A Message to the Loved One’s of Ex-inmates
By John Polk
The inmate newly released is coming home carrying a lot of baggage from his (or her) prison experience. He will have had years of being degraded and discouraged with negative indoctrinations about himself by the prison’s “caretakers”; the condemnation of being a mere number amidst other numbers; the monotony of following constant routines; the stark aloneness that all prisoners endure while incarcerated with hundreds or thousands of other; living between two threatening worlds of authority—the world behind bars called the population and the world outside the bars called the authority. The higher the security level of the prison he experienced the deeper these psychological wounds will be.
Warning him not to get into trouble again, not to return to old friends who are bad influences will seldom help him in readjusting to normal life. After all, he has a parole officer who will be constantly warning him about going back to prison, about staying away from environments that will lead him back into trouble.
Because you love this returned husband, father, brother, sister, son, daughter, friend or relative, you will want to push him (or her) to find work, to reestablish his life on a progressive and productive path. No matter how well intentioned you are, the ex-inmate will probably appear moody, even fast to temper. He doesn’t want to be told what to do because he has just left a place where his every action is monitored and just because he is out, does not mean he is freed from the system. He isn’t. And, even after parole he will be branded the felon for the rest of his life and he knows this too. You of course, will be anxious for life to simply return to how it once was or how you imagine that it can be. You will not realize that after release the ex-inmate will be struggling to free himself from the shackles of his own mind. One does not simply stop being the prisoner because he has been permitted to leave the gates of the prison!
Typically, what the ex-inmate wants to do is simply enjoy and experience the small rewards of living in the free world during his early readjustment period. After all, there has been virtually nothing to assist him in preparing for freedom. The penal system lacks programs that are actually helpful and supportive for those being released. There are exceptions of course but most prisoners want to enjoy the silences, the joy of merely walking outside at will or going to the refrigerator for a snack; to shop at the corner market and watch whatever TV show he wants to see. If you have never had these kinds of freedoms taken from you, you cannot know their importance.
During this stage after his return, the last thing he needs to hear is what he cannot or should not do. He does not want to hear what he must do. He has just spent years under the thumb of others and these kinds of instructive directives can have adverse effects. He is well aware of what he shouldn’t do and what he has to do if he’s to stay “clean” and out of trouble.
What is most needed to help the ex-inmate during his readjustment period of being back home is to support him in loving ways; to treat him as the valued person he is and that he is to you. Never speak of the mistakes of the past. If he wants to talk about the past, become a good listener but do so without engaging in debate or criticism. If he talks about the past the odds are that he is trying to sort things out anyway and no matter how much you might want to assist, you can’t; this is something that he must do…and wants to do for himself. If you are attentive, however, by just listening, you will be serving in a positive and loving way.
The major objective is to remind that ex-inmate that he is both loving and lovable. Some ex-inmates have never heard this in their entire lives and they need love factors to give them the courage and inspiration they need to meet the challenges that they are facing.
Love is the essential to the homecoming of an ex-inmate. He has after all been deprived of this human need for a very long time—for some, as long as they can remember—indeed, a great number of people who end up behind the wall have actually been deprived of love since childhood. It can even be said that the deprivation of love, for many, is at the very roots of their anti-social behaviors. After all, when one is deprived of, say, loving parents or guardians then one is necessarily deprived of encouragement and inspiration. I suspect that tremendous callousness becomes the protective armor that is worn as a defense from the pain that being or even imagining being unloved provokes.
I realize that there are those who scoff at this observation as being valid but I suspect that such “scoffers” were not deprived of such emotional support nor were they reared as children in unloving environments where survival demands a certain, raw hardness.
In light of the above, I also suspect that most (real) criminal behavior stems from underdeveloped emotions from which narcissism has evolved in their personality that serves as a protective shield from being hurt by others. While I do not claim to be a professional in such matters, it does not take a PhD in psychology to understand that feeling the abandonment of being unwanted or uncared for (devalued) will have negative results.
The ex-inmate will find plenty of adversity, judgments and evaluations in the outside world that he has returned to so he simply doesn’t need more “at home.” What he needs at home is for those who know about him and to love him anyway…
I do not claim any of this as being a guaranteed way of keeping any ex-inmate from adding to the numbers of those who return to prison but I do believe that what I am indicating and suggesting here is sound and will be helpful.
John Polk has written a book that can be read within a lunch hour that he wants everyone to have. It is entitled, “The Love Factor.”
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