Families of Returning Citizens: How You Can Help!

One of the most important factors of your loved one returning home from prison or jail is the support of their family and friends.

Their support system can create a space where they either a) thrive in their professional and personal lives, b) become stagnant, or, c) decline in their behaviors and thoughts and return to engaging in criminal behavior.

Many family members that I have spoken with become frustrated that their loved one is not the same person or “acts differently.” Remember that as long as those characteristics are positive, change is a good thing. Consider the environment of prison or jail, where everything is slow and controlled. Those who are incarcerated are given limited food options, activities, and programs. Imagine coming home to a city that looks structurally different, moves at rapid speeds, as well as the issue of adjusting to children that have matured and may need time to get acclimated to their loved one being home. Many people returning home have feelings of anxiety and being overwhelmed. Many do not feel comfortable sharing these emotions with others, especially their loved ones.

Here are a few helpful tips as your loved one is transitioning home:

1. PATIENCE. Embrace patience with yourself and your loved one, because they need time to fully adjust to being home and so do you. It will probably take longer than you think even if their incarceration was for a short period of time.

2. COUNSELING. If your loved one is engaged in counseling, it is important for you to engage in your own counseling as well. Often their release comes with conditions, including being required to engage in therapy. Therapy is usually a safe space but requires hard work, including expressing emotions and experiences from the past or present that are undesirable, such as talking about people who have died, or the harm caused by their own drug and alcohol addiction. As a result, your loved one may experience fluctuations in emotions and behavior. It may be important to seek family counseling too. If your loved one is not in therapy, suggest it to them, it may be imperative to the success of their return home.

3. CHECK-IN. Check on them. There are a lot of changes they must get adjusted to, so be sure to check to see how they are doing. A simple question “how are you doing today?” may be able to change the direction of their thoughts and behaviors for that moment or day.

4. RESTRICTIONS. Learn about the stipulations of their release whether halfway house, probation, or parole. Many times people become frustrated with their loved ones because they may not have the same level of freedom, particularly if one resides at a halfway house where there are numerous restrictions. Or if they are restricted by an ankle monitoring device better known as electronic monitoring (EM)/home confinement.

5. BOUNDARIES. You may feel compelled to do a lot for your loved one when they are released, but they need to learn how to complete the various daily tasks we take for granted. Teaching and coaching are better in the long run than doing things for them. Things like taking them to the bank to create a new account, assisting with a resume and cover letter, or connecting them with people who can assist with applying for medical insurance.

6. ACCOUNTABILITY. The initial months after release from prison or jail are critical because these months can prepare them for either success or failure. It is important for family and friends to hold their loved ones accountable for their actions after being released. They may encounter numerous barriers and easy access to criminal activity leading them to feel as if they should give up being positive and crime-free.
Families, when in doubt seek assistance. There are various programs and agencies that can assist you and your loved ones with their transition from incarceration. The process of re-entering society is hard for everyone involved, but as a collective the process is bearable.

Mylonne Sulllivan, MSW, LSW, CCTP

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