What to Do When a Loved One Goes to Jail

Updated on 2/9/2023

There’s no sugarcoating it:

When a loved one goes to prison or jail, it’ll almost certainly disrupt a number of lives. Not only will they essentially need to put their life on hold, but their arrest and sentencing will also cause upheaval in your life, as well. If you and your loved one are responsible for other individuals – such as children or elderly parents – they, too, will feel the negative effects of the entire situation from the get-go.

During this incredibly difficult time in your life, you may feel as if you have no control over…well, pretty much anything at all. This sense of hopelessness, of course, only serves to make matters worse than they already are.

The first thing you should consider doing is picking a primary way to stay in touch with your loved on – most people start with a cost-effective way to make calls  or they send pictures to inmates.

That said, when a loved one is sentenced to prison, the best thing you can do – for your loved one, your family, and yourself – is to try and gain as much control over the situation as you possibly can.

In this article, we’ll discuss the many things you can do to make that happen, and provide some resources to help you get through what feels like a hopeless situation.

Prepare Yourself and Your Family

As we said in the intro, part of the reason this is such a stressful time is because you feel as if you have no idea how to proceed after your loved one has been placed in jail.

While the process of seeing a loved one gets arrested, go through trial, and finally be sentenced to jail is full of confusion, doubt, and uncertainty, you’ll want to use this time to begin preparing yourself, your loved one, and your family members for what may lie ahead.

In such instances, the mantra “hope for the best, but prepare for the worst” rings 100% true.

Most importantly, you’ll want to begin preparing mentally and emotionally for what’s to come. You and your loved one will almost certainly go through the five psychological stages of grief throughout the process; this is normal. Rather than allowing these emotions to control your actions, learn to recognize them for what they are, and work on figuring out the best way for you, personally, to deal with them.

If you have children, you’ll also want to prepare them for the possibility that their mother or father will be going away for some time.

First and foremost, you need to be as strong as you can be during this difficult time – and you need to convey this strength as you communicate with your child. While it will be difficult to tell your child exactly what’s going on, you don’t want to hide the truth from them; explain to them, in an age-appropriate manner, that their mother or father made a mistake and will be going (or has gone) to jail, and that things may be a bit different for a little while.

That said, you also want to make sure your child understands a few things:

  • It’s not their fault at all
  • They’ll be able to speak to, and sometimes see, their mother or father often
  • Both you and their other parent love them, and always will
  • You’ll always be there if they need to talk

(For more assistance how to speak to your child about the situation, check out this guide from Offenders’ Families Helpline.)

Aside from the emotional preparations you’ll need to make, you’ll also need to prepare for the financial and other logistical changes that you’ll surely face moving forward.

For one thing, since you’ll no longer have your loved one’s income to count on, you’ll likely need to cut down on your monthly expenses for the time being. Sometimes, there might be a relatively simple way to fix things – such as cancelling cable or other monthly subscriptions, cutting down on spending on hobbies and recreational activities, or eating out less often.

Other times – such as if car payments or student loans continue to roll in – you might need to take more drastic measures, like finding a second job or moving to a cheaper apartment.

Again, none of this is easy by any stretch – but it will be much worse if you don’t actively prepare to make the necessary changes beforehand.

You’ll also need to take into consideration other responsibilities you and your loved one shared, which you’ll now have to take on by yourself. From major responsibilities like childcare and bill payment to minor things like keeping the house in order, you’ll likely need to figure out how you can manage to get these things done on your own. If it comes to it, you might want to consider asking for help; we’ll get to that in a bit.

Once you feel like you’ve regained a decent amount of control over your life – and the lives of those who depend on you – you can refocus your attention on your incarcerated loved one once more.

Gather Information on Your Loved One’s Situation

As we said earlier, one of the most troubling parts of this entire situation is that so much is left up in the air, and many questions are left unanswered.

The truth is, no one is going to give you information about your loved one’s situation unless you actively seek it out.

The first thing you’ll need to find out is where, exactly, your loved one is being held. Whether they’re being held in a federal prison, or a state, county, or city jail, there are a number of ways to dig up this info. Not only will you be able to discover which institution your loved one is being held, but you’ll also be provided with their inmate number and other important information that will enable you to stay in contact with them.

Once you know where your loved one is located, you’ll be able to uncover the rules and regulations that apply to the institution regarding the visitation process, what you can (and can’t) send inmates via mail , and how to stay in touch with your loved one via telephone.

Additionally, you might also choose to look into more in-depth information about the institution your loved one is being held. For example, you might find stories from previously-incarcerated individuals regarding their experiences within the institution – good or bad. You might find that the institution provides numerous opportunities for your loved one to learn and grow.

Or, you might (unfortunately) find that the prison’s administration is known to step out of bounds with regard to their treatment of inmates – prompting you to perhaps take matters into your own hands..

(Hopefully, the situation doesn’t become that dire. If it does, however, it’s good to have a true understanding of perhaps your loved one’s rights..)

Provide Support To Your Loved One

Providing love and support to your incarcerated loved one is, of course, essential to their well-being. It’s also a great way to maintain some sense of “normalcy” within your own life, as well.

As we mentioned above, you’ll want to do everything in your power to be able to visit your loved one whenever possible. When you’re unable to visit them physically, you should make every attempt to be available via telephone when your loved one is able to make a call.

Going along with what we talked about in the previous section, you’ll want to keep track of your loved one’s schedule as far as when they’re allowed to have visitors and make phone calls; you don’t want to miss an opportunity to speak with them when they have the chance, as their next opportunity might not come for some time.

As far as the content of your communications goes, keep things as lighthearted and positive as possible. Ask them to share even the most minutely positive experiences they’ve had, such as a book they’ve read or a potential connection they have made with a fellow inmate (of course, only do so if your loved one has opened the topic for conversation first).

Also, don’t be afraid to update them about goings-on “on the outside,” too; while it may be tough for them to hear about the good times they’re missing out on, they’ll still appreciate knowing that their friends and family members are enjoying their lives.

Whether your loved one seems to be in good spirits or bad, you want to reinforce the notion that they’re strong and resilient, they’re not alone, and that you’re proud of them for taking responsibility and working to grow as a person.

Don’t Forget About Yourself

If your loved one has been imprisoned, it’s completely understandable that you’d be spending a good chunk of your day thinking and worrying about them.

But, as we alluded to in the previous section, just because your life may have been interrupted doesn’t mean it stops completely. While it may be difficult, you want to try to stay as busy as you can while your loved one serves the remainder of their sentence. In addition to keeping your mind off of things, staying busy will also make the time go by much quicker than it would if you were to sit around and worry all day. Additionally, staying active and continuing to grow will make it easier for your loved one to leave their past behind once they’re released.

Of course, dealing with a loved one’s incarceration is definitely easier said than done. But there’s no need to go it alone, either. If (and, more likely, when) you find yourself in troubled times, reach out to friends and family members in your network who you can trust to support you however possible.

And, even if there aren’t many individuals in your personal network who know and understand what you’re going through, there are definitely others in your community who share your worries, concerns, and experiences. Consider checking with your local community center or churches to see if there are any support groups in the area for people in your situation; if there aren’t, think of starting one up! Not only will this allow you to help others in need of support, but it can also help you grow your own personal support network, as well.

(There are also a number of online groups, such as Prison Wives Support Group.)

We at Pigeonly are always looking to learn about the lives of those who have been affected by a loved one’s incarceration. If you have a story you’d like to share with our community, feel free to get in touch with us via email at [email protected].