Being separated from a loved one for long periods of time, is difficult - being in prison, or having a parent in prison adds another level of complexity.
You may feel anger, grief, guilt, shame, betrayal, overwhelmed and isolated from your community.
Staying in touch with a family member in jail, can be complicated. It's important to learn to give yourself the care and support you will need throughout this trying time.
Telling your child that their parent is in prison:
It can be difficult to know how to tell your child that their parent has gone to jail. It is usually best to be open and honest with your child, as early as you can. Children are very sensitive to what is happening around them, and they will often pick up that the adults that are caring for them, are stressed or upset. They may also overhear conversations about their parents' situation, which can be especially difficult if they hear this from someone outside the family. Not telling your child that their parent has gone to prison, can lead to them feeling more worried about their parent, as they are likely to notice their absence but not understand what has happened to them. Providing children with simple explanations about what has happened, shows them that the adults around them, can be trusted to tell them the truth and look after them. Giving them small, honest bits of news such as, “Daddy did the wrong thing and broke the law and has had to go to jail for a little while”, can be helpful. You will also need to prepare yourself to answer many questions from your child. Your child may ask you to give them the same information over and over again, as they try to come to terms with, and understand the information. These questions may come out in the following days, but also in the following weeks and months. It can be helpful asking a trusted family friend to talk to your child about this as well.
There are four main questions that children ask or want to ask their incarcerated parents:
- where are you?
- why are you there?
- when are you coming home?
- are you okay?
There are also two questions in the hearts and minds of prisoners’ children that they rarely ask. These questions are often “behind the scenes”, in their conversations:
- do you blame me?
- do you love me?
These questions can come in many forms. Some children ask them directly, with straightforward language. Other children beat around the bush. Some act out their questions by getting into trouble or by confronting adults with challenging or aggressive behaviours.