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
Below are some ways to
help you be strong for your incarcerated family members, friends, or loved
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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