Their only child son received a life sentence and they were able and willing to completely arrange their business and personal and family lives to accommodate their commitment to visit Jason regularly, now more than a decade into his sentence and with only slender hope of ever having him sit at their dining room table again.
Here is what is more common: few "lifers" or folks with very long sentences have strong family support. Many things contribute to this: fractured families either before the criminal behavior or following with the financial and emotional devastation related to criminal acts, poverty, poor health, embarrassment, the reasonable claims of other immediate family members to have time with the free-world family member whose energies are consumed in supporting the incarcerated person, repudiation of the convicted person as well as their criminal acts. For long incarcerated folks who eventually are paroled or pardoned, recidivism is very low, possibly because they are often ill, old and broken. Finding work is more than difficult and often already financially strapped families find they are providing basic living support for folks they don't really know and have not had an opportunity to develop a relationship with.
Long-term incarceration represents a small percentage of incarcerated folks.
By far and away the majority of incarcerated folks will be released to return to their communities, families and lives. They will return with new challenges to their employability and strained family ties. Some states do not allow them any benefits like food stamps which makes things difficult in the house where they are trying to rebuild a life with their families while finding legal work with a living wage. Training programs in jails and prisons that can help mitigate some of this with job-skills and literacy programs are thin, underfunded and longing for mentors and tutors to stretch very limited resources. Mental health counselling and treatment for addictive behaviors are somewhere between underfunded/staffed and non-existent.
For most folks, there is a painful watching of a loved one as many challenges over months and years lead to the long dreaded but unsurprising call that the matter has entered the legal system phase. They are often exhausted, frightened, embarrassed and financially damaged. They don't await the outcome of a single trail, but rather the outcomes of a series of hearings, evaluations, changes in charges, changes in representation, changes in prosecutors, changes in laws, searches for treatment programs and that can all run into decades of waiting and praying and wondering.
There is another class of grieving loved ones, those who are convicted that their loved one was either wrongfully convicted or that their loved one received a much harsher sentence than others convicted of similar or even more dangerous crimes. This has its own unique sorrows and challenges.
And then for so many the day long yearned for arrives: the loved one returns to sit at the table and be hugged and hug back, with hopes and expectations (both reasonable and unreasonable) all around. And the uneasy watch begins: for the formerly incarcerated who struggles to reclaim life in the free world and, if they have not found peace and hope, being weighed down with guilt and shame; and for anxious loved ones who worry and wonder if better days are to come, or if the entire thing will start all over again. It is hardly surprising that the mix can be toxic to the best of intentions for all involved.
So I say a deep and abiding thanks to Carol Kent for her candor and the light she shines into a world with too much darkness and too little love and hope. And I ask that we all be respectful of the wide range of sorrows, challenges, and responses that encompass the universally sad and destructive experience of loving someone (or wanting to love someone) or being related to someone who has become involved in criminal behavior and/or is living or has lived away from the free world.
Let us all heed Hebrews 13:3:Remember prisoners as if you were in prison with them, and people who are mistreated as if you were in their place. (CEB) Let us pray for the incarcerated and their families with the same tenderness as we would practice praying for our own child or niece or nephew or parent or spouse or sibling if they were broken and ashamed, whether their sin was publicly announced or only eating at their life and soul in the normal way.