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Grieving a loved one in prison: Feelings of bereavement

Having a loved one in prison can often feel the same as being bereaved with feelings of loss and grieving for the relationship, especially when a medium or long term sentence has been given. Those that are left behind can find this tremendously difficult to cope with and the sudden loss can be overwhelming and devastating.

Having previously worked in supporting families with a loved one in prison, I understand that there can be all sorts of feelings you may be experiencing such as anxiety, despair, depression, frustration, anger to name but a few. Feelings of such a loss can be very much as if the person has died.

It may feel like you are in a whirlwind of transformation because, in an instant, your life will be changing in relation to your loved one's arrest, trial, remand and sentencing. This can all bring different kinds of thoughts and feared future outcomes. This situation can be especially difficult if you have children and have to explain to them that their family member has to go away for a period of time.

Your feelings may follow the format of Kübler-Ross 'Cycle of Grief'.

  • Denial: Not being able to accept what has happened, confusion and shock as well as fear of the unknown.
  • Anger: Frustration and anxiety of what will happen next.
  • Bargaining: Struggling to find meaning and reaching out to others to tell your story.
  • Depression: Feeling overwhelmed and helpless.
  • Acceptance: Exploring options and ways forward.

It is important for you to look after your own mental health and to be able to express these feelings in a safe and confidential place where you can offload your worries – a therapist or counsellor can provide this for you together with a non-judgmental attitude.

The importance of self-care

No matter what your relationship connection is with your loved one in prison, it is important for you to still live your life and not spend it grieving as this is not your sentence.

Your self-care plan

  • Ensure you get enough sleep.
  • Eat a healthy balanced diet.
  • Try to keep yourself busy.
  • Regular exercise will be beneficial.
  • Get out and meet other people by making connections.
  • Perhaps find a new interest or hobby.

Your loved one may spend several months on remand whilst in custody before sentencing. They will be able to have extra visits compared to other sentenced prisoners. Arranging a prison visit can be difficult and a stressful procedure, as well as the actual visiting day itself.

Practical hints and tips if you have never visited a prison before

  • You will need to book your visit prior to arriving and this can be done by telephone or online. At times phone lines can be extremely busy.
  • Find out what i.d. you will need. This is usually a passport, driving licence or citizen's identity card.
  • Check the accepted dress code (in some prisons they do not allow shoulder bearing tops or cut jeans, whereas others this is accepted).
  • You will not be able to take your bag or coat into the visits hall but there will be lockers provided. In some establishments, you will require a pound coin for the locker which is refundable.
  • There is often a snack bar or a place where you can buy yourself and your loved one a hot meal. However, again this can vary within each establishment.
  • Money can be transferred via bank transfer as you will not be able to give any money to your loved one during the visit.
  • Other means of communication are via prisoner email, letter or phone.
  • If you have any concerns with regards to worries about their welfare contact ‘safer custody’ via the main prison number.
  • Alternatively, contact one of the charities that provide visitor centres and they will also be able to offer support.
  • Remember to take your i.d. and a pound coin with you on your visit!

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Diane Feeney- Couns.Dip,CBT.Dip,BAHons,MBACP - Adults, Couples & Young People

I am qualified to counsel clients within different elements of counselling. I have worked as a counsellor in different organisations for adults, 1:1, couples, young people and families. This includes bereavement counselling services, relationships, addiction, school counsellor, rape and sexual abuse counselling services for female and male clients.… Read more

Written by Diane Feeney- Couns.Dip,CBT.Dip,BAHons,MBACP - Adults, Couples & Young People

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