Do you know anyone who’s been arrested? Chances are good that you do. Maybe it was a relative, boss, neighbor, or co-worker who drank too much at the office party or college party and had a ride in the police car afterwards. They and their families will be rebuilding from that in some way. Maybe you know someone whose charge was drug possession, robbery, murder, or something else. I’m writing this to share what I’ve learned on my journey in working with offenders and their families in the rebuilding process after the crimes, to help you better understand what they’re going through, so you can be of more support to the families who are rebuilding their lives.
Complexity of Rebuilding
Rebuilding comes in many forms for the offenders and for their families. The complexity of the rebuilding process depends on the person’s charges, whether jail or prison time is required, and how much time is served. Obviously, the more time served, the more stress on the families, the more out of touch with society the person becomes, and the greater the rebuilding process required.
Let’s start at the beginning. An arrest may or may not be the beginning of traumatic events that an offender creates for loved ones. Before reaching the point of being arrested, the offender might have stolen family credit cards, automobiles, other valuables, or wiped out family bank accounts. The families might be too embarrassed to press charges and instead hope that the drama will stop. If it does not stop, it often escalates until the person is arrested, especially if there are addictive behaviors involved. Now we must also keep in mind that sometimes the mindset that criminal activity is okay may start at home with some offenders. Maybe there are family members who have taught them how to do crimes, in which case, that may be part of the dynamics to consider too. What I’m mainly talking about in this post are the law-abiding families who are working hard at legitimate jobs to get through life and pay the bills.
When someone has been arrested, life turns upside down for the offenders and even more for their loved ones. Sometimes, the loved ones are very relieved that the person is no longer out and able to harass them or to steal from them. However, it can still be an especially challenging time for their loved ones. Having worked closely with families rebuilding their lives after their loved ones committed crimes, there can be many challenges. The crimes often draw major attention on television, in the newspapers, and on social media. So the families are humiliated by what their loved ones have done and often don’t want to go out in public and might resort to disguising themselves so they wouldn’t be recognized in public. They have no choice except to pick up the pieces and move forward because there are jobs to keep, bills to pay, and children to feed, clothe, and get to school. In some instances, this can be so devastating that families become homeless—especially if the offender was the major wage earner in the house. It can leave families scrambling to find financial resources in the community to make the rent, car, or childcare payments or to buy food.
Hard for Law-Abiding Families
It seems to me that rebuilding is more difficult for the families. There are a lot of raw emotions to process, especially regarding the trust that was violated by those who committed the crimes. Also, there’s great financial strain. The offender going to jail definitely does not end the drama or financial stress for the families. Once someone is arrested and goes to jail, the families start to receive phone calls from the loved ones in jail (which costs the families money because calls go through special companies that typically charge higher rates for jail and prison calls). The families have the option of not accepting calls, but they usually want to keep in touch with loved ones. So they have to set some boundaries and tell their loved ones how many calls they are willing to accept. Along with phone calls is the cost of putting $25-40/week on an inmate’s account so that person can buy snacks and personal hygiene items at the commissary. Plus, there are the costs of driving to visit the inmates once a week or several times/week.
If an inmate is convicted of a crime and serves time in prison, that usually means driving a longer distance to the prison on weekends or whenever visitation is allowed, and buying food from vending machines to eat with the loved one during visitation. This process goes on while the families are trying desperately to make ends meet at home. Imagine the costs that add up doing this week after week for a loved one who’s serving a life sentence. Unfortunately, I know of family members who have lost their jobs when loved ones have been arrested, because of the tremendous stress and time missed at work, which makes life even more difficult.
Behind the Walls
When coaching the families, I nearly always coach their loved ones who are behind the walls and those who are soon to leave jail or prison. Naturally, the offenders want to keep in touch with their loved ones and often fail to realize (or simply don’t care in some cases) how much their phone calls, financial requests, and ongoing demands for themselves and for other inmates, etc., are costing their families. So I have always tried to keep it real with the inmates to help them see from the family’s perspective.
Just because an offender will be released from jail or prison, does not mean that a job and housing will be waiting. Occasionally, offenders may be able to return to previous jobs, but usually they have to start job searching and looking for a place to live. When an individual has a felony charge, that person may have difficulty getting a job. Depending on the charge, they may even no longer be able to return to their professions.
Why do I mention all of this? Because so many people know of someone who has been arrested, but they have no idea what the families are going through, how much support they need, and how alone they feel. I hope that through this post I have conveyed that in a some way and that you will consider coming alongside a family whose loved one is incarcerated, even if it’s simply to be moral support and to pray for them during their difficult time and as they rebuild from the drama, trauma, and embarrassment of financial, relational, and even vocational losses.
Have you ever known someone who was arrested? I would love to hear your thoughts or experiences regarding what the offenders and/or the families go through, so be sure to leave a comment below.