Whether you always feared that a friend’s behaviors or choices might eventually put them in prison, or the fact that they were arrested and are now going to be behind bars came as a surprise, the one thing to remember is that they are your friend.
Firstly, you may feel upset with them because of what they did to get themselves into the situation. Secondly, you may just not know how to react to this situation in general. After all, no matter how things were going before their arrest, you probably never gave a lot of serious thought to the idea of them going inside.
So, how do you handle this situation? You begin with one major step, and that is to remember that your friend is still that same person you have always known and liked. They are real. But the thing that they did wrong is just as real, too, and you’ll need to get your mind around that in order to move forward with your friendship.
How do you do that? You remind yourself that every single person on the planet is “only human” – including you. Every single person makes mistakes, and your friend happens to have just made some big mistakes.
A good analogy is the diamond analogy: All diamonds sparkle because they have a lot of different facets, but not all facets enhance that diamond. You may not like what this “facet” of your friend “reflects”, but that doesn’t mean that you should ignore all of the rest of the “shining” parts. After all, you chose them as a friend, and that means there was a lot of good about them. Just keep that goodness in mind now.
Next, be supportive of your friend. That means you’re not supportive of whatever it was they did to get them into trouble. Instead, you are supporting your friend through this period of their life. They might have done something you are totally against, but by remaining their friend you are never saying, “It’s okay you did that.” What you are saying by offering support is, “You are my friend, in spite of the fact that you did something I don’t agree with.”
Remember, too, that your friend is under a lot of “judgment” at this time. The court system is judging them. Their peers and family might be judging them. Even society is judging them. Try not to make judgmental comments or imply that you are judging. Just be their friend. One of the best ways to do that is to become a great listener. Don’t argue with them, ask “why”, or anything else. Be that one safe person they can “vent” to, and never use it against them in the future. Just try to help them by offering a willing ear and your friendship.
Also, offer to handle things they need help with while away. Do their kids need help? Do their parents need support of some kind? If you can provide this kind of friendship it will make a huge difference to your friend.
When you cannot actually listen to them, remind them that you are still there by writing letters, emailing them, and talking about everything except prison, what got them there, and so on. What’s going on in your life? What’s up with their favorite TV shows or sports teams? Write just like you were having a normal chat with them. (Eltonello, 2014)
Friendship always takes work, no matter where your friends are located. You can be a good friend to someone in prison, and it will make a world of difference to them.
Eltonello, Roberto. Communicating Behind Bars: A Guide for Prison Inmates, Family and Friends. SJM Family Foundation. 2014. http://www.prisonerresources.com/docs/Communicating_Behind_Bars_A_Guide_for_Prison_Inmates_and_Family.pdf