Family Member in Prison

Parent Q&A

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  • My young adult child is facing legal charges that are likely result in federal prison time. I am wondering if it would be helpful to hire a prison consultant IN ADDITION to the defense attorney he has. Does anyone have any experience doing that? I found White Collar Advice consultants who are very prolific online; their videos seem honest and helpful and they see themselves as an add-on to what lawyers provide. They say their services do not replace those of a defense lawyer but are still critical. Here is their website:

    Has anyone worked with them or someone like them, in addition to working with a defense attorney?

    A friend who is a defense atty gives the following advice: if $ is no object it can be helpful to help your son understand how to adjust to life in the facility. If $ is an object, & u have a good defense atty, that lawyer will probably be fine & helpful as well!

    good luck!

    I’m sympathetic for your situation. How very hard (our family faced a similar challenge many years ago).

    Prison consultants are a real thing. You might want to read the lengthy article by the NYT about Prison Consultants dated 6/7/22. They prominently featured White Collar Advice and its founder, and it was an interesting, informative read.

    If money’s not a big issue, it seems like a good idea. (Criminal defense lawyers typically don’t go deep in the prison area.)

    Best thoughts 

    I have a copy of Alan Ellis' Federal Prison Guidebook that I'd be glad to pass along. It's outdated but still may be useful.

  • Surviving federal prison

    (12 replies)

    Does anyone have a family member in federal prison? What did you do to prepare them for that? Or what would you recommend?  And, how did you yourself survive the heartbreak and stress resulting from having your loved one in prison? I saw there are "prison consultants" who say they do that, but then I don't know if they are any good.

    I just looked at all of the posts I posted over the years. My child going through depression, then using pot to self medicate, then addicted to pot. This community offered great advice for all that, and we tried most of it. Still, my child who is now a young adult is about to become a federal prisoner. There was no sentencing yet, and the uncertainty and the magnitude of what's about to come are taking a huge toll on all of us.

    Our kid a young adult, but they are still acting and thinking more like a 14 year old. They are kind and mild mannered, and I can't imagine them surviving prison. But then, maybe they will?

    My husband and I cry daily, several times a day. We blame ourselves for not finding out and preventing things that put our child into this situation. But, at this point we can't change the past. And I still don't know if anything would or could have.

    I am so sorry for your suffering. What a sad and scary situation.

    I cannot directly answer your questions. However, I can suggest you consider attending an Al-Anon family group. I attend one in Menlo Park (in-person and virtual options) where several members have or have had children in prison. During meetings, members share their experience, strength, and hope with each other. I've made connections and friends, and have been lead to many helpful resources through Al-Anon. You would be welcomed and supported.

    My heart is breaking for you and your son. I am so sorry you are going through this nightmare. I don't have any advice to offer, but I truly hope that you and your husband can work on easing your guilt over this. It is a lot to process, and it is impossible not to blame ourselves for our children's outcomes. But as parents, we all do the best we can with what we have. I hope you can give yourselves lots of love, self care, compassion and forgiveness through this impossibly difficult time. Sending you lots of love. 

    These short videos provide surprising insight. 

    I am very sorry this is happening to you and your family. Perhaps on a higher level your son is learning through all of this and it is part of his path, if that can absolve some of the guilt you feel. Not everything is entirely the fault of the parents, and it sounds like throughout his life you were looking for ways to support him. Your family exists within a matrix of society, and is not as an island to be condemned, and yet, perhaps during this time, at his own pace, your son can learn a deeper meaning of personal responsibility and positive connectedness.  

    One of my in-laws was imprisoned for drug dealing, and it was a very difficult time for her and the extended family, obviously. Everyone survived and she was released without incident, but the family was changed; this was 18 years ago, and there was a lot of shame and, to this day, a lack of conversation around what happened. I have found comfort and understanding from the Formerly Incarcerated People's Performance Project ( ; these are one-person shows that depict resilience, change, growth, and meaning from the time spent incarcerated - as well as the struggle. To those on the outside prison can seem like a black box of pain, danger, and fear, but these performances humanize the incarcerated and the time spent, and give a sense of what life is like incarcerated. I am also always heartened reading about incarcerated people who are able to learn new skills, write, find a spiritual path or practice, and even get law degrees - which shows the importance of prison reform, so that we move from a model of punishment and judgment to one of rehabilitation, redemption, and skills development. Society as a whole needs to support positive change and re-integration; we aren't there yet, but rather than feel powerless, by connecting with others in whatever way possible, you and your son might feel a bit more supported during this time.

    As a lawyer who has worked on federal criminal cases, I am aware of how stressful the thought of incarceration can be for family members and the affected individual. A good prison consultant can indeed help with all your questions, make suggestions, and even strategize with your attorney on how to try to get assigned to a FCI that may be more desirable.  While it seems scary, a good plan and learning what to say and how to act can go a long way in making the time more bearable. However, it sounds as if your child hasn't been sentenced yet so it may be too early to worry about this unless you are certain the sentence will involve prison time.  Please ask your attorney about RDAP (an option for people who have had substance abuse problems) if you haven't discussed it already.  

    I have a young family member with two felony convictions which she has/is serving in rehabs and county jails and in between hospitals.  Addiction is a horrific disease and it destroys bodies, minds and famililes.  I have changed my thinking on this a lot as I have watched her decline.  I now feel that she is safest when locked up.  She has a bed, food and medical and supervision at all times.  She now likes it there (mostly).  Although she has so far evaded federal prison. she has served many times in county jails.  She will go on her next felony.  I have heard that prisons have much more programming (AA meetings, Al-Anon meetings, college classes, etc) so more skills can be taught. County jails have had classes in parenting, anger management.  I have friends whose kids have done well in federal prison and a lot more is offerred than in county jails.  I urge you to have an open mind that going to prison might be a good opportunity for your child.  Hopefully he can stay more sober there than on the outside.  Encourage him to cooperate at all times and to take advantage of all the programming offerred.  Don't make excuses for him.  Don't go overboard on buying him commissary.  Do go to Al-Anon regularly (and your husband too.....Parent meeting every Saturday at 2 pm on Zoom with Berkeley area folks......go to for the link)  and learn that you did not cause this nor can you control it or cure it.  Thi may be the best thing that has happened to all 3 of you--give it a chance if that's what happens.  And, I am happy to chat with you directly and share my experience.  Ask the moderator for my contact information.  A Fellow Sympathizer

    Al-anon (even if alcohol is not involved) parent groups have saved my sanity.  Everyone there get's it.  Here is the current compilation of meetings in the US.

    Heartbreaking post - I'm so sorry you're going through this.  As a criminal defense attorney, I sincerely hope that your child's attorney can give you some guidance regarding your concerns and questions.  If not, try the Prison Law Office.

    I have no personal experience, but recently read this very thorough article in the New York Times about prison consultants, specifically for federal prison - it was eye-opening and there is a lot of information in the article itself.  My heart breaks for all of you.  

    The previously posted advice seems to me very solid, and I hope you seek counseling. My late brother was in juvenile facilities, and in jail as an adult, as opposed to a penitentiary, for burglary and drug charges, such as attempting to forge a prescription. While I don't mean to equate his story and your son's, I remember very well our mother's reaction to his behavior and punishment: lots of guilt, lots of self-blame, too much financial help. (She refused counseling; talking about family secrets was abhorrent to a woman of her generation.) Please try not to follow this path. You sound like a good parent. I believe this kind of situation--e.g., drug addiction, criminal pursuits, etc.--is a complicated intersection of genetic inheritance, nurture, social environment, personality, and more; our mother's other children attended university, married, had stable careers, etc.

    If it's any consolation, our brother finally did kick his addiction, but only after the sibling he had been crashing with kicked him out for lying about his drug use, something our mother was incapable of doing. Bottoming out can be a good thing; he voluntarily entered yet another program after that, stuck with the guidelines afterward for the first time, and for the rest of his life. Best wishes to you and your family.

    I’m so sorry you are going through this!  Please don’t blame yourself.  Focus on what your child can do in prison.  Prisoners do have rights and have even come out with degrees in the end.  Often there are chaplain type supports in prisons as well.  I’m not in your shoes- but I’d say allow yourself a time frame to cry and get mad- then research prison rights and responsibilities etc… if your child is truly learning from this they will appreciate these things.  Take care.  

    My heart is with you and am wishing your family great ease and peace in these times. There's an organization called Ahimsa Collective that might be helpful for all of you.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Dad in prison - 10-year-old angry

March 2006

A friend's husband recently committed a horrible crime and is in prison for the foreseeable future. Their is just turning 10 and her life changed abruptly due to this event. Without warning someone that gave her loads of love and attention (while leading a secret life of crime) and provided for the family was gone in a day. She still loves her daddy of course but because of what he has done everyone is confused about whether or not they should maintain contact. For example, he sends her letters promising things that are unlikely to come true (such as that they will be reunited soon) and also complains about how lonely it is in jail (not a burden to be placed on such a young child). She is acting out alot and angry. She wasn't an easy kid to begin with and is smart and wilful but also loving. Other than counseling, which is of course a given, does anyone have any personal experience or advice. I have thought of offering to have her come live with me but also don't want to remove her from her mom if that is worse. Concerned friend

I saw a story recently about Girl Scout troops for girls with a parent in prision (may be limited to girls whose mothers are in prison), but you might look into it. anon [Editor] google girl scouts prison, for example this link on the Girl Scouts website

Hello. My uncle spent a great deal of time in prison while my cousins were growing up. He first went in when his daughter was 11, and his son was 7. He's been in and out now for about 9 years.

I would say there may not be more than time that can cure the child's difficulty adjusting. My mother did consider offering to have both of his kids move in with us. They stayed with us for two weeks as kind of a trial, and let me tell you; it was a total disaster. Whatever is happening at home with the friend and her daughter is something the child needs for structure. My cousins lived in a fairly unstructured house, and they were unable to adapt to a more structured home. They didn't like having someone else watch over them, and most of all, they needed the comforts of home. It'll be much worse if she was taken out of her familiar environment.

Whatever it was that happened, crime is a heavy subject for kids. I understand that the mother may want to cut off contact with the father, but I would recommend against that too. If mom cuts off contact completely, it will feel to the child like her mother is standing in the way of her having a relationship with her dad. And of course, a level of resentment will build against mom for keeping the child away from someone she loves.

My cousins were allowed to visit their father about once a month in prison. They spoke to him on the phone once a week. They needed to see him, and I expect this child does too. It helps them to process what he says in letters if they can talk to him and get a sense of the reality. My cousins were very angry with their father for a long time, but wanted him back very badly. As they got older, they began to better understand him and know that though he loves them, he's not a good person. I'd say this took about 5 years to happen for the older child and 6-7 for the younger. It will stabilize as your friend's child gets used to the situation, but actually processing her father's crime and developing a real relationship takes a very long time. The best thing your friend can do is keep the child's life as stable as possible, let her see and speak to her father, and let her work through her feelings towards him. Good luck to all of you! anon

When I was about 11 years old, my mom went to state prison. She was gone until I was 15 years old. Mom was divorced, our dad wasn't around at all, and we lived with my grandmother in a poor, violent neighborhood. My sister and I were very angry about what happened and missed my mother terribly. Thankfully, my grandmother had a circle of relatives she could rely on to take us to see my mother. This was very important for me. My mother lied about how she was earning her living, too, and I needed her to know that this really hurt me deeply since her actions seperated us, but I also needed to see her and have her put her arms around me, and I needed to hear her say how sorry she was for it. We needed to work through how I didn't think risking her freedom for money for us was worth it, and that her illegal actions had more to do with her egoism than taking care of us. The only way I could get a grip on what was happening was to see her and talk to her.

Visiting a loved one in prison is very hard on a family. It is expensive if the loved one is many counties away, and it is humiliating because of the way you are herded in and not allowed to enter with anything else but a plastic bag with your keys in it, but it was worth it to have her energy near me.

I would take her to see him in the interest of HER mental health and emotional well-being. In my opinion, she needs to vent her feelings of betrayal and sadness about what he did and how his actions have seperated them. She can also address his empty promises to her. Yes, this is a lot for a 10 year-old to deal with, but, at the same time, she is bonded to him and he is the only father she knows and loves. It was a lot for me to handle, but it was good to have a chance to see the person I loved and experience the emotions that her actions created, and I think it was important for my mom to see what her actions created in me.

My mother is now married and living the life of a respectable executive-grandmother, and I finished college and am living a normal life. We got out of poverty honestly. Of my friends who know about my past, many have commented that I am remarkable well-adjusted to have experienced the childhood I had. IMHO - anon

I thought there'd be tons of advice on this, for some reason. Since you didn't get any real input the first go-round, here's mine: my son's father has been in and out of jail since day one. He's a minor, albeit repeat, offender. Long ago, when my son was very young, I determined that I would NOT take him to visit his dad in prison, even though his father cajoled me and sent me all the paperwork I needed to fill out. Why? Because I remember visiting my uncle in prison. I remember that we drove hours and hourse, only to end up in a long line of people, all waiting for visits. I remember people saying very nasty things (sexual as well as otherwise), and I remember how it looked in there. IN a nutshell: it was a very unpleasant and indelible memory for me, and I would not wish that on my child. As my son got older, I gave him the option (and I mean 16 years old. Not 10). He didn't want to. He said if his dad wants to see him, he can just stay out of jail and come on and visit. To this day (he is 19 now), he has no interest in visiting a jail, nor does he feel any remorse for not visiting. And niether do I. Anon

My dad was in prison 8 yrs---my entire adolescence. I felt a general sense of shame about who/what I was. My mom told us we had nothing to do with his crime, but our experiences made us feel quite the contrary. Try to insulate the kids from negative comments and treatment---peers, neighbors, even adult relatives. Change their schools. The relationship between the kids and their dad is going to take a major trip south----damage control is important. It's a lot to process. Our family lost most of our friends immediately. I was jeered at, dropped from party lists, playground games, and kids made cruel comments (''Who'd your dad kill today?''---tho' it wasn't murder my dad committed). Make the effort to preserve the father-child bond during his years in prison. He's still their parent. During prison visits, he can tell them stories of his rotten childhood, or about Daddy's life in prison (very entertaining---for starters, his cell mate was a murderer). Also, a dad in prison is compelling when he advises teenagers not to do bad stuff. My mom took us to visit him several times/yr. She nagged us to write him letters every month. We were kids and hated writing those letters, but she didn't give up. When older, we wrote less often, but still a few times/year. He treasured those letters. It's an uncomfortable experience to visit your dad in prison. We were raised to never associate with people like that and there we were, visiting our own dad in prison. Regarding his release: Time goes by, the wife meets a man who loves and respects her and she wants to divorce the husband in prison. The inmate gets angry, is hurt and feels betrayed----he's powerless behind bars. He has 24/7 to plot what he'll do upon release, plus the advice from the general company in prison, so Be Warned. It was very rocky for a couple years after my dad's release. He performed criminal acts he must've learned about in prison--the police could never pin anything on him. It was very upsetting and traumatic, especially us kids----again. Best of luck to you. Anon.