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Parent in Prison
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.
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.
[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!
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
this page was last updated: May 21, 2006
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