As we have discussed in another article, your support can make all the difference for your inmate. It can provide them with better coping skills while incarcerated and equip them to be prepared for a new life upon release. It is especially difficult for inmates who are serving time for the first time. Their incarceration can bring anxiety, frustration and anger, along with a hundred questions. We’ve put together some basic information to help you prepare your loved one for what to expect during incarceration, and how to help them best navigate the prison system.
What You Can Do
One of the most frustrating things an inmate encounters immediately upon arriving to their designated facility is feeling disconnected from family and friends. They typically have information they need to share, as do their loved ones, but without an accessible means of communication. It is imperative to set up a way to talk with your inmate as soon as possible. You can call the facility to get the mailing address for your inmate and instructions on the proper way to address a letter. However, it can take several days for your inmate to receive your letter, and they cannot respond to you without writing supplies – only available via purchase through a commissary account.
It is much quicker to find out how to set up and fund a phone account for your incarcerated loved one! Each facility has its own process for funding a phone account. You can get the PrisonConnect number and ask your loved one to register it at the facility –you’ll be able to talk more for less!
It is possible that the commissary account at your inmate’s facility is separate from the phone account. If so, they will need funds added there as well in order to purchase basic hygiene products and supplies for writing letters, as well as any snacks and beverages beyond what is provided by the institution.
The first time your inmate walks into the dorm of their designated facility, it is extremely overwhelming. Life on the inside is so different, it can make your incarcerated loved one feel they are on another planet! When you talk to them, help them to stay calm. The length of time your inmate has been assigned to their facility will seem incomprehensible, and they will feel a sense of panic that they won’t make it through to the end. Let them know that you understand how unfamiliar everything seems and reassure them that they will get through their sentence. Another way to help your inmate minimize their anxiety is to encourage them to set short-term goals. In the beginning, it is best for them to set goals for the day – sometimes even hourly or moment-to-moment objectives – to help manage a strong feeling of overwhelm.
There is also a whole new system of etiquette that will be beneficial for your inmate to understand. Advise your inmate to be very aware of the surroundings – be vigilant, but not in an obvious way. They should be extremely observant, but without encroaching on other inmates’ space or belongings. Your incarcerated loved one should be wary of bonding with others until they have been in the facility long enough to determine who people really are. Often, initial approaches by other inmates are not an effort to bond – more likely, the seemingly friendly inmates are actually sizing up the new arrival, trying to figure out if there is something they want to take from them.
Additionally, there are lots of cliques. Your inmate should be careful who they decide to associate with. Becoming friends with one member will pull them into that group whether they want to be part of it or not. Affiliation with a bad group can make their incarceration much more difficult. Guards and other inmates pay attention to who belongs to what group and judge each inmate accordingly.
When your loved one is first incarcerated, you should:
- Find out their mailing address and write them a positive letter
- Set up and fund a phone account so they can communicate with you
- Set up a commissary account so they can purchase basic hygiene products
- Provide them with the Prison Connect number to reduce the cost of calls
You should give the following advice to your inmate:
- Try to stay calm and not be overwhelmed
- Rather than thinking about the sentence as an insurmountable time period, break the experience down into short, attainable goals
- Be observant and aware of surroundings while respecting other inmates’ needs for privacy
- Don’t be in a rush to make friends – watch other inmates and learn who they are and who they associate with
You Can Make It Through!
Providing support for your inmate during those first few weeks of incarceration can make all the difference in the world. It can create a much smoother transition period for them to adjust to their new environment. Though being incarcerated is never a fun place to be, we hope that these tips can help both you and your inmate have a less stressful experience. We have several other articles as well to help you and your inmate navigate the prison system.