#101 Prison 101 Communications, pt4 (retro)

March 19, 2010 at 3:41 am Leave a comment

Prison 101:Communication part 4

Well, before we continue, some of you might be reading this for the first time. If so, then you’re probably wanna go back a few and read parts 1-3. It touches a bit on what we are talking about and catches you up to where we are now.

My email is derf4000 (at) embarqmail (dot) com if you want to get in touch or ask about my books or other stuff. Don’t be afraid to email me.

We’re talking about prison communications, and I am trying to get extensive with this. In the most generic terms, we have merely thought of this as writing your loved one a letter, sending him a card, receiving a collect call from him or making that visit to him on the weekend. ( I also say “her” since I should never forget that there are women in prison too).

In the first three parts of my discussion, I was talking about the three main forms of communication in prison. Those parts are, in case you did not read the first 3 parts, letters/cards, phone calls and visitations. Each has some upsides and downsides and I discussed those with a little bit of detail. Again, you can jump back and read those…in fact I insist that you do.

Today I want to discuss the temperatures of communication. What do I mean when I say that? I am talking about the feelings of what is communicated to an inmate in prison. I’m talking about the emotions that you share when you communicate with a loved one in prison. This applies whether you write a letter, send a card, receive a phone call or make a visit.

So, why is this important?

It’s highly important because the temperature of your communication will have a direct affect on how your loved one deals with you… and their time. Now note, this goes both ways. It is also important how guys in prison talk or communicate with you as well, but for the purposes of this blog, I am speaking to YOU, not the person in prison. That’s kinda the focus here, to help YOU understand how you can make a positive influence on someone you care about in prison.

It is very important to take a temperature of what you say because we as humans often forget how powerful our words are…whether positive or negative. Lots of times we say things and don’t even realize the effects that come from it. We’ve all done it, and I am certainly no exception. I bet everybody reading these blogs have had at least 10 situations where you wish you could have taken back what you said. Those are examples of poor communication, something we want to try to fix today.

So why is it important when dealing with a loved one in prison? There are actually a couple of reasons (at least) for this. Communication is actually your words in action. Even if it is a written word, it is still a form of action. My blogs don’t necessarily TALK to you, but in a literal way, I am TALKING to you when I blog. So what I say has an impact on what you do and believe. I am not saying it changes your life, I am saying that it does have a slight impact on what you have known about prison.

This must be true because lots of you either email me, make a comment or support my writings.

Communication with inmates is critical because of two key elements; the environment the inmate lives in, and the words you share. This can get pretty complex, so follow me here

Prison is a very negative place, and as such, the environment that the inmate lives in is negative. In some prisons it is very dangerous. Others it is a very depressing place. I don’t need to describe all the negatives of prison, but they do include separation from society and family, as well as guilt, condemnation, anger, fear, sadness, failure amongst other things.

The world of prison is a constant, whereas your world can change. Right now, if I want to step outside and walk to the park, I can. If I want to turn to the Olympics, I can. If I want to open the refrigerator and see what kinda sodas I got in there, I can. If I want to hook up the Xbox and play some video games, I can. I have a lot of freedom and power to make choices.

In prison this is much more restricted. If I was at the last camp I was in, Dan River Prison Work Farm, and wanted to go outside at 2:30pm, I probably could. The yard would be open this time of day so that would not be so much a problem. But my limits are in how far I can go, and how long I can stay out. I could also likely watch some television in the prison day room, but most prisons I have been on don’t have cable, and I can’t change the channels when I want to (or at all). My freedom to make choices is still there to some effect, but severely limited.

In prison there is a high level of depression, guilt and control. And this is a constant, because even if you manage to fight it off for a few hours, it is still residing in almost every other inmate around you. I had many a day where I actually felt ok and had some hope, but you had to watch out for the guy next to you, because if he felt down in the dumps, it could drag you along with him.

For this reason, you have to really keep your conversations at a higher level than you may be used to. You have to remember that the person you are communicating with is often borderline depressed. I mean, how many times has an inmate awaken with a bright and cheery smile? Now, I know that you are also going through tough times too, with your loved one in prison, but if you WANTED to, there are numerous venues for you to fight that. An inmate’s options are severely limited.

With the prison environment the way it is, it is so important for your WORDS to be filled with hope and positive messages. I remember reading somewhere that our words are like containers, filled with the emotions and beliefs that are deep inside us. I like to compare it to a weapon. Our words are like swords, and are able to penetrate to the deepest parts of our hearts. But those same swords can be double-edged as well, and can be just as hurtful as they are helpful.

How many of you really think about what you say to your son, daughter, husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend or even pen pal? What do you say to them? Did you ever take a temperature of what you said, or will say to that person? That’s what we have to work on.

We can create a picture of this by assigning values to this discussion. In general we are talking about being anywhere from extremely positive to neutral down to extremely negative. Notice I put the word “extremely” in there for a purpose. Let me also use myself at this point in time as an example of temperatures in communication.

Right now it is an unusually decent day here in August. It is in the low 80’s as I sit here in this air-conditioned house. To me, my perfect comfort zone is about 70-75 degrees, to me this is perfect weather. My comfort zone is probably about 10 degrees either way. In other words, I am happy if it is 85 degrees or 65 degrees.

Somewhere above 85 degrees and I start to get a little uncomfortable. I can deal with it with no problem, but I’d rather not if I had a choice. The same applies with temperatures about 60 and below, although I like cooler weather better than hot weather.

But once it starts getting in the upper 90’s, I am not comfortable with that. I am clearly out my comfort zone and it becomes a bother. The same could be true for weather under 50, but I tend to like colder weather more than hot weather (and I can always dress up to stay warm).

What I have explained is the “comfort zones” that can be applied for communication for those in prison. You have to be aware of the temperature of the message you are delivering to an inmate, knowing that he or she is already in a negative situation.

Now, I am going to rule out the extreme negatives because if you are sending those kinda messages to your loved ones, then you’re not reading my blogs to begin with, and we might also argue whether they are your loved ones or not.

But we cannot rule out NEGATIVE communication.

“What’s the difference?”

The difference is in the TONE of what you share. Words of anger, guilt and damaging emotions are extremely negative, and if you are sending those kinda letters or communicating in that way, then you’re really wasting your time reading my stuff. Because that’s all it is to you…stuff.

See, the problem you might fall into is thinking that ALL communication with a loved one in prison is supposed to be good and positive. No, not always. Sometimes it is necessary to share negative news.

This is clearly outside the comfort zone, because nobody wants bad news any more than I want to be outside when it is 99 degrees. But sometimes you have to deal with it. Heck, there are some hot days I didn’t want to go outside, but I had to. In similar manner, there are times you have to be able to deliver some negative forms of communication.

The most obvious example is family related illnesses or even deaths. I personally don’t wish this on anybody because I can truly understand how bad this could be to a person in prison. But there may be some of you that have to share that, and some of you wonder if you should even tell him.

It is a hard call, but simply put, if the person was very close to the inmate, you have to find the time to tell them. This can be a very tough time for both of you, but this is also a time where communication must be the strongest. Delivering negative news can be a very hard thing to do, but if you really love that person, it is important to keep him or her informed about what is going on in that world out there. Illnesses and deaths are clearly the hardest to do, especially the latter.

How do you handle a situation like that? Well, the easier of the two is a sickness. I say that because I believe that for every sickness there is a cure. To believe there is a cure, there has to be hope. To make hope effective there must be faith. And faith is available to anybody, whether in prison or not.

I am reminded of a situation that happened to a youth in prison, one I wrote about a few times. A juvenile was assaulted in prison by a few guys and they beat him into a coma. His life literally hung in the balance while his loved one outside of the prison felt helpless. I remember the post on a site on this, and I think I was the second to respond on that post, which followed by a few hundred people making posts about this terrible situation.

If you read those blogs or that post, you know the story, so I won’t get into that, but the key in that kid going from near death to pulling through was faith. That mom had to believe that he could pull through, and more than that, she had to be talk as if he was going to live and not die. See this kinda communication is very rare in prison circles because we tend to believe that a person in prison deserves what he or she gets…

Heaven forbid if politicians were deserved the same fate…

In a true way, faith IS a form of communication that you can use when talking to a loved one in prison about the illness of a loved one. The problem is most of us don’t believe in it. Oh, sure we like to WISH things can get better, but that is based on nothing. Faith is based on the fact that if God can do anything, then He can do it for you…and will if you ask.

Oops….lost a lot of people there….

I said it once and I say it again, I am no great person, I am just a dude who has written a few thousand pages on prison issues. By no means am I perfect, but I can say with complete honesty that I have seen miracles happen, to myself and for others. So I can say that I do understand a little bit about faith.

If you have to communicate to an inmate about a serious illness of a loved one (or even yourself), you have to find a positive way to give him or her that news. Let’s say you have a loved one in prison who’s mother fell seriously ill. How do you communicate that with him or her?

Example #1: “I have some really bad news for you. Your mom is in the hospital and it really looks bad. Everybody here is worried about her and the doctors are not saying much. I feel really bad telling you this but I felt you had to know…just in case…”

Example #2: “I have some difficult news to tell you. Your mom is in the hospital and she’s not doing really well at the moment. We called a minister and prayed over her, and we are doing everything we can to stay in faith and believe that God is going to get her through this. I need you to do the same; find some scriptures, study them and trust that God will get your mom through this.”

“Oh that’s just stupid”.

Then it won’t work for you.

“But I don’t want to give him false hope.”

Then I say again, it won’t work for you.

You see, the words you say has every bit of an impact on how an inmate is going to receive that info. Notice in both examples the mom was still in the hospital, but how you DEAL with it, and how you choose to share that info makes the difference. Lots of you think that the second example was corny…well, if so then you may have to prepare for giving that inmate the worst case scenario. Are you THAT prepared to do that? Some of you are afraid that if you try to give an inmate hope, it might fail and he will feel more miserable. Well, if you are afraid of that, then you never had faith to begin with…or not much to change your outlook.

And remember, this form of communications is not just about what falls out your mouth…it has to be real to you. I can sit here and tell you my Oakland Raiders are going to the Superbowl in the 2008-2009 season…but I don’t believe it for a second. What you say and what you believe can be two complete opposites.

So if you have to talk to a loved one in prison about an illness in the family, check your temperature to see what tone you are sending before you deliver that message. But what if it IS a death in the family?

This is very difficult to do and by no means am I gonna sit here and act like I have the answer. The situation will be different for every person, but the best way I can explain it is to remember that that person in prison has to be told. In many prisons they allow inmates to attend the funeral of a immediate family member, so the sooner you can tell them and the prison, the sooner the arrangements can be made for him or her to be able to say their formal good byes to that loved one. Remember, it is important to them to have a chance to say good bye, rather than hear it two weeks later when you get the nerve to tell them.

Some of you need to really take hold of that last statement and understand the value of an inmate having the chance to do that.

That covers some of the more negative types of communication that you may deal with. These are clearly uncomfortable but necessary to deal with. But even so, you have to check your temperature to see if you are dealing with this in the best way possible. Even negative situations can be encouraging if done right.

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Entry filed under: girlfriends with boyfriends in prison, God and prison, inmates, jail, LostVault, mothers with sons in prison, prison, prison abuse, prison blogs, prison books, prison cards, prison food, prison jobs, prison mail, prison pen pals, prison support sites, Prison Talk Online, Prisonbid, rehabilitation, son in prison.

#100 Prison call to arms…yours (retro) #102 Prison communications pt 7 (retro)

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