Maintaining relationships while incarcerated is a tricky prospect even under the best of circumstances, and being incarcerated is far from the best. The circumstances include being on the schedule of the prison and its rules for the when, the where and the how you communicate with friends or family. The nuances of those rules are often subject to change, without any notice or explanation. While it is accepted that the foundation of any good and healthy relationship is communication; it is also a rule that communications to or from prisons is problematic.
There is the other side of this topic though, which is the breakdown of (or complete loss of) relationships previously thought to be in good standing. Life, after all, goes on for those who are not in prison, and the length of a sentence (among many variables) may leave people in a state of shock — enough so that communications fall apart. There are fewer real tests for the strength and longevity of a relationship than having a loved one in prison.
My son was 16 when I was arrested; he is approaching the age of 21 now. There have been struggles and victories, but I am glad to say my son and I have a solid relationship, partially forged in the crucible of struggle.
My relationship with my parents, who have been by my side every day through this nightmare, is much more tumultuous, likely due to my ever-fluctuating psychological stability. Some of our conflicts are due in part to a lack of understanding on my parents’ side, but I am capable of imagining the broken heartedness they must feel, along with a sense of helplessness. Our conflicts just as often arise from my environmental situation. I am sometimes angry and frustrated to the point of psychological meltdown and need both someone to blame as well as someone to take it out on.
Our relationship is two things these days: strained, and enduring through the strain. It’s been fifty-two months of frustrations, let downs, dashed hopes, anger, perpetual sadness, broken hearts, questioned trust and intent. There is no shortage of love, but a lot has happened and we are very changed people. That is a fact that will be a permanent part of our relationship going forward, which includes every day I’m held between now and when I see them again.
I won’t visit with them, or anyone. This is a personal choice based in a deepening sense of isolation and antisocial-ness. I find that I don’t much like people anymore. My relationships, solid or strained, will be tested when I am free of his hell, but the other question will be will I bother? At this point, I do not honestly know if I will. I don’t speculate on the future much anymore.
Before I was arrested, I had a group of about 10 friends I saw with regular frequency, and more than 20 extended relations. I talk to no more than two now; the rest just didn’t have the time to write back. Anyone who has done time has probably experienced this. I may take it too personally, but when people you’ve known and trusted for more than half your life can’t write a single letter, how else are you supposed to take it? It is one of those things that has led to my feelings of isolation and antisocial-ness, as well as my growing dislike for people.
I was adopted at 10 days old, so my family is my family. They have endured along with me a lifetime of mental illness, a major brain injury and my recent incarceration. But my already strange story took yet another bizarre turn. About four or five months ago, the counselor called me into his office in regards to a “security issue.” After some question and answer, I found out that a possible biological family member had tracked me down.
So that nebulous woman, that figment that carried me for nine months before offering me more of an opportunity than she was able to provide: She is real. Not nebulous and not a figment. Nor are the brothers and sister I have just added to my family, as well as some nieces and a nephew.
My “new” brother, Jim, and I talk with some frequency. He answers the phone when I call, I talk a lot, he listens, and sometimes he talks. He writes occasionally (letters are such a lost art), and we are getting to know each other. My birth mother wrote to me once, and I wrote back — I expect it was a heavy letter for her to read – and now I wait for a letter in return. But this is the forging of new relationships, and I am curious to see what develops from it.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.