Okay, so here we are already one month into the new year and January seems like it has zipped by. Not only does it seem like time flies and does not wait on anyone, but sometimes it seems like time is moving faster.
Whether or not time seems to be moving faster because I am getting older or due to some scientific theory, I can vividly remember turning 14 years old. It doesn’t really seem like it was that long ago and I easily remember when I became a huge Michael Jackson fan (RIP King of Pop).
I knew most of Michael Jackson’s songs verbatim and sat “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” in front of the TV when MTV released the Thriller video in 1983. I had all Michael’s wall posters plastered all over my bedroom, wore the knock-off Thriller jacket (knockoff Beat It jackets ran out fast), black penny loafers and white socks, and many of his pinback buttons that I wore on my shirts and jackets, and the infamous Jheri curl with my own personal bottles of curl activator and Curl spray. In attempts to get my Curl just like Mike’s, on some days, I over-saturated my Curl with curl activator and hairspray and had curl activator and hair spray running down my forehead, neck, and behind my ears (Lol).
Some of you can’t front. If you were a young black kid, teenager, or adult back in the ’80s, then you may have been sporting a Jheri, Carefree, TCB, Super, Classy, S curl, Freedom curl, Curly Kit, or some other Curl. And, your Curl probably stained your clothes, furniture, and pillowcases too. Who remembers having that plastic hair cap with the elastic that was worn to keep your Curl moisturized? How many hair bags did you go through after they got old and gooey?
Okay, so if you didn’t have a Curl, were you wearing a press and curl with the hot irons, a processed perm, natural, waves, or bald? (Lol) The younger generation 30 years old and under may not be able to relate. However, it seems like we all saw that one man or woman who was wearing a Curl up until the mid-90s (Lol).
Fast forward to 2019 and here I am at 50 years old wondering where the heck did the time go? I can truly say that I am grateful to have lived to reach 50 years old, acquire the positive and negative experiences in my life as well as the knowledge that allows me to inspire people, improve their lives, and work on worthy causes that bring me exhilaration and are bigger than me.
Although it can be easy for us to sometimes place the emphasis on the difficult moments in our lives, we should never discount some of the joyful moments. I continue to encourage you to create as many joyful moments as you can before it’s all over (if you haven’t had many).
About a week ago, on a cold winter day just after we got hit with our first big snowfall in Rochester, New York, I was running errands and happen to see one of my panhandling buddies, Billy. Billy was kneeling on both of his knees in the cold snow in a small snow-covered field filled next to the street corner where he panhandles. For anyone who doesn’t know how bad and cold Rochester winters can be, it was extremely frigid out that day that I saw Billy.
I often hold conversations behind the wheel while waiting at red traffic lights with homeless people and panhandlers in our city. In fact, I know most of them on a first-name basis. There’s Billy, Julie (RIP), Melvin (RIP), Joey, Charles, and a few others. As a former social worker, I would give them helpful tips and suggestions for improving their lives and boosting their morale.
Some of them had previous “normal” lives and jobs and just fell on hard times. Billy shared with me that he previously owned his own home and business. Without passing judgment, it can be easy for some folks to look down on homeless people and panhandlers when some folks may be one to two paychecks away from being like Billy and other less fortunate people.
Anyways, on the day I was running errands and saw Billy, I noticed a long and cleared path of snow that started from near a building next to the field where Billy was kneeling. Billy had rolled two very large balls of snow; one slightly smaller than the other. It was then that I realized that Billy was kneeling on both knees in the frigid cold and was making a big snowman in the field a safe distance from the intersection. The sight of Billy kneeling in the cold snow to make a snowman and appearing not to have a care in the world hit me like a ton of bricks!
It was moving and touched me, emotionally. Among the positive inspiration it gave me, the sight of Billy building a large snowman in frigid temperatures and snow, represented attributes of strength, resilience, inner peace, and living in and enjoying the moment. And, for anyone who has experienced a cold Rochester winter, then you know how cold it can get. I have NEVER seen a homeless person or panhandler build a snowman in Rochester!
You would think that the less fortunate would have more important things to be concerned about than building a snowman in frigid weather. Any time you feel emotionally weak and drained, remember Billy. He’s not just a panhandler, but a man who inspired me and perhaps others who saw him build his snowman. Hopefully, it brought others some joy or happy childhood memories when they built a snowman or maybe they were inspired to see him building a snowman in the frigid weather.
Whether Billy built that snowman because he was bored, for his pleasure, and/or for the visible pleasure of others, how unique, kind, selfless, and/or awesome is that feat? Some people worry about what they are going to wear to a concert, what they are going to cook for dinner, or about something that can be easily taken for granted. Billy took the time to build a snowman when he is in a less desirable position in society where others may look down on him and mistreat him.
If you haven’t noticed, for about the last three months, my blogs are meant to help people work towards getting their minds, perspectives, and attitudes better toward life and adversity. For this blog, I want to offer some invaluable ideas on how you can be strong for your incarcerated loved ones (including incarcerated family and friends).
My main objective was to first help you to work on getting you mentally into a better place on the outside so that you would hopefully be in a better position mentally for your incarcerated family member, friend, or loved one on the inside (of jail or prison).
If you have an incarcerated loved one who is already stressed out, worried, and/or unhappy, then it may be difficult for them to see you stressed, worried, and unhappy when you visit them. That can do them and you a disservice.
I am not saying that it’s not okay to process and show your emotions to your incarcerated family, member, friend, or loved one. In fact, it can be healthy for all parties to work through their emotions together. Let them know how much you miss them on visits and when you write letters. Show your vulnerability or be laid back, reserved, or composed.
I cannot tell you that you are wrong for being emotional because your family member, friend, or loved one is away in jail or prison. However, in my opinion, one should show some emotional maturity and leave the over-the-top, dramatic, and theatrical drama and anger and any personal attacks at home rather than when you have contact with them. You may want to think about how your incarcerated loved one will feel after you leave and if they will be worried about you, any kids (in common), and/or wonder if you will be able to “hold the fort down” or (emotionally) keep it together throughout the duration of their incarceration.
It’s said that there’s a time and place for everything. So, you may want to consider crying, grieving, sulking, and letting it out over the loss of freedom of your loved one during more appropriate times and places. There will come a time when you may be able to sort things out and communicate your feelings together. Also, it can be healthy to let children know that it is okay for them to process their emotions but give them a great example on jail or prison visits by offering them a positive tone.
Below are some ways to help you be strong for your incarcerated family members, friends, or loved ones:
Check your emotions. Don’t treat the jail or prison visit like a sad funeral. Shedding a tear or two on a visit because you miss them is quite different from coming in looking like a nervous wreck who’s on the verge of nervous breakdown or showing massive anger in the visiting room because they are locked up. That most likely won’t help them gain freedom or solve any issues.
I am not saying to put on a facade and pretend that you are not emotionally hurting or affected by being away from your incarcerated loved one. Show some emotional maturity.
I imagine that it can be hard holding down the household, taking care of kids (in common), and holding down your incarcerated loved one if you’ve made that commitment. Your incarcerated loved one may be going through his/her issues as well and why not use the time to make the visit more upbeat and uplifting than depressing?
What good could you be to interact with a loved one if you are down and out and they see it and that unhappiness rubs off on them? On one hand, they may be thrilled that you showed up to visit them but can become sad or angry if you are sad or angry throughout the visit. Be a positive pillar of strength for them or be each other’s pillar of strength on visits.
Be a great listener and share (good and bad) news. At the start of a jail or prison visit, you want to consider discerning their mood. Do they have a big smile on their face when they first see you? Do they seem melancholy or sad? Are they quiet or more quiet than usual? Ask them some open-ended questions after you warmly greet them and sit down such as:
Hey, how are things going?
Are you glad to see me?
What’s been happening?
Your mood seems different, what’s up?
Is there anything I can help you with?
Share details about your outside world with your incarcerated loved one. Tell them how your week went, what you accomplished, what you are dealing with (good, bad, or indifferent), and some of the awesome goals and solutions that you will be working on to get results. Share with them any important and helpful news that you watched or got from reliable and trusted sources. Share your life progress and send graduation pics, and copies of your achievements like Certificates of Completion, college degrees, etc. (if allowed).
If you are helping your incarcerated family member, friend, or loved one do legal research, then let them know your progress and setbacks as well as get their feedback and suggestions. I have a really great time when I visit one of my cousins who is doing time. He is mentally seasoned, engaging, and knowledgeable. So, I look forward to listening to his perspectives during our visits and sharing the progress on my goals. So, don’t be afraid to share the great news and be concerned that it will make them feel bad because they are locked up. It may make their day and be the only good news they have gotten in a while.
Ask them how they have been occupying themselves whether it’s through recreation, exercise, reading, etc. Ask them to share any challenges they may be experiencing and how you can help whether it’s writing more letters, making more visits, sending a package, researching legal contacts and/or resources, etc.
Show your interest in your incarcerated loved one’s conversations, goals, dreams, and challenges. Give them the floor for a while without interruption aside from paraphrasing what they’ve said when you exchange communication because it may be the only time they get to (comfortably) communicate with someone they know and trust outside of jail or prison.
Sharing bad or sad news is hardly ever good for anyone and it can be especially difficult with sharing the bad or sad news with people you love or care about. However, you may be in a position one day where you are the one who has to do it. Before you must bear any bad news to your incarcerated loved one, have a prior conversation with them as to how and if they wish to have bad or sad news broken to them. Give them the opportunity to feel empowered to give you their feedback about it. Let them know that you will do your best to help them get through it.
Have some fun. Play cards, laugh, smile, joke, take pictures, recall funny (childhood) memories you had together or of family members and friends, and be upbeat during visits. Just don’t get too loud or rowdy or you may get kicked out (Lol). Be upbeat when you write letters to each other and make the experience fun.
Have APPROPRIATE physical contact. Your physical contact with your incarcerated loved one can be extremely important to you and them. It may be the only meaningful contact they get or that you have together. I am not saying to a romantic couple that you should engage in sloppy and drooling tongue-kissing and be all over each other like dogs in heat. Remember, that children may be watching or you may risk getting your visit ended by deputies for inappropriate behavior. I am saying that if you have a close relationship with someone and you both are comfortable with appropriately touching each other’s arms or holding hands, then go for it.
Remember to greet and depart with each other with a good and comforting hug or “dap” (for guys who may be reading and thinking it’s emasculating for men to hug each other during a prison visit). Don’t be afraid to give your incarcerated loved one a great big hug if they are open to it.
This may not be difficult for some ladies, but it takes a confident and secure man to give another man a hug without feeling or thinking too much into it or being worried about what other folks think. Grown a*s men need hugs too!
Be strong, yet vulnerable and honest. Receiving a visit and/or letter from a family member, friend, or loved one can mean the world to someone in jail or prison. Let your loved one see your strong and vulnerable side whether you write or visit. I encourage open and honest communication as well in letters and during visits.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, afraid, or uncertain, appropriately express it to them. If you are feeling like you can conquer the world, let them know. Your strength may rub off on them and showing your vulnerability may make them feel comfortable enough to allow them to open up and express themselves to you. Share if you may be feeling uncertain about things but let them know that you are willing to do your best to take the bull by the horns to fiercely work things out with any issues.
Live life responsibly while your loved one is in jail or prison. Start or continue to do all the things you did and more before they went to jail or prison. Keep working on your goals, going to work, taking care of any kids, paying bills, starting, going to, or finishing college, opening your own business, and/or showing yourself and them that you can be your best self.
If you question whether you may be able to maturely hold it together on a visit, then write a letter or two expressing how you feel and ask for feedback before you visit them. It will give you an opportunity to emotionally get things out in a different manner. Perhaps, you have other terrific ideas in mind that may work. I encourage you to give them a try. You may know your incarcerated loved one better than anyone.
If you get to the point where you feel your commitment level and feelings have changed over time and you no longer wish to “do the time” with your incarcerated loved one, then be honest and let them know as soon as possible. Be prepared to address if they ask for the reason(s) why things are changing.
Perhaps, you may need to focus on becoming stronger through counseling or therapy and feel like you have too many obligations on your plate and things seemed to have become mentally overwhelming and exhausting for you. Communicate with your incarcerated loved if you are not totally abandoning them but taking some time to work on personal issues.
If you feel that you cannot “do the time” with them anymore, be honest and let them know as soon as possible. Tell them that you will no longer be interacting with them. This may give them the chance to process the news versus not ever hearing from you again and wondering what happened to and/or between you. Bear in mind that it may potentially affect any future relationship you re-kindle with them. Remember, it is ideal when you can "do the time" with someone as long as it's not creating unhealthy issues for one or both of you. It can take a lot of strength to walk away...or stay.
This blog is meant to give you some excellent tips to help you be strong for an incarcerated loved one without losing your mind. However, remember that you will need to create ways to stay emotionally well and strong while you are away from your incarcerated loved one also. Use any support system you have whether that is a community group, solution-based therapist, family, friends, and loved ones, church, and/or whatever works for you to stay strong.
Remember my true story of Billy. If a homeless man, Billy, can take a “minute” and appear strong and resilient enough to make a snowman in the frigid cold weather appearing as though he did not have a worry in the world, then I encourage you to find ways to keep it mentally together and not lose your mind. Create, become, and remain strong and resilient and create as many positive and joyful moments as you can not only for your incarcerated loved ones, but for your family, friends, loved ones, and primarily for yourself. If you are not strong, then it may be hard to be strong for anyone else and if you and your incarcerated loved are a team, then it can make things go easier in the ways that you each can be there for each other.
After I began to draft this blog and before I finished it, coincidentally, I saw Billy again standing on the corner where he built his snowman. Below, is a picture of Billy and his snowman from the day I saw him:
Image Source: Cell Block Legendz
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