How to love a prisoner. Part 2

communication

Lockdown conditions for our prisoners are barbaric and inhumane. Two weeks isolation banged up 23 hours a day would have made sense and we would have been overflowing with gratitude for HMPPS for protecting our loved ones. Even a few weeks to allow new infection control procedures to be fully embedded. Ok, we wouldn’t have been thrilled, but when you understand the reasons behind the decision, it’s so much easier to accept it. But this indeterminate lockdown is completely unacceptable. We know it and they know it.

Many prisons are just coming out of lockdown and at the same time other prisons have gone back into lockdown. To use the buzzwords of 2020 the levels of anxiety, worry, concern, fear and stress of people in prison and their loved ones are unprecedented and growing exponentially.

I’ll stop there and keep my thoughts to myself. I’m not going to tell you what you already know. How would that be helpful? Not at all, but I hope you find this blog helpful in dealing with the never-ending lockdown meltdowns.

Hello Jailzilla

If you’ve watched Bridezilla, you’ll know exactly what I mean. The ‘big day’ in this case is the visit and YOU are Jailzilla! Emotions often run highest around the time of visits – at these times, the feeling that your loved one should be home with you can be at its strongest. As you get closer to the ‘big day’ the emotions become stronger and more powerful.

Will there be visits? Will they sort out video calls so you don’t keep getting cut off? Will you still have to decide which of your children can see and talk to Daddy? What about his mental health? What about your mental health? How will he cope? How will you cope?

It’s not just you. You are both feeling the same emotions at the same intensity. You are both spending every minute of every day thinking about the next visit and it makes no difference if it happens three times a day, a week or a month, the emotions have to come out and they will.

A big warm welcome to Jailzilla. Isn’t she lovely? An absolute pleasure to be in her company. I do hope she calls me too.

Yayyy! Bridesmaids

Before you know it, you’re welcoming the arrival of the bridesmaids – Nelly Nerves, Fiona Fear, Annie Anger, Connie Confused and Dolly Doubt. They will accompany you every waking moment, they especially like to show up when you’re trying to sleep. Excellent. 

So, what are you going to do with all these competing emotions that you are trying so hard to overcome? You take it out on each other! You’ve been waiting for him to call, so you can tell him how you’re feeling and by the time he calls, you’re so wound up, that all those emotions fighting for your attention come out in the form of anger and that’s when it kicks off. You’ll no doubt have some conversations where all of your sentences start with “You are a ducking … “ or “You ducking ….“ 

You’ve gotta have faith

Lockdown is yet another test of your love for each other and probably the hardest test you’ll ever face. Instead of thinking that prison is pulling you apart, be confident that your love will grow stronger from this nightmare.

You have to remain confident and believe in yourself, and your relationship. There will always be times when you lose that confidence and you may start to have doubts.

Look at the big picture. It’s easy to let the lockdown suck the pleasure out of your phone calls and even make you question your commitment to the relationship. Keep the faith and remind yourself what first attracted you to him, think of the fun stuff that you’ve done together, your long-term goals and plans for your future, the ways you and your partner have grown closer, and ways you can continue to grow closer.

Dig out all the letters, cards, emails, and newspaper clippings that he has sent to you. You will more easily overcome those doubts when you are reminded of the love you have for each other.

He is worth it and you can do this!

Communication is the key

Let’s face it, your entire relationship is dependent on communication – good or bad. When you’re on the phone, you can’t read his body language, see the expression on his face or watch him slamming doors and having a full-blown tantrum, nor can he see you flipping the bird at the phone, making faces and pretending to yawn!

Sending emails and letters also presents similar challenges, not only that, but you have to wait anything from two days to two weeks for him to receive anything.

Learning how to talk about difficult topics takes time and effort, but it’s essential to stop small problems growing into bigger ones. There are times when you need him to support you and listen to you. Ok, a broken washing machine is trivial when compared to being banged up for 23 hours a day, but you still need to share the small stuff that is affecting your day to day life. Don’t bottle everything up, we all know that eventually there will be a huge explosion of emotions and it will end in tears. Don’t beat yourself up with guilt because he’s having it so much worse than you. Your life can be just as tough and difficult as his, just in different ways. We all know that your sentence also starts the minute the Judge passes a custodial sentence on your loved one. Give yourself a break. You’re allowed to hurt too.

Listen without prejudice

Be willing to listen at all times even when you both may be having a bad day.

Just listen to him rant on the phone while you rest your eyes on the legend that is George Michael! You’re welcome.

Sometimes you just have to listen without prejudice or judgement, just letting him waffle on is probably the most valuable support you can give him. I know it’s not easy when every part of you wants to scream “But they can’t do that.” You’re right, they can’t do that, but they are doing that and there’s nothing you can do about it. This is one of those times when it’s best to keep your mouth shut and your thoughts to yourself.

I think it’s called ‘Active Listening‘, or as I call it ‘not really paying attention but want to appear as if I’m listening and interested in what you’re saying.‘ It works for me!

Ask him to give you his marks out of ten for the day. If 10 is like being told he can go home and he tells you his day is 3/10, it’s easier to interpret then “‘s alright” or “yeah, not bad, babe.”

Don’t assume the worst

So, you’re both having a bad day and you finish the phone call, throw your phone down and hate him. Three choruses of “I don’t know why I even bother” before you remember that you can’t call him back to hear him apologise. Yay! Look who’s come to join you – Georgie Guilt and Ruby Regret. If it makes you feel better, he’ll be feeling the same. Although, he should feel more guilt, because the chances are, he started it! There are few things worse than waiting for his call.

When he doesn’t call, you become increasingly anxious and your imagination starts running wild. And that’s when you start to find reasons for him not calling. All hail the arrival of the ‘What ifs?’ Probably the most natural question, but is often the most damaging. The longer you wait, the more your imagination will run wild.

What If …

  • He’s ignoring me?
  • He’s angry with me?
  • He doesn’t love me?
  • He’s fallen off the top bunk?
  • He’s got Covid?
  • He’s been ghosted or shipped out?
  • He’s escaped by helicopter?

Thinking about the most likely reasons he hasn’t called will help you calm down, think objectively and focus on what has probably happened and not what might have happened. Don’t go directly to worse case scenario. Consider the following:

  • No unlock.
  • No credit.
  • Credit not put on phone.
  • Queue too long for phone.
  • Had shower/exercise instead.
  • Being interviewed by Ross Kemp.

Much more likely to happen!

If you genuinely concerned about the welfare of your loved one, do not hesitate to get in touch with the Safer Custody Team.

You will find the contact details for each prison here:

https://www.gov.uk/browse/justice/prisons-probation

Ahem. Sexual desire is undoubtedly one of the most important things between couples. It is like a glue that keeps both parties from drifting apart. Not only is sex a biological need, it is an emotional one as well. Something you may like to talk about on the phone.

I’m afraid I have absolutely no advice on conversations of this nature. I only know “Brace yourself, Keef” or “Are you awake”?

Love letters

Yes, I do actually mean handwritten letters. Put pen to paper. Emails are a game changer and often the quickest way to get your thoughts to your loved one. But a printed copy of an email can never beat a handwritten letter. Remember how good you feel when you receive a handwritten letter from your man. It somehow makes it more personal. Even more so for your man, especially when your letter is drowned in your favourite perfume. Carry on with e-mails and phone calls, but send him a letter every now and then. In my next blog about self-care, I’ll share a few of my ideas about creative writing and I don’t just mean poetry.

There are obviously restrictions and there are many items that you cannot send in to your loved one. However there are still items that you can send him. If you are fortunate to have ‘heavily discounted‘ printing and photocopying facilities at work, you can just fill an envelope to its’ maximum weight every day. You could even photocopy a couple of rolls of Laura Ashley wallpaper to compliment the colour scheme in his pad.

Send him a blank shopping list so he can work out how to feed your family on £18.27 a week.

I know I say it every time – not all prisons are the same. You absolutely must check with the individual prison to find out what they will accept by post.

Photos

If a picture paints a thousand words, photos can provoke a thousand emotions.

Sending photos to loved ones has become more affordable and is a fantastic form of communication. Send photos of your family, friends and neighbours. A photo of all the work you’ve done in the house, the cake you baked and with the ability to send 500 prints in one go, you can keep a photo diary of your life on the out. Perhaps fill a photo book with 25 photos of your day. You don’t have to wait for a special day, just take selfies and interesting photos from when you wake up and go to sleep.

Of course, you will want to send him photos of you looking your best and remind him what he’s coming home to.

He will be absolutely thrilled to receive any photos of you and you may like to send him photos of a more intimate nature. David’s lucky if he sees me without my nightie on, so I can’t really help you on this one. What I will say is that a few strategically placed emojis will preserve your modesty.

Build a stronger bond

Lockdown, whether we like it or not, has created the perfect opportunity for you to understand each other on a deeper, more intimate level and learn even more about deep-seated beliefs, desires, and plans for the future.

You can have conversations that you never would’ve had in ‘normal life’ about things you’d never even thought of before.

Gimme 5

You can discover even more about each other by exchanging lists of your Top Fives. Make them as ridiculous, random, intellectual, spiritual, rude, religious as you want – just pick 5 and exchange lists …

Shoes you have owned

Primary school memories

Air Fresheners

Men called John

Places I’ve eaten baked beans.

It really doesn’t matter what top 5 you pick or who decides which top 5 to pick. The idea is to learn more about each other and challenge you both to think about something other than lockdown. It’s a really healthy distraction technique for you both AND you get to ask him loads and loads of questions. Winning!

Bucket list

If you’re exchanging your Top 5 lists, why not include your Top 5 ‘When you get home I want to … ‘

You could both write a new top 5 every week, with the most seemingly insignificant things that you’re looking forward to. Not just waking up together or dealing with spiders, capture all those random thoughts that you both have throughout each and every day: “I wish he was here now because …” and make your list funny, thought provoking, rude or however the mood takes you, but always be honest and positive. Try not to make it a list of DIY jobs either. That can wait ….. for now. It will give you such an insight into each other and it’s another great distraction technique that keeps you focussed on the positive and not this lockdown nightmare.

Goggle Box

I’m sure most of you will already watch the same TV programmes at the same time, but why not spice it up a bit? If you’re watching Bargain Hunt or property shows together, play ‘which one would I buy?’ or predict which one the other would buy. Guessing the colour of Lorraine’s blouse is a real bird-killer for you both! Guess the amount of times Sharon Mitchell does her pig face and flex your mental arithmetic skills!

Study Buddy

If there is only one positive to come out of this lockdown, there have never been so many opportunities for in-cell learning. If he’s studying with the education department, don’t just encourage him, actively support him. Download research material to send to him or talk through on the phone. Can you complete a similar course for free online? Maybe you’re the one studying and he can be your study buddy. Lack of self-confidence or embarrassment may stop him from discussing his education with you or he might be determined to learn by himself, for himself. So, just keep giving him your unending support and encouragement and let him know that you are there to help, should he need it.

Book Club

Try and get hold of a copy of the book he’s reading, or is going to read, and read the book at the same time ‘together.’ Each pick a character in the book and write about the character you have chosen, why you chose them, why you like them, why you don’t like them and how you saw their role in the book. It’s all about sharing experiences to bring you even closer together, challenge you to think about something else and distract you from lockdown.

We are built to handle the ups and downs in life and the best way to handle life is one day, and one moment at a time.

This too shall pass.

Just a few tips from Keef that will not only help you both keep it together, but could also bring you closer as a couple and head off a couple of meltdowns. The key messages are:

All prisons are NOT the same – always check https://www.gov.uk/browse/justice/prisons-probation

Communication with your loved one is EVERYTHING!

Keef’s still got a crush on George Michael.

We are in very stressful and anxious times and you do need to look after yourself. It takes a huge amount of strength to keep it together during lockdown, especially if you’re also helping your man to keep it together.

My next blog is all about self-care. Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to eat kale, drink smoothies, bust out some yoga shapes and meditate for 8 hours a day. You’re all doing that already, right?

Best wishes

Keef x

2 thoughts on “How to love a prisoner. Part 2

  1. Once again funny but true, It is the doubts after the contact that hurt. When you are inside you lie about the problems you face, whilst you know your partner outside lies about much of their problems. Then you wonder what else they may be lying about. When you call and there is no answer you run through the sensible reasons, then get into the wild fears of cheating. So stressful.
    And we cannot permit there being another lock down and stop of visits and rehabilitation programmes. For the first 6 months it was unavoidable, but now unacceptable. With imagination and will, plus Government funding as they are throwing at all sectors, changes can be made to ensure the prisons open up more.
    Great piece as always!

    Like

    1. Thanks Ray. It’s an emotional nightmare for both sides. With the best of intentions, we filter what we say to protect our loved one, but at what point does that become ‘hiding stuff’? It’s so difficult to remain rational with an anxious & suspicious mind. We’re all praying our prisons don’t go back into another full warehouse mode lockdown.

      Like

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