More than 5 million families have a family member in prison. Sadly, inmates’ spouses struggle daily against ever mounting odds and with limited resources or assistance. Their finances and emotions are often stretched to the breaking point as they deal with exorbitant phone rates, long distance visits, “Big Brother” visitation rules, and limited or restricted access to information about their spouses’ well being. Michael B. Jackson
, author of “How to Love and Inspire Your Man After Prison
,” divides prison marriages into three primary categories, “There’s ‘Good Chance,’ those who were married or in a long-term relationship when the man went to prison; ‘We’ll see,’ couples who met and married while the man was in prison; and ‘Doomed from the start,’ women who marry men they have never met and never seen before in person.”
He further adds that, “All have their challenges in terms of the normal post-prison transition and adjustment issues.” Jackson attributes lack of planning and false reality on the part of both parties as the reason most prison marriages fail. Ann Edenfield Sweet
, executive director and founder of Wings Ministry
, has helped many spouses deal with incarceration. “The day your spouse goes to prison, everything is on hold,” says Sweet. “While you’re growing in one direction — dealing with finances, the social isolation, fatherless kids who often develop low self esteem issues — your inmate spouse is growing in the opposite direction, which is how to survive in prison.”
Once the spouse gets out, there are serious adjustments to be made. “Husbands must tread lightly, accept the way she’s running the house, including discipline methods for the kids.” Bill Martin
, co-founder of FreshStart Fellowship
, provides prison ministry support to women and their children left behind due to incarceration. According to Martin, “If the relationship stays intact during the incarceration period, the rebuilding process is really not that difficult. If the spouse makes periodic visits and keeps the incarcerated aware of what is going on in the home, keeps all lines of communication open, and if God is the center of the relationship, then things seem to be much easier.”
With the odds stacked against them, it’s not surprising that those released will suddenly find themselves back in prison. According to the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics, fully two-thirds of ex-offenders are rearrested within three years. Many studies show unemployed offenders are three times more likely to return to prison, making post-release employment especially important.
So how do couples survive the prison experience? How do they stay married and raise a family when all the odds and statistics are stacked against them? Here are five tips to survival for ex-cons who want to keep their marriage alive while they rebuild their lives. 1. Have realistic expectations.
Don’t go on a trip to Disneyland, throw a big party, or dwell on all the great sex you’re going to have. Concentrate first on helping your spouse prepare for life outside of prison. Remember, they’re used to a slower, controlled, regimented life, where food, shelter and medical care have been taken care of. 2. Get them organized.
Your newly released spouse will need help with things like entitlements, even before they embark on a job search. Help them find a case manager who can get all the paperwork together and filed. Don't try to get them a job, case manager, apartment, enrolled in school, and buy a car all in the same week. 3. Help them find a job.
There are many public and private resources you can both use to help your spouse find gainful employment. Encourage them to participate in every worthwhile program offered by public and private resources. Make sure they keep appointments for job interviews. If they can't be there on time or they need to cancel, notify the person they were scheduled to see. 4. Don’t get paranoid about people finding out your spouse was in prison.
There is no central file in some all-knowing computer with everything about your spouse. DOCS, Medicaid, their doctor -- all have separate files in their computers, but these computer systems are not linked together, and each has information that they can't share with the others. Ordinary people who have a computer can't access this information. 5. Don’t let your spouse revert back to the criminal lifestyle.
Always encourage them to be the best person they can be. Keep your spouse away from the unsavory characters they hung around with just before they broke the law. Be ever vigilant of drug or excessive alcohol use. And don’t let your spouse violate parole. FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Ann Edenfield Sweet, Director/Founder of Wings Ministry, conducts “Homecoming” workshops at Wings for LIFE meetings. http://www.WingsMinistry.org
Resource List For Women in Prison http://www.chicagobwp.org/CBWP_resources.pdf
A Sentence of Their Own -- A documentary film on the family of a prisoner http://www.asentenceoftheirown.com