Healing From Incarceration
By Chris Dowling
Calls ring in on my phone from New Jersey, California, Wisconsin and Texas to discuss how to organize a support group of families and friends of the incarcerated. I spend a great deal of time on each call sharing my experiences of forming Loved Ones Incarcerated Support Organization.
Bottom line, I advise, start calling agencies that work directly or indirectly with incarcerated. Set up appointments to meet and talk about your interest in starting a group that will work to stabilize our population. And promote safety in our communities. A group that is safe for our people on the journey of incarceration to come together and share working through a possible range of emotions; terror that threatens to explode friends’ and families’ pounding hearts as kitchen counters are gripped when the patrol car siren shrieks through our neighborhoods spinning our thoughts of our loved one’s whereabouts just home from incarceration.
A group that can relate to how we might read about the break in down the street from our house and how we slip into a mental check list of where our loved one was at the time the breaking and entering took place just to prepare ourselves to offhandedly reply to neighbors’ raised eyebrows or possible queries.
And a group that sustains our hopes and dreams, as our loved ones experience the triumphs of classes completed, become certified, and return to live alongside us to become employed and an integral part of our neighborhoods.
eHow, www.ehow.com, a free online collection of over a million how to articles, contains a variety of writings focused on issues related to incarceration.
Free lance writers cite resources and researched data compiled by professionals such as Damian J. Martinez an assistant professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University whose paper "Family Connection and Prisoner Reentry," http://ccj.asu.edu/downloads/paper-martinez, addresses families of the newly released as a key component of support. Martinez asserts that families dedicated to a criminal free lifestyle contribute a vital link to formerly incarcerated constructively assimilating back into our neighborhoods. Martinez states families will enjoy a high return on their investment as they share shelter, food, money, with their loved one as they transition into society.
The other day my on air radio guest demonstrated agreement with Martinez’s philosophy as he stabbed the air with his finger to drive his point home. Having worked with the incarcerated, he adamantly expressed that families had to visit their incarcerated. That was the way the incarcerated will experience success in embracing a crime free life after their release, he espoused.
I shared how I had left my corporate job to raise my small sons and take us to family therapy to heal from family of origin trauma and told of the times my sons and I stood at the bus stop and desperately searched the ground for lost coins to help pay for fare.
I said, today there are many families of the incarcerated that struggle at that level of survival. Or some level of limited resources. Lack of transportation and limited household money could put the squeeze on household money just to buy a pre-stamped envelope as required for correspondence with by some incarceration facilities.
As a card carrying LOI member, I encourage creative ways for us to support our loved ones incarcerated if necessary. When the woman in Tucson lowers her voice to tell the parole officer inspecting her home to assess whether her soon to be released family member will live with her, and after the parole officer agrees, he will not repeat what she tells him, that no, she does not want the family member coming home to live with her. She says she does not feel she has the mental health acuity to avoid reengaging in old family arguments that can lead to disintegration of successful reentry for the loved one.
A couple more resources of support, Carl ToersBijns, a self described not so politically correct retired deputy warden from the Arizona Department of Corrections is a prolific writer and advocate for change within the incarceration system.
Mary Lou Brncik, davidshopeaz.org, 602.774.4382 , Phoenix based, organized a coalition of friends and families and professionals and organizations to support and develop stronger resources for issues related to incarceration and the mentally ill.