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Apr 052013
 

There are literally hundreds of websites on the internet about how to “support” your family member who is in prison. How to hold yourself together, send commissary money to, write and visit the inmate and then ultimately to take your incarcerated family member back into your home upon their release. The “criminal justice” system itself encourages this to some extent, though many times correction officers treat family members like they are the offenders. Visiting someone you love who is in prison can be a humiliating experience itself.

In reading the comments on some of these sites offering emotional support to families, such as http://www.prisontalk.com I can hear the hurt and the frustration of these parents as well as the unending hope that their adult child will ultimately come out of prison after 10, 15 or 30 years and “have a good life” on the outside. Here are a couple of posts from PrisonTalk.

Quote: Originally Posted by zachsmom01 The thing that is so hard for me is that I can look at things and see what my son should and shouldn’t do, but, he doesn’t always see it like that. I mean, he was out of jail for two weeks and got a DUI. Really, why would you think you could a) go to a bar b) leave said bar drunk c) drive 80 miles an hour and d) not get caught. I just don’t get it. After the fact, he always knows what he did was stupid. That’s why he cannot drink. Or else he better get used to life in jail, because that’s where he will be. My son always regrets after the fact. I tell him, then you must enjoy having a screwed up life….living by the system, cuz your not a dumb kid but you sure act like it. I don’t get it either, never will, stopped trying to figure it out.

Answer:

Sometimes it seems like it is harder for some to learn than others. And some have to learn the hard way….some never learn. Sad but true. But they are always remorseful after the fact. It’s like I told my son one time, “You always say you are sorry but you don’t stop doing what you are doing to stop saying you are sorry. It is like, you slap me and say I’m sorry then slap me again and say I’m sorry, then slap me again and say I’m sorry. It gets to the point that I don’t care if you are sorry…..because I don’t believe it or you wouldn’t continue to do those things.

As these two mothers express their frustrations with the behavior of their adult age children who are now outside prison after a period of some time “inside,” who are acting more like out of control adolescents than adults, the ex-convicts continue the behavior that put them behind bars in the first place.

The second mother’s answer seems to show that she “gets it” that her son’s expressions of “I’m sorry” are not examples of real remorse, because the behavior doesn’t change with the expression. Yet she still continues the relationship with him, though it is continually painful to her to do sol.

In reading posts on the many “how to support your convict loved one” sites not only PrisonTalk, I read the pain and hurt suffered by parents, children, siblings, friends and spouses of inmates and inmates who have been released but don’t change their behavior after prison. While there is some percentage of inmates who are actually innocent of the crimes for which they are incarcerated, the vast majority of criminal inmates are guilty of the crimes which put them behind bars. The vast majority of inmates convicted for a felony crime have never had a moral compass or have lost it if they had one.

When someone commits a felony act that puts them behind bars, they hurt not only themselves but those who love them. It is also an unfortunate truth that the vast majority of inmates who are released continue criminal and/or dysfunctional social behavior after release and go back to prison again, like the second mother posted “….some never learn.”

Domestic violence victim’s supportive web sites frequently use the phrase “you are only a victim once, after that you are a volunteer.” In dealing with our adult offspring who are engaged in criminal behavior, even though we love them with all our hearts, there comes a time when “hope” becomes “malignant” just like a cancer and eats at us, destroying our inner selves.

From the point of view of a grieving parent when my own son first went to prison for robbery, I believed his repentance was sincere, because I wanted to believe it. I over looked the obvious lies that showed it wasn’t, because I wanted so badly to believe it was sincere. That is called “denial” and protects us from accepting a truth that is too painful to swallow. Short term, denial is a protective emotional state, but long term it is not an emotionally healthy way to cope. On sites such as PrisonTalk, I see many examples of “denial” in the loved ones of inmates. While those sites may feel “comforting” to these suffering parents who can commiserate with others suffering the same traumas, the ultimate advice to be “unconditionally” supportive of people who have made criminal choices I believe only produces more pain for these family members of inmates.

Where, as a parent or loved one of an offender, do you draw the line and say “Enough! You are on your own!” The second mother’s answer seems to show that she “gets it” that her son’s expressions of “I’m sorry” are not examples of real remorse, because the behavior doesn’t change with the expression. Yet she still continues the relationship with him, though it is continually painful.

Each of us must decide for ourselves where “to draw the line in the sand” and to be prepared to set boundaries for the behavior we will accept from others, no matter who they are or how much DNA we share. Having an offender in the family is a painful experience, whether they are inside or outside of lock up.

 

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  14 Responses to “PRISON TALK Coping with the offender in the family

  1. Hi Joyce,
    I feel sad for those mothers who posted about their grief. They agree that their criminal sons “can’t learn” but then they also act as though they, themselves, can’t learn. They need to learn to stop letting their sons walk all over them.

    We speak of “waking up from denial” and imagine that it is like an AHA! moment, when in fact, it’s a slow process – especially if we’ve been living in denial a long time. It’s like having been blind and then suddenly having your sight restored, it takes time to get used to the new landscape.

    I think also, that each of us has some different reasons for living in denial. For some of us, we were trained to be that way. For others, denial is a self-protective mechanism, and there are probably a dozen other reasons why people refuse to move away from being enablers.

  2. I agree with Skylar, much of it is denial and denial is a self-protection mechanism. You can’t feel the pain if you refuse to believe it exists.

    I also think that the pain that some parents deny is the guilt they feel for raising a child like this. When they eventually accept the fact that it is not their fault, they did nothing wrong, the choices were not theirs, but their disordered childs, then the denial can end and they can move away from being enablers.

    I see this happening in a woman that I am close to. Her son committed armed robbery and kidnapping. He was constantly in trouble as a child. He spent 8 years in prison and is now out. While he hasn’t gotten into any new problems with the law, he is still making terrible decisions in his personal life. She clearly sees what he is and what he is doing and is very angry with him, but continues to make excuses for him. She blames herself and is filled with guilt over something she had NO control over.

    I believe all of us with children like this go through guilt, until we see that while there could have been things we could have done DIFFERENTLY, it just would not have mattered or helped.

  3. Joyce, thank you for posting this article. It really just drives home the issue: regardless of shared DNA, taking a convicted criminal “back into the fold” is typically a terrible mistake. It’s not that it “takes longer” for some people to “learn” what is right and wrong. It’s the simple and very cold fact that some people REFUSE to abide by rules. Period.

    No amount of wishes and hopes are going to alter someone’s behaviors. No amount of support and encouragement are going to amount to shiat if the ex-offender has no intention of doing the hard work to make good decisions.

    This is where “forgiveness” is misinterpreted, I think.

  4. Sorry for being so long in replying, have been having computer problems and couldn’t get on the net.

    Skylar, I absolutely agree with you. I feel great sadness for the parents and families of offenders. Having, myself, set in the visiting rooms of jails and prisons, and seen the children brought to visit their parents, and the ancient parents who can barely walk coming to visit their sons.

    Milo, that friend of yours is the VERY example of the families (parents) of offenders that are the ones most steeped in guilt for the offenses of others, not their own fault. While I personally didn’t feel a great deal of “guilt” for my son’s crimes, or that I had done anything “wrong” as a parent. None of us are perfect parents for sure and we shouldn’t expect perfect kids, but my son was not raised to be a criminal. He was taught social and religious values at home, was modeled values, and I didn’t take on the “guilt” for his offenses, but I DID think that if I just loved him enough I might be able to CHANGE the way he behaved. Change the way he thought. Of course HE fed into my desires by LYING to me, telling me what I WANTED to hear, and I fed into it by BELIEVING what I knew to be a lie, as evidenced by his REPEATEDLY lying and behaving badly.

    And I ENABLED him by continuing to supply him with money for commissary and other things.

    Truthspeak, I totally agree with you as well…the concept of “forgiveness” as ALWAYS INCLUDING the restoration of TRUST is where I got hung up. I now see “forgiveness” as getting the BITTERNESS out of our hearts for the deeds done to us by someone else, but it does NOT include the restoration of TRUST. Bitterness against anyone I think eats at US like a cancer, and Jesus Himself says that we MUST forgive or we can’t be forgiven (by God) but at the same time…what is the definition of “forgiveness”? Does it include the restoration of TRUST when we see the person do the same deeds over and over? I think not, but it does require that we not remain bitter toward the person, and that takes a lot of continual work.

    Learning that we have NO control over another’s behavior or thinking no matter how much we love them (or hate them for that matter) is a good first step.

    Thank you all for your comments.

  5. Joyce, what I find so confounding is that the parents of adult criminals (and, teenaged ones, as well) are held responsible for the actions of their offspring – as if the PARENT(S) instructed or encouraged these people to make the choices and decisions that were so harmful to others! The parents are often punished just as severely as the perpetrators of the actions/crimes, and I don’t “get this.”

    I know that it’s difficult for most parents, but “No Contact” with a child who has made very, very bad decisions and choices is probably the only way for them to process what their own offspring has chosen to do. And, there’s this pervasive notion that, as you eloquently pointed out, if we LOVE them enough and SUPPORT them enough, they’ll recognize our efforts to “rescue” them and do the “right things.” Well, this simply isn’t true. No amount of love, support, encouragement, or enabling is going to cause a disordered and/or dangerously minded offspring to “see the light” and alter their actions.

    This concept is terribly difficult to accept. It’s painful, ugly, cold, and hard. “But, he/she is my CHILD!” Yeah, and that “child” is now an adult that could not care any less about other people or the damages that they deliberately inflict upon them. They don’t care about us, others, or what’s “right” in society. Accepting that fact is no easy task. UGH!!!

    • Truthspeak,

      You are right, accepting that the child we bore and raised is continually CHOOSING to engage in behavior we find reprehensible, that society finds unacceptable, is very difficult. It is painful beyond belief. Especially if we grew up thinking that we are responsible for cleaning up the messes made by others. Many people who grew up in families such as yours and mine in which there was the “typical” dynamics of the “alcoholic” family in which we were encouraged, no, REQUIRED, to take responsibility for absorbing the consequences of the family’s alcoholic.

      In my own family only my mother’s brother was left as the active drunk, but the dynamics of the “system” of ENABLING, covering up for the trouble maker’s bad behavior were still part and parcel of the everyday functioning which had gone on for at least five generations that I know of.

      When I finally “saw the light”” and actually realized that my son was not going to “reform” and tried to stop enabling him it threw the family dynamics completely off and my entire enabling family turned on me like a pack of dogs fighting off a wolf.

      Because I no longer subscribed to the enabling dynamics I was labeled the “bad person” who was “abusing” my murdering son and they banded together to do whatever it took to drive me out and to protect the family “bad boy” from the consequences of his behavior.

      In some ways I empathize with my other son and my mother because at that time, those were the ONLY way they KNEW. My son learned though when he realized that his brother knew the man who Patrick had sent to kill him was sleeping
      with his wife and when he found out about this, the two of them tried to kill him. So sometimes it depends on whose “ox is gored.” Until HE was directly attacked, he did not realize that anytime the offender’s will is challenged they will turn against the person who doesn’t bend to their will.

  6. Joyce, I was in discussion with a friend, last night, about the “dynamics” of codependency and HOW we, as children, were taught that we were somehow responsible for the health and well-being of everyone else (as children) and that OUR needs were never met.

    “If I just LOVE my child enough, he/she will respond to that love by making the ‘right’ choices and decisions,” is how it went with me. And, it just does not happen. Does……not…..happen. This is where it goes from what my child did to what I need to do to protect myself, across the boards, and to recover from my experiences.

    What I’m learning is that I can detach without anger, hatred, or rage. Toxic is OUT….no matter whom it might be.

    My strongest concern is that the parents and relatives of the disordered and/or criminal offspring have NO system of support and recovery. There aren’t any groups or organizations that assist in this that I know of. Certainly, the victims and their families are a primary concern, but the next concern should be the care and support of the family members who are related to the criminal or, in my case, the “bad person” who will never be charged or face one consequence for his actions. This isn’t the case. The family members of the criminals are held responsible for the actions of another individual, and there has to be some organization to help THESE people process and recover from what a loved one has done.

  7. Trutspeak, I totally agree with You on this, that’s why I started this blog. There seem to be 100+ sites that encourage the families to “never give up hope” no matter how many times the family offender breaks the law or makes terrible choices that the parents/spouses some how feel responsible for “fixing.”

    The truth of the matter is that we are ONLY responsible for our minor children once they are adults, the consequences of their choices should be theirs, not ours. It tugs at our heart when they are destitute from their own bad choices but these ARE choices not “mistakes” Choosing to rob a bank or steal a car or haul drugs are only examples of “offenses” that are against the law, but other offenses against others in my opinion are just as destructive to the victims of these acts.

    Repeated Financial irresponsibility by one of our children doesn’t require us to repeatedly bail them out, though we may be tempted to, especially if there are grandchildren. Unfortunately many times these offenders will use those kids as lures to #### us in. Irresponsible people often have a sense of entitlement to be supported and for someone else to bail them out of all the consequences of their failures to live as responsible/ law abiding adults.

    • Joyce, I have been financially irresponsible for the better part of my life – I opted to give financial power and responsibility to others, to my own detriment, and THIS is something that I had to learn about in order to begin correcting.

      It DOES boil down to choices when our adult children do things that are obviously either “wrong” or illegal. And, I will not accept responsibility for the choices of an adult child of mine under any circumstances.

      Yep, parents and family members who step up and fearlessly hold their adult children/sibling/extended family member accountable for their own actions really, REALLY need a source of strong support!

      • Truthspeak, I totally AGREE which is why I started this web site, because there is precious little support out there for families of offenders (of any kind, incarcerated or not). Most of the sites (and there are hundreds) go on about HOW TO ENABLE YOUR OFFENDING RELATIVE….telling families how to endure the repeated offenses of their loved one and implying or stating that it is their RESPONSIBILITY to continue to “be supportive” and take this offender back into your home when they are released from incarceration.

        It is ONLY when we realize and accept that we can not, MUST NOT, be responsible for cleaning up the messes that our adult children (or other relatives) cause. THEY should be responsible for cleaning up their own messes and living a responsible life.

        I told myself I was NOT enabling my son Patrick I did not mortgage my house to buy him a high priced lawyer (though he tried to get me to) and he used a public defender. I did not pay for an appeal, though he begged me to. (I knew by then he was actually guilty) but I DID send money for commissary so he could buy vitamins to prevent scurvy and buy medication if he needed it and buy food at the commissary. I sent books, and drove hundreds of miles to visit, wrote daily, and kept on hoping that though he was guilty he might repent. But in vain. I was f WAS fooling myself, I was enabling him.

        I finally “saw the light” when on a visit he got frustrated with me when he wanted me to do something that was illegal and I refused. He finally dropped his mask of “but Mom, what would Jesus do?” and told me he was proud of the violence of his crime that “was worse than the cops even knew” I was STUNNED and never saw him again. Never sent anymore money, letters, etc. I went NO CONTACT with him. After that he sent one of his excon friends to kill me. That failed when the man was arrested.

        But now he cons my mother into sending him money, leaving him money in her will, hiring him a lawyer for parole hearings, etc. He has her completely in his control because she is in denial totally. For a while she even lied to me about sending him money after his friend was arrested for trying to kill my other biological son. When she was caught in the lies, she showed no remorse. Instead she said to me “well, tell me you never lied to me!” I said “Yea, when I was 15, that was 45 years ago!”

        At first when I went no contact it was extremely painful, but the pain has lessened and I’m at peace with it now. I don’t hate him, or my mother for that matter. I just can’t tolerate people who lie to me and will not repent. I did go with witnesses, and I took it to the church. Still no result so I am No contact with my mother as well as long as she lies and sends money to my son Patrick. I pray that she will see the light, but at 84 she is not likely to change. Elderly people are much more easily duped than younger people, which is why there are so many cons that target the elderly.

  8. Prison Talk actually cracks me up, women on there like “ooh my baby daddy gonna be home in 3 years”…..OMG, your baby daddy IS IN STATE PRISON! You should be running for the freaking HILLS! My situation is different I guess, my BABY DADDY is in prison for STABBING ME eleven times! Continuing to sue me (for free, as in forma pauperis and ‘pro/se’) without an attorney in custody court. Last time he took me, he never called in for the hearing, case got dismissed, which is GREAT, but I owed my lawyer $475!!! He can file as many bullshit lawsuits as he wants, and I have to pay for every one of them. NO YOU ARE NOT SEEING MY KIDS. NO THEY ARE NOT BEING TAKEN FROM ME BY YOUR ####### FATHER OR ANYONE ELSE FOR THAT MATTER, AND DRIVING 4 PLUS HOURS AWAY TO GO SEE YOU IN AN ORANGE UNIFORM! As far as i’m concerned, that right was given up the night you tried to murder me. SIT THE #### IN YOUR CELL AND ####ING ROT you #############……

    Now, how would I feel if this were one of my sons? Good God, I don’t know. I guess i’ll always LOVE them no matter what they do, but I surely won’t support them in any monetary way.

  9. I Win, welcome to Family Arrested. You sound like you have it figured out. I wish more people had your view of things. My son is a psychopath, he has no conscience, he is a manipulator and a murderer, and is not sorry for anything he did, including murder that girl. I did love him, but I finally figured out he is incapable of loving me back.

    It hurt, but I finally was able to disconnect from the baby and boy I loved and see the MAN who is a STRANGER to me, a dangerous stranger who wants me dead. I am glad that you can see that your child’s sperm donor is someone that you must avoid at all costs and keep your children away from.

    Unfortunately, though, his DNA is in them, so I suggest that you work very hard to instill empathy in your children. See the link here to “Parenting the at risk child” from Dr. Liane Leedom, who is a psychiatrist whose youngest son is the child of a psychopath that she married and had a child with. Her x husband, the father of her son went to prison for sexual abuse of some of her patients. She has devoted her life to studying psychopaths and to identifying ways to nurture children who are at risk (via DNA) of becoming disordered themselves. DNA is NOT destiny, but it does contribute to psychopathy.

    My father was a horrible psychopath and a murderer, though he was never convicted, and he did not raise me, and 2 of my 3 half sibs that he did raise were normal nice people, but 1 of the three was just like him, mean as a snake. I am “normal” but one of my two sons though not raised by a psychopath became one.

    Knowledge is power and I suggest that you learn all you can about psychopaths because it sounds like your x is definitely a psychopath.

    Go to http://www.180rule.com and there is great information there (there’s a link on the left of my blog) and also read Dr. Robert Hare’s book “without conscience” and that is a great start on learning about the disorder.

    It isn’t easy fighting these monsters, I Win, but we’re here to support you, and we’ve “been” there, in fact I AM THERE as they seem to never give up, but with support from people who “get it” you can WIN! God bless. and again, welcome to Family Arrested.

  10. Before my kids’ dad went to jail, I told my ex that if he was ever arrested, the kids and I would not visit him in jail. In my opinion, if you end up in jail because you committed criminal acts, I have no interest in seeing you, nor do my children. After he was arrested for some of his crimes, he wrote letters from jail, telling me not to let the kids come and visit him, seeing him in jail, but he expressed an interest in having me come and visit him. I did not write letters back to him and I never visited him. His story was in the media (originally a “missing person” case, then after he was arrested, it was revealed that the vehicle he was driving did not belong to him). The whole story was embarrassing, not even being able to explain his actions to anyone (that I ran into). Many people who thought that they “knew” him were shocked, dumbfounded by his behavior. In my opinion, my ex led a double life for many, many years (being a family man, yes, but having a secret life also) being a “bad-###” because it was fun. In the end, no-one really knows him, period – he has too many secrets, being unwilling to live out in the open.

  11. Bluejay, in the small town where a friend grew up, when he was a child two or three houses down the street the man of the family cut his wife up with a skill saw in front of the kids and went to prison for murdering her. He requested that the children be brought to the prison to visit him.

    The aunt who had the children fought this in court and the judge’s ruling was that the children needed therapy for their trauma. Also that they needed to be able to make up their own minds about whether or not to visit their father after having this therapy, so if after having this therapy, at age 16 they could make up their own minds to visit him or not.

    None of them ever did.

    My friend said as far as he knew they were a “nice normal family” before this happened, but of course we can say after the fact that they were NOT a “nice normal family” because the murder shows that there was hidden abuse or this murder never would have occurred. Murder does not occur in a vacuum, people work up to murder with lesser violence first. Just like I believe that Lacy Petersen was an abused wife and that Scott abused her at least emotionally and probably physically prior to her murder, but she hid it from her family because she wanted to present this “perfect marriage” facade to the world. I kept my son Patrick’s crimes secret from the world for so long because I did not want to admit I had a son who was a criminal,much less a murderer and I am sure that you, BlueJay, did not want to let the town know that your children’s father was/is a criminal and a creep.

    The thing is though, the shame for their behavior should NOT be ours, it should be THEIRS, but they have no shame. It takes a conscience to have shame for bad behavior and they do not have a feeling of having done wrong. They feel entitled to do whatever it is that they want to. Getting caught and sent to jail is just a blip, it is “bad luck” not something related to what they did. Not something that they will actually learn from and stop their bad behavior.

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