Has a family member been sent to prison?

This can be a hugely upsetting and shocking event for everyone in the family. Of course, the impact will be strongest on those closest to them and potentially reliant on them for support (such as their spouse and children) – but other relatives can be hugely impacted too.

Perhaps it’s your sibling who’s been arrested or your own adult child. Or maybe it’s your cousin, aunt or uncle, niece or nephew, or even a friend who has been incarcerated. Whatever the situation, you’re keen to stay in touch.

Here’s what you can do.

Find Out Where Your Family Member is Imprisoned by State (e.g. in Louisiana)

Depending on the circumstances, you may not even be certain how to contact your imprisoned relative. Perhaps you don’t have contact details for anyone who can even tell you what prison they’ve ended up in.

The good news is that it’s easy to search for prisoners by state. So if you know that your relative is imprisoned somewhere in, say, Louisiana, you can track them down. There are lots of online databases where you can search for any prisoner in Louisiana or in any other state of your choice.

Check the Rules About What You Can Mail to Your Imprisoned Family Member

Understandably, prisons have strict rules about what can be sent to inmates. Obviously, anything that could be used as a weapon is going to be forbidden.

When you write, it’s a good idea to keep your letters or cards as simple and unadorned as possible. Don’t include staples or paperclips, and avoid glitter, perfume, or cologne.

If you’re sending photos, check that they’re the right size to be received (some institutions will allow 8” x 10” photos, others will only allow 4” x 6” photos). Also, while it might seem obvious, don’t send photos that are explicit in nature: they’ll be disposed of by the prison administrators, who check all mail.

Send Money if You’re in a Financial Position to Do So

If you can afford to send money to your relative, then they’ll hugely appreciate it. While basics like meals and bedding are provided in prison, having the money to buy extras from the commissary (a prison store) will make life a lot more comfortable. They’ll often be able to buy toiletries, snacks, clothing and footwear, and even electronics and hobby materials. The items available will depend on the prison’s rules.

Don’t try to send cash directly to your relative. Instead, you need to deposit money into their prison account. You should be able to get details on how to do this from the prison.

Be Prepared to Pay for Phone Calls From Your Relative

Phone calls can be a real lifeline for people in prison, allowing them to talk with someone in the outside world. Normally, they’ll need to call you, and you can help by paying the call charges, as phone calls from prison can be surprisingly expensive. There are also some services you can use to help you pay a lower rate, so it’s worth looking into these if you’re paying a high fee for phone calls.

You may want to set up a schedule of times for phone calls, as it’s very tough on your relative if they call and you’re not available. Once you have a clear sense of their schedule and when they’re likely to be able to call you, then you can make sure you’re available at the right times.

Staying in touch with family members in prison can mean a huge amount to them. While you might feel a little awkward or unsure what to say in letters or phone calls, do make the effort: it could make a world of difference.