison. Well, I know there are very few answers in this, but I just have to believe there is something you can do. I am not saying there is something to take all the pain away, but there is something you can do.
For instance, when you don't know what to do, simplify things. Sometimes we try to "shoot for the moon" when taking baby steps is enough. Let me give you an example:
A lot of loved ones are very stressed because they don't have the "holiday spirit" this year. I can understand that very well. But define "holiday spirit". Does that mean that you have to be in PERFECT JOY AND HAPPINESS? Does that mean you have to be dancing in the streets? Does that mean you have to be totally happy? No, it does not. Simplify the meaning. To have the holiday spirit might mean being thankful for something (sounds like Thanksgiving doesn't it). But understand what we are trying to establish; we are not trying to cure your sadness, that is impossible. We are trying to curve it. Of course you miss your loved one, but we are trying to get you to find some strength. A start is by not trying to do or assume too much.
You can still have the holiday spirit...it takes that to put up a tree, even if you cried through it. It takes that kind of spirit to play that Christmas CD, even if you went through a roll of tissue paper doing it. It takes a holiday spirit just to make it through the holidays without falling completely apart. We all have that holiday spirit, in some measure. You may not have planned that big Christmas party for 100 people or decked your home with 100,000 lights or sent dozens of Christmas cards, but if you did ANYTHING, you have the holiday spirit.
So why is that important to have it or not? Because it is a point of value to you. It shows that you value the Christmas season, in fact, even more since someone you love isn't there. You don't LOSE the holiday spirit because your loved one isn't there, you TREASURE it because he is not there. Understand? Now, it won't make you feel much better, but what we are trying to do is get you to simplify matters so you can see that you are making progress. The irony is that sometimes when you don't know what to do, you may ALREADY BE DOING IT. You just have to understand that just moving, no matter whether it is 100 miles or 1 inch, you are moving forward.
"But I don't feel like I have the holiday spirit!"
I know how you feel. We have all been there, inmates and loved ones alike. And I know for many the religious characteristic is the furthest thing from you, although it is by every angle the most important part of the holiday. But the purpose of this season is love and joy. Are you devoid of that because your loved one is not home for Christmas? No, not really. You still have that love, but because you cannot show it to that special person, it hurts. It hurt me when I was in prison during these holidays because I miss my family. Did that mean I had no love? No, of course not. I love my mom and my family. No different from you. You love your son, daughter, friend, spouse, ect who is in prison or jail this year. The very essence of Christmas is love, and you certainly have that. Make no mistake, you have the holiday spirit.
"So how can I enjoy this Christmas without my loved one?"
By simplifying. Settle for whatever you can salvage. In a humorous way, I wish I could be spending my Christmas in Paris, shopping in those fancy stores and having the time of my life...but I guess that won't happen now :(
Still, I will settle for being home with my family. But what if you can't be home with your loved one? Well, settle for this...he is alive.
Start at the very basics and find reasons to be thankful for. He is in jail or prison, but at least he is alive. Ok, where can you go from there...can you send him a card or letter? Does he write to you? Do you get calls from him? Can you visit him? How does he sound? Does he sound like he is getting along ok? Is he happy to hear from me? These are simple things that are more valuable than you think. Again, we are not shooting for the moon, just trying to move forward.
When you don't know what to do, KEEP IT SIMPLE. I grant you it will not fill you up with the Christmas spirit, but all we are trying to do is keep depression from destroying you. I promise you, that will not help you or your loved one. By you holding on, you develop strenght that your loved one in prison can use. Hang in there guys........…”
(end of post)
One of the last comments I got before Christmas was the following:
“you alwasy have something good to say that makes me feel better.I wish I could get you to talk to my son ,I guess I will have to copy your info and send it to him.”
The length of that post spanned about 9 months, at least as far as I read it on what I saved. From June to about March. There was more that was commented but with this blog near 20 pages, I didn’t want to make into an epic.
I share all this to let you know that indeed there are things that you can do when you don’t know what to do, and to also share with you that you clearly are not alone in this. Thousands and thousands of people have gone through, and going through the things you are concerned about. When I started writing for prison support sites the goal was to try to give them hope. It wasn’t about getting support for my blogs, or making prison cards or prison encouragement certificates. I had written for quite awhile before I seriously thought about writing “Grades of Honor”.
But as I continued to write, I found more and more people that were worried and concerned about a loved one in prison. So many questions about what their son or husband or boyfriend might be feeling, or what he might be experiencing. In most sites, there just isn’t anyone who can speak from experience, or very few that do. Consider again folks, how many people have been released from prison just in the last 10 years? Clearly hundreds of thousands…likely a few million. Yet why is it so hard for these people to help those with loved ones in prison. One could assume there is a wealth of information that could be shared if even a small fraction of those ex felons would get on sites to help. But I learned that there are a lot of problems with that idea, from sites not wanting ex felons to ex felons just not wanting to relive these difficult times.
I clearly am not the only guy writing on prison issues, and I might wager I am not the best writer on the subject, but I might take that bet that I have written more on prison issues than anybody online. That doesn’t make me right in everything I share, it just means I am trying my best to help.
So I hope this helps you out, I hope you can get some mileage out of some of my posts off a site that later kicked me out on my ear. Anyway, email me if you have something you want me to discuss, or ask me how you can support my blogs. Ask about my books or cards, or you can jump back a few blogs to read what I mentioned about my books, cards and certificates. Feel free to email me when you can. Until then…