Incarcerated Relationships: Family By Rodney Fenner

In this second installment of incarcerated relationships, I had to speak on family because the family dynamic is also important. The whole purpose of prison is punishment by separation from society. Though the crime warrants this punishment most times, it’s detrimental to the person being punished. The idea is that he is being separated from society so he can in no way cause any more harm, but he is also being separated from everything he’s ever known and loved. Separated from anyone and anything that’s ever gave him hope, motivation and happiness. Everything that’s ever been remotely familiar to him is being erased from his life for whatever period of time he was given and for black men, it’s a lengthy amount of time more often than not. Large amounts of men are imprisoned at a very young age and this kind of punishment can easily threaten their identity, making them change how they see themselves, how they think and of course how they act. What I mean is, if he’s not Celeste’s son, Kendrick’s cousin, Khalina’s brother, Cameron’s uncle, Renee’s nephew Tonya’s godson, Greg’s best friend and Amora’s father, then who is he? Where does his importance lie? The subtraction of this dynamic can be very harmful and confusing mentally. This is why family is so important. After being thrust into a new life in a new place with new rules and all unfamiliar people, the family provide the connection to life as he knows it. They help comfort him and however thin it may be, they give a sense of normality in a place where nothing seems normal. This element is key to him keeping his identity intact. It’s also key to helping keep him mentally stable if he isn’t strong enough to do so on his own. For those who don’t know, prison can be extremely taxing phrenically for those inside…and for those who choose to deal with those inside. A strongly bonded family can be the remedy for this on both sides. It will ease his mind and heart to know you are there for him and it will ease your mind and heart to know he’s okay.
No family is perfect and prison can do one of two things to those imperfections. It can make you realize how insignificant your differences and problems are in the face of years of imprisonment and make you come together. On the other hand, it can amplify those problems and differences and offer the physical distance as an excuse to create more mental and emotional distance. More simply put, out of sight, out of mind. To the incarcerated, this may feel like exile from your own family even though I’m sure this isn’t the intent (in most cases anyway). This is where I had to learn that there is a difference between being family and being relatives. Of course there are multiple definitions for both words, however these are the ones that really stood out to me: Relative- a person connected with another by blood or affinity. Family- a group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation; a group of things related by common characteristics. This made me realize that you can be relatives and at the same time, not family. You can be family and not relatives. In turn, this means I can’t choose who I’m related to, however I can create my own family. My point is that for the prisoner who isn’t aware of this and who depends on his known “family” who become aloof or outright uncaring, it can cause depression, despair, anger, indifference to surroundings and/or consequences to actions, a lowered sense of self worth and an array of other self destructive things. This is why he needs his family to walk as closely with him as possible. The genuine presence of family dispells such things.
To those who have family members behind this wall, I implore you to reach out to them. Your support will help on more levels than you’re aware. Most times, all a person wants is to know that somebody cares and that they have worth to someone other than themselves. They need to know they are truly and sincerely loved. Every individual relative is important. The mother provides the nurture and love only she can give. Brothers and sisters give the comfort and lightheartedness of sibling comradery. Fathers give the strong hand of tough love and reality. Every person can contribute elements unique to their respective positions and all contributions are always welcome and needed. The same way people need someone to share their happiness with, they need somebody to unburden their sadness to. Someone to help, strengthen and encourage them. Catharsis is the first step to healing and a family member who loves and cares is so very instrumental. Be that family member and invite others to do the same. The more the merrier. There is no such thing as too much support. I have to reiterate what I said in the previous installment because it applies here too. These are the men who will return to society someday and the support of family or lack thereof will help determine how they return. Love him enough to be a relative AND a family member.

Rodney Fenner
DOC #1436377

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