#132 Six stages of prison mentality

April 8, 2010 at 6:13 pm Leave a comment

The Six Stages of Prison Mentality

I’m feeling pretty good tonight, I found a lot of my works and now I am back on track to printing and creating more prison works for my clients…

Funny, makes me sound like a lawyer…which I am not.

I have a number of people ready to support my writings and purchase my books, cards and the like. Its pretty exciting because I feel empowered to do more, and I feel almost limitless at the things I can write for those with loved ones in prison.

So tonight, I thought about something we can discuss. Prison Mentality.

There are many ways to look at this, and by no means do I claim myself as the “all knowing ex felon”. But today I want to walk you through some stages of prison mentality…from the outside.

The idea of this blog is to try to get you to think about where YOU are mentally, not where your loved one is. I get so many emails from people who are worried about their loved ones, and don’t know what to do. We can talk about a lot of different things, but tonight I want to talk to you about YOUR mentality.

How do you feel…mentally?

We can discuss this in progressive stages of prison mentality, remembering that we are not talking about the inmate…we are talking about YOU. There are, in my foolish opinion, six stages that most people fall into. I want to identify them, and talk about how you can deal with those stages.

Those six stages are, from worst to best, Panic, Fear, Worry, Neutrality, Hope and Optimism. Lets start with the worst one…Panic.

I think more people fall in this group when a loved one goes to prison…and sadly a lot of people remain there. A lot of you might think that panic and fear are the same…it is not.

Panic is a more heightened sense of fear, and an extremely stressful and depressing emotion. The panic mentality is the one where a mom has a son sent to prison, and they come on prison support sites with “please help me, my son just went to prison and I don’t know what to do”.

“But that is natural, isn’t it?”

Well, yeah it is a natural reaction, but it does not necessarily mean it is a natural mentality to have.

This is perhaps the worst case scenario when it comes to the prison mentality. There is not just fear, but a GREAT fear for a loved one in prison, one that causes tremendous heartache and stress and sadness to you.

I can tell when a person is in this mentality when they talk about how much they have been crying. Some talk about how terrible they have felt, and how much this situation has control of their lives.

The panic mentality takes control of the person, and great fear and stress rule their lives, day in and day out. The panic mentality makes it hard for a person to get through the day because of the immense pressure for someone they care about. You lose control of your daily life when you are so concerned about a loved one that it grips you like a vice.

When a person talks ONLY about the problems, and has a high level of anxiety in what they say… they are in panic mode. So, how do you change that, how do you get them to move to another level?

Because panic is an extreme, the key here is to break the extremities. We’re not trying to go from 60 miles an hour to zero in one second flat, it takes time. But when people email me with that great sense of panic, my first step is to try to talk them down a bit. It often seems to help when I share my blogs, because part of the great panic is based on what you don’t know about prison.

Just the idea of knowing SOMETHING is better than knowing nothing. Panic mentality is based on the idea that the person is absolutely powerless to the situation; that there is nothing they can do…nothing at all. But if we can slowly break some of the ice, and give them some idea of prison issues, it just might bring them down to the next level:


Remember, the difference between panic and fear is the extremity. Kinda like having a hot cup of coffee, and a SCALDING cup of coffee. Both are hot, but there is such a thing as an extremity.

The fear mentality is also very common because for most people, there is a fear of not knowing what their loved one is feeling or doing. Every question about prison has been asked about 1000 times each, because even in today’s information age, it is still hard to get answers about prison. Now, some might say, “what’s the difference between fear and worry”?

Both seem about the same, but there is a difference, noticed by what a person says when they are on prison support sites, or when they email me. Notice however that a panicked mode CAN include both fear and worry, but at a higher level.

Yet the biggest difference between the fear mentality and worry mentality is something that fear does to you…it causes you to react in a negative fashion, whereas worry causes you to remain paralyzed in the situation.

Pick your poison; better to stand still, or to fall back?

The fear mentality, in my opinion, is worse because in order to be a help, you have to move TOWARDS the solution, but often times people with loved ones in prison move away from any solution. Again, the difference here folks is that the fear mentality causes you to react in a negative, or polarizing way, whereas worry keeps you standing still.

In a way, the fear mentality causes many people to run away from the problem, or to do the least amount of effort to understand it. How many parents, wives and girlfriends don’t even bother to ask questions on prison support sites, because they are too afraid to ask? I bet for every one person that talks about prison issues, there are 200 that could, but don’t.

The fear mentality is also based on the expectation that something bad may happen, and with a loved one in prison, this is all to easy to imagine. You might fear that your loved one will get beaten up, or raped, or worse. For that reason, a lot of people are actually afraid to read posts on prison support, because they don’t want to run across a post where a mother is talking about how her son got beaten into a coma while in his cell.

Many of you just don’t want to see that, because it establishes your fear. But by doing this, you are polarizing yourself from solutions, leaving the fear to remain in you. Remember, fear is the exact opposite if faith (I blogged this on one of my past blogs, if you read that post). Faith is the expectation of something good, fear is the expectation of something bad. Even if it is undesirable, your fear in it is actually, in a twisted way, the expectation of something bad.

Thus the phrase, “fear the worst”. It is just as easily said as “expect the worst”.

So how do you conquer that? Knowing what prison is about, and building faith will be your key to getting out of the fear mentality. Too many people sit and fret about what might happen, and all the “what ifs”. Fear mentality is a lesser form of the panic mentality, but NEITHER are good. To get through this, you simply have to progress to a more constructive frame of mind. Once you are able to conquer your fears, and get to a place where you are not running away from the problem, but trying, even in small amounts, to fight it, then we progress to:

Worry Mentality.

As I said before, it can easily be seen that “worry” and “fear” are the same, but we are now talking about a lesser mentality, and a lesser extremity. There are different shades of the prison mentality that we need to get you to, so that you can get a hold on how to fight this, and even how to overcome.

As I said before, fear can cause you to react in a polarizing way, opposite of going to the solution, and worry causes you to remain paralyzed in the situation. Lots of people fall in this category, especially when it comes to helping a loved one in prison. You might fear that your loved one might get beat up in prison, but you also worry that he might not get along with people in prison. If the concern is for a greater problem, it isn’t worry…it’s fear.

If the concern is for a lesser problem, it is worry. Lots of times we don’t really put the right text to what we feel, and because of this, the words we use are often distorted. Panic is the worst case scenario, then fear, THEN worry. Of the three, worry is the least.

In that context, we are talking about the prison mentality of lesser things. Not to say that these are worthless, but they are concerns. You might worry that your son isn’t eating, or why he didn’t call today, or how he is sleeping, or even what he might do when he is released.

These are concerns, and valid ones. You worry about that, but it does not take over your life. For example, you might be worried if he didn’t call today. If he does not call for a week, then you might slip into a fearful mentality, wondering why he has not called. If you don’t hear from him for a few weeks, then it can easily slip into a panic mode, because you have no idea what is going on.

Its based on the extremities.

Every person with a loved one in prison should worry, that is natural because you have a loved one that you are worried about, and you want to know that he or she is doing ok. But sometimes worry prevents you from moving forward, because its almost like spinning in circles. Until you get an answer to your worry, it remains…and can actually worsen to a lesser mentality.

Just like the example of the loved one that didn’t call. If you expected him to call today, and he didn’t, you’d be worried. But you’d still be expecting a call soon. Some people lack patience, and are quick to fly off into fear and panic mode in record time, which is a problem with worry. Worry is often the fast track to fear and panic, which is why you can’t stay in this mentality.

I say again…you can’t stay in this mentality.

So how can you progress, I mean after all, we all worry about something, so am I saying to abandon the need to worry? No, that’s not what I meant. The idea is to not let worry have dominance in your life. Even on a good day you might be concerned about something, but if you spend time dwelling on it, it will begin to consume you. It is very hard to live carefree when a loved one is in prison, but it isn’t impossible to get day to day simply believing that things will work out someway. But once you get into the expectation that your loved one will be home, its just a matter of waiting for him, then we move to the next mentality:

Neutral Mentality.

This one is tricky, because it isn’t based so much on worry, but lack of planning and preparation. A LOT of people fall in this because they are so consumed about their loved ones that most times they don’t make plans AFTER he gets out. You can tell this by a very common sentence many folks use:

“I just want my loved one to come home”.

This sounds optimistic, but in reality, it isn’t. I am not saying this is bad, because this is far better than being in panic mode, but a lot of people miss what this implies. If all you want is for your loved one to come home, what prevents him from going back? Here is a truth if ever there is one folks…prison time alone does NOT change individuals. There has to be a determination in the inmate and support from his loved ones on the outside to make a successful transition.

But the neutral mentality does not acknowledge that, all it says is that they want their son, boyfriend or husband to come home. We think that if we just hold on, and he gets released, then everything will be fine.

Not true, at least not without a plan.

Too many guys are being released with no true home plan. Folks, its not enough just to have him come home. He needs a job, or a career. He needs support, love, hope and venues to get back into society. You KNOW he will have a harder time with a record, right? This is not completely lost to you, is it?

Heck, I have been blogging for years about the difficulties of ex felons trying to get their lives back on track, most of the time it was because of poor planning, but even with decent planning, it can be difficult. So what are you expecting to happen AFTER your loved one comes home?

“I don’t know, I just know I’ll be happy when he comes home”.

Understood….but here is my challenge to you…is that enough?

The neutral mentality has an empty future for the loved one in prison, because all it looks at is getting back to “normal” when he comes home. The irony is that this isn’t normal. If a guy does 5 years and goes home, do you really think things will get back to normal so easily? Not without a plan it won’t.

So we have to progress even further, we have to get you out of that neutral mentality and to a more constructive one. To do that, we simply add:


The hope mentality changes a negative, or neutral situation to a more positive one. Now, in this mentality you are investing something into that loved one’s life, something intangible, but available to anybody who wants it. True rehabilitation begins where there is hope.

Notice folks that worry and hope are NOT the same, but have some form of similarity. You WORRY about something bad…you HOPE in something good. Hope is the expectation of something good. Now I know we twist words, and instead of saying, “I am worried that he might get into a fight” we might say, “I hope he doesn’t get into a fight”. But let’s not argue about schematics here.

Hope is based on some form of expectation, and gives you a sense of direction and positive influence. Notice that this is far from panic, fear or worry. And it is also better than neutral because hope leads you in a better direction. When you are in this kind of mentality, you won’t lose as much sleep. I don’t recall losing sleep when I am hopeful in something, but I have lost a LOT of sleep when I am fearful, worried and in a panic. It is very hard to get rest under those mentalities.

Many of you hope for something good for your loved one. You hope he is doing well, you hope he can better himself while in prison, you hope to have a good plan for him so he can get a job when he gets out of prison. These are all good things to hope for, and it gives you a venue to stay strong, because you now have credible and valid reasons to stay positive. Now this is not to say that we are painting rainbows and pretty flowers for his future, we know there will be obstacles, but having a hopeful mentality puts you in control, rather than the problem controlling you.

Yet there are still issues with this. Hope alone isn’t enough to overcome a difficult situation, right? I mean, I can hope to win 70 million dollars on the next lotto drawing, but since I never bought a ticket, what is my hope based on?

Lots of you hope that your loved ones will return to you and get a good job, what is that based on? Some of you hope that somehow, your loved one will get out earlier than expected…what is that based on? Some of you are looking at going to prison, but hope that something will work out…what is that based on?

For every hope, there is an expectation…but ask yourself, what is this based on? If it is based simply on what you want to happen, this can be misleading. Let me get personal for a sec:

Right now, I can HOPE that somebody supports my blogs with a $1000 check…but what is that based on? I can say, “I could use the money do a lot of things”, but that isn’t quite enough, is it? I do receive support from time to time, and as I blog it seems to grow, but what am I basing my hope on? Just that somebody will do it, or just because I want it?

That’s not enough. There is no foundation that gives me the right to expect that to happen… even though it CAN. But my hope is based on not knowing who out there is reading my blogs. Now, if I kept blogging and Oprah emailed me and said she loves my blogs, and wants to support it, THEN I would have some foundation. Or if Bill Gates read my blogs and said he loves it and wants to support it, then I can have some foundation that my hope can be established. It still does not mean I will get it, but I have a stronger foundation that it can happen.

If you are hopeful in something, there has to be a foundation for that hope, something to support your belief. What are you believing for, and what evidence do you have that it can happen. If you have a loved one in prison doing 20 years, and you have a lawyer that says he should not have gotten that much, then there is a hope that maybe he can get out sooner.

If your loved one has a 20-26 month sentence, you can have hope that he can get out in 20 months instead of 26, because the incarceration period allows him to get out sooner if he can cut that max down to the minimum.

Hope mentality is based on these things…which builds faith in what you are hoping for. As the scripture says, “faith is the substance of things HOPED for, the evidence of things not yet seen”.

So this means that hope is not always based on what man can see or touch…sometimes hope is based on the idea that if nothing else, God can help you.

Take it from a guy that has been there…that is true. And it isn’t based on what anybody thinks about you or your loved one, it is based on your faith in the situation. When you have that, then you are in the best possible mentality:

Optimistic mentality.

When you are in a position to believe, to be encouraged, and to move forward, you are in the best position to help your loved one. These are the people that write encouraging letter, are upbeat when they communicate with their loved ones, and make positive posts on sites to help others. Mind you, this does not mean they are always happy…remember, they have a loved one in prison too. But they are fully convinced that this problem will pass, and they will either endure it, or overcome it.

This optimism is based on forward thinking, faith in a better solution and the ability to make positive actions. They will not sit idle and wonder about things. They don’t cry all night long about a situation they could have asked somebody about. They don’t sit frozen, worried that “if I do this, then the prison will get my son”, or things like that. These are people that understand that they have a loved one in prison, but that person is still someone they love, and they are going to stand firm and support their loved one as best they can, while being spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically strong.

This does not necessarily make them a super person, because there may well be days they fold and cry, but those days are not many. If you slip, you pause, and get back on your feet and move on. There is a determination that there are solutions, and you are not going to rest until you find them, or see a positive end to this situation.

Granted, most people with loved ones in prison are not here, but they need to be. That is kinda why I blog the way I do, to try to get people to turn from the panic mode, and try to focus on being positive. It is not easy, to be sure, but you simply have to fight from being a captive of negative mentality. The idea is to get you to see that there is hope, and with hope there can be positive changes that can indeed help you and your loved one in prison.

So think about that folks. We could have spent a LOT more time on this, but some of you were falling asleep on me. Anyway, I got to start getting my books, cards ad the like ready, so I have some printing to do. Until then…..


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.

#131 Yah! Found them! #133 Prison Con Men

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