August 4, 2014
Parenting From Prison
It is tough enough to be a good parent when you are on the outside, but when you are parenting from prison, it can begin to feel impossible. You will no longer be able to parent as you are used to, or as you had hoped to, and this drives a lot of parents to just give up. Feeling deeply depressed at the barriers between you (as a parent) and your child is natural, but you cannot let it defeat you. This is not good for you, and, most importantly, it is not good for your child (or children).
So, how on earth do you parent from prison? You can actually still have a very strong presence in your child’s daily life if you use the following methods of parenting:
- Communicating – You can write letters as often as you want. Keep in mind that kids of any age (whether they can read or not) will really look forward to getting that letter in the mail. Remember how you felt as a kid when a letter or card arrived? You can give your child that same good feeling as often as you like, and that good feeling will forever be associated with you.
Remember, too, that even the youngest children can have letters read to them, and that this will also create a good feeling about you as they enjoy your words. Written letters can also be full of pictures you draw for your kids, and this is a great tool for communicating with them during this period in your life.
Don’t forget that federal prisons use email, and if your child has access to email, you can correspond daily with them through this modern method. You can also phone them as frequently as possible, and maybe even schedule a weekly call to give everyone something to look forward to.
- Visits – Though many parents are unhappy or uncomfortable with their children seeing them in prison, it is only going to benefit your children to have physical contact with you (NJDOC, 2007). In fact, asking for frequent visits lets them see that you are all right and that there is nothing scary about you or the current situation.
- Know Their Daily Lives – When writing and visiting, try to avoid “making small talk” by keeping up with your child’s daily life. What are they reading or studying at school? Find out and consider learning/reading these things too to have something to discuss. What hobbies do they enjoy? What about you? Try to create new traditions with them, such as both learning a new craft(knitting and crochet are popular in prison), joining a sports team(most prisons have basketball and softball), learning a new language together, or the countless other things that you can both do.
- Be a Good Example – Just because you are inside does not mean you cannot show them that you are a good example. Set goals, share them with your child, and ask them about their goals. Hold yourself accountable for meeting your goals – whether they are goals like running a mile in under ten minutes or reading different books – be sure you work towards the goal and that your child is doing the same.
Parenting takes work – whether you are on the inside on the outside – and you must never “give up” on your kids. They need you, but you need them too, and you can make it work if you use the tips provided.
New Jersey Department of Corrections. What About Me? When a Parent Goes to Prison. New Jersey Department of Corrections. 2007.