I remember seeing the post about how to approach a friend with an incarcerated family member — in that case, it was her friend’s partner. Seeing the comments there was uplifting for me, especially since my mom is currently incarcerated. I wanted to address this subject a little more…
I feel like it’s something that’s so taboo to talk about, even though (according to the US Bureau of Justice) over 2.2 million people were incarcerated in 2013. That’s a big, big number for something that isn’t regularly being talked about.
My mom went to prison for drugs, the first time, when I was seven years old. That time it was only for four months. But she went back again when I was 12, and then again when I was 16, for a couple two-year stints. The last two were harder for me because I was a teenager who was already going through enough changes. Going through them without my mom for guidance was a challenge.
Luckily, I was blessed with wonderful grandparents and a father who helped me find my way through high school. And I was always very open with my friends about the situation. The false bravado that came with telling my friends it was “no big deal to have a parent in prison — this is the norm for me,” helped me cope and feel stronger.
By the time she was released, when I was 18, I had convinced myself that I had forgiven her, and was ready to move on with our relationship. It took me another four years to realize that I really wasn’t ready for that. And, rather than facing up to my emotions and problems with her, I chose to bury them for that false sense of strength.
When my mom was arrested again, five weeks before my wedding, everything came crashing down on me.
The weight of 17 years of anger and resentment at not having my mom in my life hit me hard. I officially was not ready to forgive her, and the last thing I wanted to do was talk about the whole thing with friends and family members who would inevitably ask why my mom wasn’t at my wedding. I did what most millennials would do — I wrote a Facebook post about it, politely asking people to not bring my mom’s conspicuous absence up on what was supposed to be the happiest day of my life.
That was 10 months ago. My wedding was beautiful, even without her there, but I’m still sad she wasn’t able to be a part of that day. I dealt with a bout of depression afterwards — trying to figure out how to actually work through my emotions in a healthy way, rather than repressing them, or lashing out at my mom.
Despite how angry I am with her sometimes, she’s still a person that deserves empathy and love. She’s an addict. Being able to reconcile how selfish I feel she is with her disease is a challenge for me sometimes. My mom is currently in treatment, in prison. We’re learning how to be honest with each other, while trying to fix our relationship with 1,500 miles and some barbed wire in between us.
It’s hard for my husband and my friends to understand why I’m still trying with someone who it feels like hasn’t tried for me in a long time. But I’m hoping that showing her empathy, honesty, and love will help give her the strength she needs to overcome her disease once and for all.
More than anything, though, what I want people to take from this is that it’s okay to talk about these things or not to talk about these things. What I generally need, more than anything, is someone to just listen and understand. No judgement. No advice. Just an ear. But everyone is different.
If you have a friend with a close friend or family member who is incarcerated, the best thing you can do for them is to be there, however they need you.