What can we do to encourage that "getting out" is not a revolving door?
1. Be consistent in keeping your personal foundation in good repair. Seek a healthy church home who will generously welcome your incarcerated loved one, maybe even one that understands how to correspond safely with incarcerated folks. Keep your prayer life vibrant by turning all thoughts, plans, concerns and decisions into a conversation with God. Cling to your healthy friends, and limit or let go of friends who do not support a healthy lifestyle.
2. One consistent positive for lowering recidivism is family support. It is no small gift to maintain contact for months and years with an incarcerated loved one. If our loved one is still trying to be in control of his or her own life, that is especially hard as letters and phone calls may bring orders, judgement, anger and even threats. Trying to "be a friend" is a balancing act with "staying sane", and "living" and growing. I would recommend not trying to do this alone, and certainly not without a lot of prayer. Reach out to other people who are invested in the incarcerated person, especially mature Christians, and encourage them to write regularly.
3. Encourage your incarcerated loved one to engage every opportunity for education, schooling, classes and programs that are available to them. From Bible studies to GED programs, to certification programs, to dog training programs, to AA and Al-Anon, to Financial Peace University and parenting classes, to talking with others in positive ways about how things can be different. If they can embrace the idea of spending their time rather than just doing their time they will be able to learn skills that will translate well into the free world.
4. Have your financial house in order. Attend Financial Peace University for the first time or again. Think seriously about your values and how those are playing out in your financial decisions. The stronger you are in this area the better for everyone.
5. When they are coming out, discuss ground rules for sharing that encourage activity rather than outcomes. What I mean is this: rejoice with every application, interview, contact for information, free web-class taken, volunteer hours spent. All that is better than lots of depression, TV, bars, unemployed friends, angry relatives and money spent in ways that tax the family budget without bring value to anyone. It is all too easy to let our fear sound like judgement when we ask "what did you go today? did you make that call? talk to that employer?" But to go from not being allowed to make the smallest choices in prison to managing a plate full of choices outside is not as easy as either the released person or their families generally expect.
6. Stay active in your church. Go even if the newly released person is embarrassed or uninterested. If it is important to you, your faithfulness makes a gentle but powerful statement to those you love. As you live your faith by handling stress differently and being patient and kind in ways you could not before, you will be preaching a passionate sermon without saying a word. Be wise in whom you confide and speak with respect when talking about your released family member.
Life is a journey, not an event.