Wow, really? Don't I help all I can? Phone bills and commissary are stretching us beyond recovery. And that is just the beginning! And sometimes I think I help too much and too often!
Figuring out how much and how often and to whom is all a balancing act and changes with understanding and circumstance, so I don't think that is exactly what is meant here.
I think it speaks to two issues: The 1st is our attitude about giving which is often driven by the 2nd, to give with a carefully thought-out plan.
It is hard to keep food on the table and listen to your incarcerated loved one talk about the candy bars and chips you can't afford for your grandchild or at your family table BECAUSE you are sending money to the commissary account! And it is hard to talk about your financial limitations without feeling you are dumping a load of guilt on your incarcerated loved one who may never be able to repay even a part of what you are feeling driven to spend.
So I strongly suggest that you be realistic about what you can give without anger. Look at your budget and if your credit card debt is getting larger every year or if you are behind on mortgage, rent, insurance or utilities, then no matter what your loved one’s situation, you are not giving the right amount of support. If your financial situation is less stressed, then you may have more flexibility, but it does not mean that you should fail to save for the future, a future that might include a person who, do to years of incarceration, might need financial help for many years into the future. So look at your financial situation and make a plan, then share that plan with the person you are helping. For many, the fact that you are helping their families outside or stating a willingness to be in the prisoner’s life for the long hall may well help THEM be more realistic about the choices they make. Boredom and depression drive much commissary spending and having a solid, useful reason to curb that can only help their health and give them a greater sense of control. Now, that is a gift!
And if you are able to give generously and don’t want it to be damaging to your incarcerated loved one, contact your loved one’s facility to make a cash contribution to the chaplain’s library or fund a study with the warden to bring literacy or vocational rehab programs to the facility. Or support one of the many organizations bringing programing and services to the facility such as KAIROS, Prison Fellowship, Financial Peace University and many more folks with a heart for this ministry.