The day is finally here. After being locked up for what seems like eons, your loved one is being released from prison. You want to be purely happy about this momentous event, but you find yourself teeming with all kinds of emotions—uncertainty about the future, anger caused by your loved one’s absence, fear that prison has caused irreparable damage. You wonder if you should keep your distance or if you should jump in and offer support. You wonder how to move forward.
Although you may be confused or anxious about how to help a loved one after their release from prison, it’s important to try to offer whatever support you can. Freshly released prisoners are in a vulnerable position and are faced with the daunting task of re-learning how to live outside the confines of iron bars and a strictly regimented schedule. Your support is valuable, even if this is a brand new experience for you and you’re unsure of how to deal with your own tumultuous emotions, let alone the emotions and needs of a newly released prisoner. The important thing is that your support comes from a genuine desire to help your loved one and not with expectations that it will change anything in the past.
How can you get started? Begin by offering emotional support. Show your loved one that you believe in her and her ability to move forward and make positive changes. Put aside doubt and skepticism; instead, offer affirmations and optimism. Society already tells us that a majority of people with a criminal record can’t break free of the cycle, despite their desire to do so. Helping your loved one believe they can do it is the first step in helping them create a new, healthy life outside of prison.
Another way to help is to lend financial support. Emotional support is a great start, but it is beneficial for it to be coupled with financial stability if the person formerly incarcerated is going to be successful in sticking to an honest path. Financial support does not necessarily mean handing over money. Your loved one may face many obstacles upon release, which can include loss of government benefits, occupational restrictions, residency restrictions, and disadvantages in employment and housing markets. They may also need new clothing for job interviews. Helping in any one of these areas will help to increase stability, which is essential for anyone (not just ex-prisoners!) to thrive.
One of the most basic components of a stable life (according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) is shelter. Even if you cannot personally offer your loved one a place to stay, you can help by driving him around to view different housing options or help him fill out rental applications. If you want to take your support to the next level, and there is a history of trust built, you could lend money for a security deposit on an apartment or co-sign a lease. Once your loved one has an address it will be easier to find a job.
Having a job will help your loved one support themselves and continue to reinforce the feeling of stability. It can be difficult to find employment when you have a criminal record and it’s important to be mindful of any occupational restrictions before beginning the job hunt. Networking is the key to any job search, but will be particularly important in helping an ex-prisoner. The stigma attached to having been in prison is very strong, so making a personal connection with the person in charge of hiring is much more likely to yield acceptance.
You can help by reaching out to anyone you know who owns their own business and may be open to employing an ex-prisoner. Make sure you’re upfront and honest about the situation—if a potential employer isn’t interested in hiring a former prisoner, it’s best to know right away. Once you have a list of potential employers, put your loved one in contact with them and take a step back. Resist the temptation to jump in and talk on your love one’s behalf. This is his opportunity and it is up to him to prove himself. What you can do is help with interview preparation by asking sample questions and role playing. If feasible, you may even want to enlist the help of a career coach to help with the job search and interview prep. Some coaches are even willing to negotiate manageable fees for people trying to move their lives in a new direction
It can take a long time to get established after being released from prison. Any support you can lend along the way could help speed up the process, making it less likely for your loved one to get trapped back in the cycle.