by Linda De Carvalho
Coming home from incarceration may be as challenging as surviving the prison sentence itself. In many ways, it’s starting all over again. And just like adjusting to the prison system, going home will require a readjustment to an environment that may not be as familiar as it used to be. Of course, reentry into society may take much longer to prepare for, especially when considering things such as finding work, parole issues, overcoming discrimination and biases, acting independently, staying healthy, and staying clear of trouble.
Like their loved ones who have been released from prison, families will also find themselves having to make some readjustments when dad returns home. Kids may have dreams or issues about what it will be like that special day when they finally get to share a meal, have a talk, or just sit with dad on the couch. Seemingly routine, these moments may represent some of the biggest and most significant for a family whose head has just returned from months or years of jail time. But it won’t be easy.
Families who are struggling with how to cope with an upcoming return of an incarcerated family member may need to seek external help depending on their individual situation. But one thing is for sure, they shouldn’t wait until the last minute to figure out what to do. Preparation for dad’s return should begin sooner rather than later. How soon prepping for the big day may vary depending on each family’s individual circumstances but should begin as soon as possible. That said, the family will need to recognize that dad’s return will not be free of negative emotions that can surface in the form of arguments, the blame game, anger, resentment, and more.
Here are some thoughts about what the family may do to help prepare themselves and dad for his return:
1. Mental preparation. – Getting used to any idea, especially a big change, can take a long time. The sooner family members start thinking about dad’s return the better. Seek advice from your child’s teacher to determine how soon to tell the youngest members of the family.
2. Family discussions. Open the door to regular family discussions to help sort out feelings of all family members. Talking about the event before it happens can help everyone in the household feel more secure about dad’s return. But be prepared to answer uncomfortable questions and seek professional advice when necessary.
3. Positive environment. Helping to create a positive environment may be easier said than done. Get the kids involved in projects like making a welcome banner, cooking a special homecoming meal, creating a special card, etc. that will help reunite the family and move emotions and expectations in the right direction.
4. Keep expectations of the big day realistic. Although the family may be flying high about dad’s return, he may not be sharing the same feelings. After all, he has quite a lot to deal with in the upcoming months, if not years, trying to acclimate to being a free man, reuniting with his family, getting a job, meeting parole requirements and more. He may not be ready to celebrate.
5. Keep conflicts in check. The stress of returning to society is real for dad and will take a while for him to get used to settling back in. Family support is critical. Dad, of course, will need to do his part by staying away from issues that could cause family conflict, like returning to drugs or crime. On the other hand, family members should recognize and support his efforts to do the best he can during his struggles.
And don’t forget to find ways to help dad with his return. Join support groups who can share their experiences and give you sound advice. Find government materials and special programs that help provide support for the family and the returning parent. Follow nonprofit organizations like Building Families Together on Facebook or Twitter who are advocates for prisoners and their return to society. The more prepared you are, the better the results.