This was one thing I used to shy away from doing or talking about in the past, until I realized that those people behind bars just like me were humans and required support. Here’s how it all stated.
Growing up as a child in the U.S, I witnessed friends and some close family members being incarcerated for crimes as little as being undocumented, and in some cases where they couldn’t not pay $1.50 on the train because there was no way they could afford it. And seeing these ills going on as a tender age wasn’t a palatable experience for me at all.
At the time I was of age (when I was old enough to understand these things), I was so ashamed to be related to family members that were incarcerated. And much worse, scared that it could be me or any of friends turn to be incarcerated and separated from our families, as we were mostly undocumented as at that time.
Truth be told, I was helpless and unable to do anything about the situation.
I couldn’t determine or understand why the prison-industrial complex was working to target people of color, who in my case where majorly Black, Indigenous, poor, immigrant, disabled, trans, and queer communities.
The thought of being described as the person who’s related to an inmate was enough to make me lower my head in shame and as a result, refused to open up to anyone about my predicament. Because of this, I couldn’t get the support of friends, much less of my own community.
Today, having grown into an adult, I have realized decadence that has been going on in my community for so long.
A community always on it heels at the sight of the same police which was meant to protect us. Why? Everyone’s afraid! They don’t know who will be the next to be incarcerated for crimes that do not even amount to being jailed.
I have however struggled to be active in solidarity campaigns for the incarcerated people in my community. It’s even more difficult with my friends who have their family members held up in the prison.
All these are starting to change as I now realize that staying in the dark and feeling ashamed won’t help the incarcerated in my community.
What’s important is that I need to put resources together, and come up with better ways of showing up for my community.
Thus, if you’re like me who feels confused and incapacitated to do anything about your incarcerated community, and you have questions screaming answers, then this article is for you. Here, I hope you’ll find answers to your questions and confusions.
Although you may not be able to access every suggestion in this article due to the fact that you may be undocumented, under-aged (below eighteen), no acces to a phone, car, internet or most importantly, money. I hope you can find some suggestions that are worth a trial.
Here’s a list of what I’ve come to know about supporting the incarcerated people in my life:
Send Money To Your Friends In Jail
This may seem difficult especially if you don’t have access to enough to even spare for your incarcerated family member. However, sending money to them is very important because it is with money that inmates often get access to stamps, envelopes or even make telephone calls (all for communication with their loved ones).
Money is needed especially if an inmate needs to contact a lawyer via phone call or letter which he needs a phone card, paper, stamps and envelopes for.
Inmates also need money to purchase microwave soups (to augment or serve as an alternative to the ones served in the prison), personal effects like toothpaste, brush and others.
Note that before sending money to an inmate’s account, you should know their full names, booking number, and how much they already have in their account, so you wouldn’t exceed their maximum funds’ limit.
If you have all of this information it shouldn’t cause much of a hassle to send money to your incarcerated loved ones.
Answer The Calls Of Your Friends From Jail
With inmates, making or receiving calls is quite different from the outside. In most cases, the inmate is the one that’s allowed to make a call, as the facility may prohibit receiving calls from the outside, so if an inmate calls you, they’re the ones paying for it and it means you have to answer.
Damn! Nobody told me at first. I was always double minded as to whether to receive an Inmate’s call or not because I hadn’t really gotten over the shame I had. If only I knew better, then maybe I could have done things a little differently.
However, in recent times, answering calls have been made easy as facilities now allow you to open an account to receive calls from your inmate family member or friend without having them pay for it.
Now I know better to receive calls from my incarcerated family because they too are humans but only denied the privileges of a free man. We share our experiences and stories about life in prison and in the outside world and I must say it feels good when they know they’ve got someone looking out for them.
Write Letters To Your Friends In Jail
If you can’t afford calling, then send them letters!
Writing them letters is one way to show your support for them, but there are rules you have to abide by before sending letters so you won’t have your letter returned just like me.
I once wrote a letter to an incarcerated friend attaching a photo which I thought will in way inspire him. Surprisingly, a week later, the letter was returned.
The reason was that I had unknowingly violated the facility’s rules as the photo contained numbers that the authority thought could be a communication code.
Therefore, before you write that letter to your friend or family member, first ensure that you visit the facility’s website to know the requirements for writing a letter. Most facilities often have stringent rules towards inmates receiving anything from the outside.
Try to express yourself freely in your letters and as much as possible connect with them through the contents of the letter (share your experiences, what’s trending, your lifestyle with them).
Visit Your Friends In Prison
In my years of visiting incarcerated friends and family members in prison, I’ve found it to be the most intimate form of interaction.
However, before I could afford to regularly visit them, I lacked the means to transport myself to the facilities I planned to visit.
Thus, I realized I couldn’t do all these on my own, so I reached out to friends who were ready to help me visit my incarcerated family members and those who were willing to accompany me to see them.
The truth is before I started visiting prisons, I had to overcome the fear, shame and stigma I had all the while I was growing up.
One among such fear was being that I had been undocumented as at that time, I feared the risk of being incarcerated by visiting a federal facility. Even now that I possess a green card, I count it as a big privilege.
So if you are already a legitimate citizen of the United States, then you don’t need to be afraid of going into a federal correctional facility.
Inmates rights oftentimes violated, especially those who are undocumented, transgender, mentally ill, and disabled are likely to be confined in solitary. Thus, our visits means a great deal to them.
We don’t have rights violated as free people but the inmates do, so keep showing up for them!
Be Friends With Your Friend’s Good Friends
When you are sure you’re capable enough and handle the mental demands of visiting your friend in prison. You can then proceed unto the next step which is: visiting their friends.
In one of your visits to the prison, find out from your friend if they’ve met anyone (friend) that they would like you to visit. You may be thinking: what’s the need since I don’t know them.
The reason is that there are inmates who stop getting visits from friends and family members after the first few months of being incarcerated. Such inmates need to be visited and shown support too.
Therefore, I’d advise that when next you go visiting bring a friend along, so it would give you the opportunity to visit someone new, while your friend can continue paying visits to your incarcerated friend.
By doing this, you’re not only showing up for your incarcerated friend, but also building a stronger community of people that will support them.
Encourage Your Incarcerated Friends With Kind Words
Many years of confinement and being deprived of privileges that you once enjoyed is enough to break your spirit and make you think less of yourself (some persons even regard inmates as caged beasts).
A notion like this in the mind of an inmate will sure make him feel valueless and loose every form of self-esteem.
It is the duty of you and I as free people to keep mentioning it to them that they’re still loved and valued. That they are resilient for still standing tall after everything that’s been thrown at them by this barbaric system.
Do not resist in supporting them and constantly reminding them that they’re powerful and have a voice outside that’s still doing their best to fight, resist, and survive even when the system tries to silence us.
Give Your Incarcerated Friends Hope And Share Good News
You would be surprised that your incarcerated friends and family irrespective of their status want to also know about your life. How you’re doing, if you’re facing any challenges, if you just got a new job, if you just got into a new relationship…and all that.
Most people feel telling them things like this will probably make them feel sad because they can’t have such life in their confinement. However, I have found that to be wrong.
There’s an incarcerated friend of mine who always looks forward to my visits so that I can fill him in on what’s new in my life. He even gives me wonderful suggestions/advice as to how to go about life.
So, because you feel bad for them does not mean you won’t have happy moments. And because they’re in prison does not mean that they won’t want to listen to your happy moments.
There’s nothing to feel awkward about telling them what makes you happy and even not too happy moments. But make sure to not dampen their spirits with mainly sad experiences.
Tell Jokes To Your Friends In Jail
Just as I mentioned above, try to share your happy moments with your incarcerated friends and family!
The first time I visited an incarcerated friend of mine, I was confused on what to say. I was thinking: Should I talk about the case? Should I ask what they need? Should I appear sad? Can I even tell a joke?
However, over the years all that has changed as I’m always in my high spirits whenever I visit my friend, and we’re always anxious and excited to see each other and also catch up on what’s trending or discussions we couldn’t conclude from my last visit.
Our incarcerated friends and family too are humans, a little humour won’t do them bad.
Learn About Various Prisons And Share The Information With Your Friend
As someone like me who detested, was and is still angry about what’s being done to our friends and families, it is important for you to look out for communities and organizations that are working towards abolishing the prison system.
In whichever state you find yourself, join a community or organization that supports this agenda, and share with your incarcerated friends and families so they know they’re not alone, and that they have people showing strong support for them.
I feel prisons are not transformational or correctional facilities as they make us believe, infact, it is quite the opposite. It is a system that is established to separate a dad/mom from their kids, lock up your uncles/aunts, and take away your friends from you. Much worse, it is designed to break people’s spirit.
Do Not Be Ashamed Of Your Friend In Jail
Before embarking on any of these decisions, it is very important to know that you can’t do this alone, and that you need the help of others especially your local community to keep on pushing.
Endeavour to talk to others about your loved ones in prison, sharing your experience about the prison system. Who knows, your story could inspire another to also voice out and join the support.
It’s not easy thinking about the stigma attached to it, however, you still need to voice out so that such stigmatized culture can be changed as not everybody incarcerated in the prison is a criminal, dangerous, aggressive or are beasts.
Worse still the stigmatization continues even after the person has served his/her sentence.
This narrative has to change! And it can only be done bye opening up to others.
How do you encourage someone in jail?
- Take their calls
- Listen to whatever they have to say without arguing
- Send them money
- Do not be in a hurry to end conversations
- Send them motivational books and cards
- Write to them frequently so they’ll know you’re thinking about them
- Send them lots of pictures
- Let them know you’re looking forward to having them back in your life.
What do you say when visiting someone in jail?
Do more listening than talking when you visit someone in jail. Try to push the conversations towards positive topics, and if they make any complaints, let them know you will contact the authorities and fight for them.
How do you tell if an inmate really loves you?
There’s no way to tell if an inmate truly loves you. While incarcerated, you may be their only lifeline to get money or support and they’ll be willing to tell you whatever you want to hear, until they get back out into the society.
Can inmates use Facebook in jail?
Inmates are not allowed to use facebook or other social media platforms while they are in jail. This is important to guard the prison’s day to day operations and to avoid a leak of information or secure operations.
Can you sleep all day in jail?
Inmates who want to sleep all day in jail will not be bothered. However, in some prisons, all the inmates have to leave their cells at certain times for numerous prison activities. In such times, you must obey instructions and get off your bed.
How do you pray for someone incarcerated?
You can pray for someone who is incarcerated over the phone, or write them a letter with the words of your prayers. The three most important thing to prisoners are Money in their commissary, God’s help for them to be released, and someone on the outside who still cares about them.
Can Amazon ship to prisons?
Amazon couriers are often allowed to ship items to prisons. The items are dropped off at the lobby where they are scrutinized by the search team. If the inmate was not previously approved to receive the item, then it is placed in storage and held until the inmate is released.
How do you write an encouraging letter to someone in jail?
Write to them in your own words, and let them know how you feel. Promise them that you’ll be there for them when they get released. Let them know you’ll always send them money for upkeep whenever you can.
Can I leave a message for an inmate?
You can leave a voicemail for an inmate through their dedicated voicemail message box which is set up by the phone company in charge of the prison facility.
How do you tell if an inmate is using you?
If an inmate keeps asking your for money, indecent pictures or favours, then there is a high possibility that they are using you because of what they can get from you.
Inmates can be poetic and can master various coercing tactics while incarcerated. Raise your guards at all times and do only what you know is right for you and the society at large.
How do inmates manipulate?
Prisoners manipulate other people by trying to guilt-trip them or find dirt on them which they can use as a medium for blackmail. Be careful while conversing with an inmate. Do not break the law, rather report to the security agencies if an inmate attempts to blackmail you.
You can also get a restraining order or put yourself on a “no-contact” list so the inmate will not be able to contact you while in prison.
Do prisons listen to phone calls?
All phone calls to prison facilities are recorded. They are not necessarily listened to except in suspicious cases or if it is requested by a judge during a trial.
How can I stay strong while my boyfriend is in jail?
Stay strong by doing the things you would usually do if your boyfriend wasn’t in jail. Spend a little on yourself. Have fun, send loads of letters, pictures and call the prison often to maintain communication between you and your incarcerated boyfriend.
Does JAIL change a man?
Jail has a way of changing a lot of people. It sometimes makes people resent other people, keep things to themselves and hide their thoughts. It can also make others aggressive. This is particularly so for people who see other people as the reason for their incarceration.
Can you hug an inmate during visitation?
Some prisons allow hugs while hugs are prohibited in many others during in-contact visits. It is important to ask questions and follow the rules of the prison you are visitng to avoid breaking the law.
Most incarceration centres do not easily pardon a breakdown of their rules and regulations. You always want to be on the right side of the law.