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Parent in Prison

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > All Kinds of Families > Parent in Prison



Dad in prison - 10-year-old angry

March 2006

A friend's husband recently committed a horrible crime and is in prison for the foreseeable future. Their is just turning 10 and her life changed abruptly due to this event. Without warning someone that gave her loads of love and attention (while leading a secret life of crime) and provided for the family was gone in a day. She still loves her daddy of course but because of what he has done everyone is confused about whether or not they should maintain contact. For example, he sends her letters promising things that are unlikely to come true (such as that they will be reunited soon) and also complains about how lonely it is in jail (not a burden to be placed on such a young child). She is acting out alot and angry. She wasn't an easy kid to begin with and is smart and wilful but also loving. Other than counseling, which is of course a given, does anyone have any personal experience or advice. I have thought of offering to have her come live with me but also don't want to remove her from her mom if that is worse. Concerned friend


I saw a story recently about Girl Scout troops for girls with a parent in prision (may be limited to girls whose mothers are in prison), but you might look into it. anon [Editor] google "girl scouts prison", for example this link on the Girl Scouts website
Hello. My uncle spent a great deal of time in prison while my cousins were growing up. He first went in when his daughter was 11, and his son was 7. He's been in and out now for about 9 years.

I would say there may not be more than time that can cure the child's difficulty adjusting. My mother did consider offering to have both of his kids move in with us. They stayed with us for two weeks as kind of a trial, and let me tell you; it was a total disaster. Whatever is happening at home with the friend and her daughter is something the child needs for structure. My cousins lived in a fairly unstructured house, and they were unable to adapt to a more structured home. They didn't like having someone else watch over them, and most of all, they needed the comforts of home. It'll be much worse if she was taken out of her familiar environment.

Whatever it was that happened, crime is a heavy subject for kids. I understand that the mother may want to cut off contact with the father, but I would recommend against that too. If mom cuts off contact completely, it will feel to the child like her mother is standing in the way of her having a relationship with her dad. And of course, a level of resentment will build against mom for keeping the child away from someone she loves.

My cousins were allowed to visit their father about once a month in prison. They spoke to him on the phone once a week. They needed to see him, and I expect this child does too. It helps them to process what he says in letters if they can talk to him and get a sense of the reality. My cousins were very angry with their father for a long time, but wanted him back very badly. As they got older, they began to better understand him and know that though he loves them, he's not a good person. I'd say this took about 5 years to happen for the older child and 6-7 for the younger. It will stabilize as your friend's child gets used to the situation, but actually processing her father's crime and developing a real relationship takes a very long time. The best thing your friend can do is keep the child's life as stable as possible, let her see and speak to her father, and let her work through her feelings towards him. Good luck to all of you! anon


When I was about 11 years old, my mom went to state prison. She was gone until I was 15 years old. Mom was divorced, our dad wasn't around at all, and we lived with my grandmother in a poor, violent neighborhood. My sister and I were very angry about what happened and missed my mother terribly. Thankfully, my grandmother had a circle of relatives she could rely on to take us to see my mother. This was very important for me. My mother lied about how she was earning her living, too, and I needed her to know that this really hurt me deeply since her actions seperated us, but I also needed to see her and have her put her arms around me, and I needed to hear her say how sorry she was for it. We needed to work through how I didn't think risking her freedom for money for us was worth it, and that her illegal actions had more to do with her egoism than taking care of us. The only way I could get a grip on what was happening was to see her and talk to her.

Visiting a loved one in prison is very hard on a family. It is expensive if the loved one is many counties away, and it is humiliating because of the way you are herded in and not allowed to enter with anything else but a plastic bag with your keys in it, but it was worth it to have her energy near me.

I would take her to see him in the interest of HER mental health and emotional well-being. In my opinion, she needs to vent her feelings of betrayal and sadness about what he did and how his actions have seperated them. She can also address his empty promises to her. Yes, this is a lot for a 10 year-old to deal with, but, at the same time, she is bonded to him and he is the only father she knows and loves. It was a lot for me to handle, but it was good to have a chance to see the person I loved and experience the emotions that her actions created, and I think it was important for my mom to see what her actions created in me.

My mother is now married and living the life of a respectable executive-grandmother, and I finished college and am living a normal life. We got out of poverty honestly. Of my friends who know about my past, many have commented that I am remarkable well-adjusted to have experienced the childhood I had. IMHO - anon


I thought there'd be tons of advice on this, for some reason. Since you didn't get any real input the first go-round, here's mine: my son's father has been in and out of jail since day one. He's a minor, albeit repeat, offender. Long ago, when my son was very young, I determined that I would NOT take him to visit his dad in prison, even though his father cajoled me and sent me all the paperwork I needed to fill out. Why? Because I remember visiting my uncle in prison. I remember that we drove hours and hourse, only to end up in a long line of people, all waiting for visits. I remember people saying very nasty things (sexual as well as otherwise), and I remember how it looked in there. IN a nutshell: it was a very unpleasant and indelible memory for me, and I would not wish that on my child. As my son got older, I gave him the option (and I mean 16 years old. Not 10). He didn't want to. He said if his dad wants to see him, he can just stay out of jail and come on and visit. To this day (he is 19 now), he has no interest in visiting a jail, nor does he feel any remorse for not visiting. And niether do I. Anon
My dad was in prison 8 yrs---my entire adolescence. I felt a general sense of shame about who/what I was. My mom told us we had nothing to do with his crime, but our experiences made us feel quite the contrary. Try to insulate the kids from negative comments and treatment---peers, neighbors, even adult relatives. Change their schools. The relationship between the kids and their dad is going to take a major trip south----damage control is important. It's a lot to process. Our family lost most of our friends immediately. I was jeered at, dropped from party lists, playground games, and kids made cruel comments (''Who'd your dad kill today?''---tho' it wasn't murder my dad committed). Make the effort to preserve the father-child bond during his years in prison. He's still their parent. During prison visits, he can tell them stories of his rotten childhood, or about Daddy's life in prison (very entertaining---for starters, his cell mate was a murderer). Also, a dad in prison is compelling when he advises teenagers not to do bad stuff. My mom took us to visit him several times/yr. She nagged us to write him letters every month. We were kids and hated writing those letters, but she didn't give up. When older, we wrote less often, but still a few times/year. He treasured those letters. It's an uncomfortable experience to visit your dad in prison. We were raised to never associate with people like that and there we were, visiting our own dad in prison. Regarding his release: Time goes by, the wife meets a man who loves and respects her and she wants to divorce the husband in prison. The inmate gets angry, is hurt and feels betrayed----he's powerless behind bars. He has 24/7 to plot what he'll do upon release, plus the advice from the general company in prison, so Be Warned. It was very rocky for a couple years after my dad's release. He performed criminal acts he must've learned about in prison--the police could never pin anything on him. It was very upsetting and traumatic, especially us kids----again. Best of luck to you. Anon.
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