Dear Dr. Robyn,
My Dad’s in jail because he broke the law and did something really dumb that I don’t even want to talk about. My Mom has to work all the time and she always cries and my little brother seems like he doesn’t want to talk to anyone not even me. He says he wants to see us and to visit him in jail but I don’t know because I’m really mad at him. I don’t trust him anymore. I don’t even know what to do please help. -Izzy
I’m so sorry about what you’re going through. I can tell you are in great pain and it doesn’t seem at all fair. I’m glad you reached out.
When a parent goes to prison, it can feel like the entire family is being punished. You’re now living in a one-parent household with a parent who seems sad, overwhelmed and overworked. You probably are dealing with conflicting feelings. You may miss him and feel like you hate him all at the same time. You love your father but you may be frustrated by what he did, embarrassed that he broke the law, and angry or sad that he’s not at home with you and your family. You might even be thinking that your parent is “a bad person” or that you “don’t even know him anymore.”
First, remember that you don’t have to make any decision right away. You can take some time to sort out your feelings and decide what to do. Write out your feelings in a diary or talk to a friend, relative, mentor, teacher, instructor, doctor or religious confidante. When we talk or write things out, we can come to conclusions. You don’t want to bottle things up.
Second, keep doing the things you love. Spend time with friends. Stay involved with your activities like martial arts, gymnastics, and drama. Surround yourself with people you live and the people who love you. Keeping a routine, as much as you can, and spending time with supportive people who care, can help you cope during this rough time. Second, you can choose to write letters to your parent. This way, you open the lines of communication between you and your parent without seeing him until you’re ready.
Third, you can visit your parent if that is an option. Visits can help you rebuild your relationship, answer the questions you have on your mind, and work out your feelings. While visits can be stressful, they may help you to get on a path of healing.
Fourth, you can look into information and support groups that can help you through this tough time (.e. Rainbows, Family Connection Centers, Crisis Centers, Online Communities ). Talking out your frustrations and concerns with others who are going through a similar situation can make you feel less alone. You may feel like the only one going through this but you’re not–The 2004 prison population report showed that there are approximately 2.26 million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons. That means a lot of families are affected. The support groups may give you the space and support you need. Encourage your family to go as well.
Fifth, remember that keeping the anger and frustration to yourself isn’t helpful to you or anyone else around you. I know that you’ve been part of a Powerful Words member school for a while now and you know that forgiveness, empathy, and anger management are all important for our health.
This may be a tall order, and you will probably never forget what your father did, but perhaps, in time, you can learn to forgive. Continue to reach out. You don’t have to do this alone. In time, and with some support and emotional digging, you’ll know what to do. Listen to your gut and ask for help when you need it.
We’ll be thinking of you.