I visited Vince again, for his birthday. This time a friend went with me and we made a day trip out of it. Stefanie brought a couple big bags full of toys and books that her granddaughters had outgrown, and handed them out to the kids in the prison waiting room, which I thought was touching and brilliant. The kids couldn’t bring toys into the visiting area, but they could play with them until they had to walk through the metal detector and the sea of bars.
Vince and I had a good visit, again, then Stefanie and I drove around, got turned around and lost a couple times, and discovered a nature preserve where we went for a long walk. It was a beautiful warmish day. I had brought a couple beers in the trunk and we hung out in a field and each drank one, and I smoked a cigar.
Below is a screen shot from the Minnesota Department of Corrections from their manual for families of incarcerated people. I just happened to find it about six months after Vince was locked up. I am listed as his next of kin / emergency contact or whatever in the DOC system. How hard would it have been for someone to send me a form email with a link to this?
Some of the information would have been really useful, like knowing there’s an email system where I can send messages to Vince for 10 cents. Other tips, not so helpful, like the one about buying a cell phone with the prison area code so calls are cheaper. A friend of mine, whose son was also imprisoned, did this and then they transferred him without notice to another state and she was stuck with a second cell phone and call time she would never use.
I’m a highly resourceful person with unlimited internet and phone access. I have time to figure things out. But what about the mom who is now raising three kids by herself and working full time? No more second income or child support once the man is inside. Maybe no health insurance, car, etc. Certainly no help from a partner, if the guy was any kind of decent partner before he was arrested. I read the whole manual, finding some encouragement in the fact that the DOC seems to get how significant imprisonment is to a family.
It’s not just about locking up a bad guy, as they are so fond of saying in the media. It’s about all the people affected by it. If you’re interested, here is the Tip Sheet for Parents, the Tip Sheet for Incarcerated Parents, and believe it or not, the Sesame Street Handbook for Children Ages 3-8.
It would be funny if it didn’t involve real children. As a child who was lied to about the whereabouts and cause of my dad’s death, I appreciated the tip that encourages parents to talk openly about how the other parent is in prison, and to take the children to visit. This is because children will fill in any blanks with their imaginations, and what they imagine will be worse than the reality. I wouldn’t go that far—the reality is pretty awful and our society wants it that way because it’s punishment—but I am a big believer in being honest with children.
Now the section on Dating an Offender, that’s hilarious. Unintentionally so, but still. I know, I know; if I was dating an offender it wouldn’t be funny.
Dating an Offender
“If you are dating someone in prison, it may be difficult to really get to know the inmate. You may be the offender’s only connection to the outside world. The offender may lean on you more so than if you were dating on the outside. Therefore, your letters, visits, and telephone communications become very important to the offender. The offender may also depend heavily on you to send gifts, money or to do things you don’t really want or can’t afford to do. Try not to let the offender put pressure on you. Don’t focus only on the needs of the offender and don’t feel pressured into taking care of only his or her needs. Be sure to find time for yourself and keep a proper focus on your own needs and feelings. When you communicate with each other, try to talk about your past and your goals and hopes for the future. A more balanced relationship will help you decide if you want to maintain it after the offender is released.”