The last few years have been a whirlwind in terms of social unrest. Protests and violence surged in 2020. Police killings became front-page news and sparked outrage. A global pandemic changed life as we know it. A Presidential election and everything leading up to it caused many Americans to turn on each other.
If you turn on the news for five minutes, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything our world – and our country – is going through. But, it can be even more difficult for those who are currently incarcerated.
If someone you care about is behind bars, it’s normal to be worried about them. American prisons haven’t always gotten the best reputation. Yet 25% of the world’s prisoners are incarcerated here. No matter the reason for the sentence, people often forget that prisoners across the country have family members and friends who still want to look out for them and care for them in any way possible.
That’s often easier said than done since the things you can do are limited. But, there are some ways you can effectively care for your incarcerated loved ones that can promote their well-being and even help them find their freedom again.
Finding Legal Help
One of the best things you can do for an incarcerated loved one is getting them the legal help they need. Almost anyone who is arrested can receive a court-appointed attorney. This can save thousands of dollars, but may not offer the best results against a lawyer that is getting paid a large sum, or an experienced county prosecutor.
You might be able to help out your loved ones financially by paying their legal fees so they can get the best lawyer possible. While an attorney might not disclose everything they discuss with their client, they will likely question you at some point to get as much information as possible. Be prepared to come forward with things like:
- Your history with that person
- Their background
- Anything you know about the accused crime
- Their personality
Your goal should be to humanize the person you love. It’s easy for courts (and, sometimes, even lawyers) to see people as nothing more than numbers and cases. You can give your loved one more of a presence by talking about the human side of them you knew before all of this happened.
Keeping Them Healthy
While COVID-19 has impacted almost everyone, it’s created major problems in the American prison system. One study found that half a million people have gotten COVID-19 in prison since the start of the pandemic. The spread has been due to inconsistent policies, close confinement, and many underlying respiratory and heart conditions. Some prisons also had limited access to personal protective gear, making it hard to keep both inmates and staff protected properly.
As a result, COVID-19 cases were 5.5 times higher in U.S. prisons between March 31st-June 6 of 2020. While things have eased a bit thanks to the vaccine rollout, it’s still important to do what you can to keep your loved ones safe.
It’s also crucial to help them manage their mental health. COVID hasn’t just taken a toll on people, physically. There have been spikes of anxiety and depression across the country. Incarcerated individuals can be even more susceptible to that if they’re spending more time alone and in confinement. They may not be able to get as many visitors, or restrictions might be in place that limit their interaction with other inmates and staff.
They can even be dealing with grief on their own if a family member or friend passes away from this virus (or anything else). Knowing they can’t attend a funeral or grieve properly with other people they care about can be a painful and lonely process.
The best thing you can do in those situations is simply to be there for them. Provide a listening ear and gentle advice, when you can. You might not be able to change their circumstances, but letting them know their feelings are valid can make a big difference in their mental health state.
Providing Ongoing Support
Ongoing support is so important for those behind bars so they don’t feel alone and forgotten. It looks different for everyone, depending on their needs. You know your loved one and what would help them the most, so do what you can to be their built-in support system. You can do that by:
- Supporting them financially
- Staying in contact as often as possible
- Writing letters
- Visiting in person
- Making sure their children can talk to them and see them (when age-appropriate)
While it’s tempting to put all of your time, attention, and focus on your incarcerated loved one, make sure you’re taking care of yourself, too. It can be stressful and overwhelming, knowing someone you care about is in prison. In your efforts to support them, you can easily burn out, yourself. So, make sure you’re practicing self-care as often as possible, getting enough rest, and managing your own mental health. Doing so will make it easier to give your loved ones the support they need, even in times of social unrest.