Someone I love is in jail

It’s never easy to see a loved one go to jail. It can bring up lots of conflicting feelings. It can make your life harder. Fortunately, there are ways to keep yourself mentally healthy while your loved one is away.

Allow yourself to feel

You may be focused on your loved one and what you can do to help them get through this. But it’s important to recognize your own feelings too. You’re probably going to experience some degree of anger about:

  • how your loved one’s actions have affected you by upsetting your day-to-day life;
  • how they didn’t listen to advice from you or others, and how they might not have ended up in this situation if they had;
  • how their incarceration will affect their future with you, or the family in general; and/or
  • the nature of their crime, especially if it victimized someone.

It’s also common to feel a sense of loss or general sadness. You might feel sympathy for your loved one—after all, you still care about them. Being in jail sucks. If they’re facing a long sentence, you might be grieving the loss of the relationship you once had, and thinking about how you’ll never get those days back.

Take care of yourself

In addition to just acknowledging your feelings, be sure to take care of yourself. Self-care is often the first thing to go out the window when you’re worried about someone else—but those are the times when it’s most important. Going through something stressful like this can be hard on your own mental health. And when you neglect your own mental health, it becomes even harder to provide emotional support for others.

Take time to do relaxing activities just for yourself. Spend time with loved ones who care about you. Write in a journal about your feelings, or make a list of things you’re grateful for.

Other people’s reactions

Be prepared to hear people talking about your loved one. It may be nosy neighbors or gossipy family members. Maybe you’ve seen coverage of the crime in the news. It’s not your fault your loved one is in jail—but you may still feel ashamed and isolated because of the way other people talk.

You don’t owe anyone an explanation. Before you react to gossip, think about whether it’s worth your energy. If it’s someone close to you, it might make sense to tell them how you feel and ask them to stop. But if it’s a stranger and you don’t have much control over the situation, it might be better to try and brush it off. Picking your battles is good self-care!

On the other hand, there may be people who are aware of the situation and want to know how they can help. Don’t be afraid to take them up on the offer. Some people may have practical advice, like how to find a good lawyer or how to make sure everything gets done around the house with one less pair of hands. Even if someone doesn’t really know what they can do to help, just having someone to talk to can make a big difference.

Remember: your loved-one is only human.

Everybody makes mistakes—some bigger than others. Making mistakes is part of being human. Try to remember that your loved one is still a human being, no matter how badly they’ve messed up and who they’ve hurt. If they are living with a mental illness, remember that this can affect their ability to make good decisions.

You don’t have to forgive your loved one right away. Remember, the first step is to allow yourself to simply feel your feelings. But if you can eventually get to a point of forgiveness, if can lift a big weight from your soul. What’s done is done and can’t be changed. You can only move forward.

They will have to serve their sentence. But you can help them through the process through phone calls and visits—when you’re ready.

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