When you have a family member in the prison system, it can be difficult to show up for someone who has been incarcerated. Everyone’s situation is different, and if you don’t have access to a car or have a stable income, some methods may be out of reach. However, the following list includes some simple but powerful ways you can show support to the people in your life.
Finding Your Imprisoned Family Member’s Contact Details
Before you’re able to write a letter or receive a collect call from an inmate, you first need to know their contact details. Every inmate will have an ID number that’s associated with them, but most prisons require a set list of information on a letter, or it will be rejected.
Example: West Virginia
West Virginia prisons require the inmates’ name, ID number, facility name, and the prison’s full address on all mail. To send money or books, you’ll need the same information. To receive phone calls and not pay a collect fee, a family member has to deposit funds into their account. Tracking down every penitentiary seems like a big task, but you won’t need to do this as long as you use an inmate tracker. Follow the link provided to search the West Virginia database.
How to Aid Family Members in Prison
1. Send Money
Your family member won’t be able to access their bank information in prison, so they’ll have to rely on you for funds. Whether you want to send them money from your own account or the inmates, doing so will give them access to paper, envelopes, stamps, phone cards, groceries, toothpaste, and brushes. All prisons have a maximum funds limit. Research what the limit is, so you don’t go over it and unintentionally deposit too much.
2. Give Them Your Phone Number and Answer Calls
To receive incoming calls from someone in the prison system, the inmate must add you to their contact list. If they don’t do this or forget your number, they won’t be able to contact you this way. Send your family member a letter with your phone number inside and answer their calls when you can. It’s impossible for you to call an inmate yourself. Inmates must make an outgoing call, so set a time frame where they can speak with you.
3. Write Letters and Send Gifts
Calling an inmate frequently can be expensive if you accept the collected funds yourself, but sending a letter only requires a stamp and some stationary. All prisons have rules on what can be placed on or in the letter. For example, written letters can only have a set amount of photos inside and can’t be printed on a Polaroid instant camera. Gifts need to be sent from a third-party source, like Amazon, to be accepted by the prison.
4. Visit Your Family Members in Prison
Everyone needs intimate human interaction from the people they love. While it’s likely your family members will make friends in prison; some inmates are forced to live in solitary confinement without a bunkmate. For these inmates receiving visitation is a necessity. While it can be scary at first to enter a prison, understand that security guards will be there to monitor you and keep you safe. Your family members will need your support despite your fears.
5. Take Care of Other Family Members Outside of Prison
More than 2.7 million children in the United States have a parent in jail or prison, and it’s likely your family member has someone they miss or look after in the outside world. During this time, it’s essential to be an anchor of support for children in this situation and explain what is happening to them and their family members. You may want to look into programs that can help reduce the financial burdens or social instability that is affecting your niece, nephew, or cousin.