10 TIPS TO SEND TO SOMEONE WHO IS INCARCERATED

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BY KIMBERLY CARROLL, MA, LPC, LADC

1.     A CALENDAR TO PLAN. First things first, you are about to become extremely busy so take a deep breath, let it out and try to relax. Grab some paper and get ready to start scheduling. Although release can feel very overwhelming, you may start by drawing out a calendar. Yes, you know, that booklet of at least 12 pages with that grid and numbers on it.  You don't have just be some CEO or your Grandmother to enjoy the uses of a calendar. (And really, they are on to something!) For your needs, perhaps you can even grab one with awe-inspiring pictures. If you were the lucky person who received this in prison or jail, I want you to begin planning each hour of first 72 hours out to the best of your ability. Ask your caseworker if you need some help. So, draw out a small grid. I talk more about this in your next tip.  If you just arrived home, you could print a calendar from the internet, or buy one from a dollar store. Getting it right on day one goes a very long ways.

2.     PLAN, PLAN, PLAN YOUR FIRST DAY OF RELEASE prior to leaving jail or prison. Who will pick you up? Where will you go next? Will this person be sober? Do you have a place to stay? Many people who are about to be released from incarceration may be able to answer one of these questions but may not be able to answer all of them. Another difficulty is to actually follow through with one's plan if they actually have one. Most probation officers or parole supervisors expect clients to meet them the day of release. If you are on ISR, you may have some strict conditions to adhere to, make sure you take notes and know them. A good way to thoroughly plan your day and follow through with it, is to schedule you’re your entire first 24 hours hour by hour. Prior to release, one can make phone calls if they have money, and ask a supporting person questions about getting a ride and housing. Often times people assume that someone will be able to pick them up or that they can stay at their home, but without actually asking these questions one is only assuming the answers are yes then, when they are released and things don't work out how they assumed it should they are left trying to come up with a quick answer and is those answers that often lead them back into trouble. Talk and ask these questions, collect a bus ticket if you need to, or find someone else who can give you a safe ride to a safe sober location. Flying day to day may have gotten you here, you need to start doing something different. It's called planning. Your first, really big step to awesome changes.

3.     PLAN TO FOLLOW EVERY. LAST. RECOMMENDATION. Did the court state any recommendations for you? Scheduling your chemical dependency or mental health appointments prior to release can help you get in quickly and appease your probation officer or parole supervisor. Due to long wait times that can incur during busy times, you could be put on a waitlist for the services which would delay you getting into services in a timely fashion. This delay can also lead to lower motivation for getting into services at all. So schedule your appointment while you're still incarcerated or even try to seek the services while you're in jail or prison so that you can walk out and be engaged almost immediately. This could even be part of your “first day out” plan.

4.     REACH OUT to at least one healthy person your first day. If you were incarcerated and previously struggling with chemical dependency issues, stopping by a SMART Recovery meeting, an AA or NA meeting could be helpful in meeting with peers who can help keep you motivated and accountable. Exchange numbers with at least one healthy support and don't be afraid to ask for help. If you do not have internet access but have phone access, many community action organizations and chemical dependency treatment sites have lists of meetings or resources that may be able to help put you in the right direction. Don't have any concerns with chemical dependency? Then find a walk-in clinic or a mental health clinic that you can begin setting up short term services to help you adjust and begin finding helpful people and direct you toward community resources.

5.     FILL YOUR DAY. Have a plan for how you wish to begin spending your time. Often times having a large amount of time with nothing to do can lead people back into old habits. So perhaps part of this will be to begin looking for work. Find your local workforce or even a temp staffing agency to begin helping you. If you previously had employment you may consider finding a new employment site if your coworkers also struggled with chemical dependency or other criminal activity and could lead you back down the same path.

6.     GET TO KNOW YOUR LIBRARY. Go to your local library as soon as you can and sign up for library card. The library can be an invaluable resource to print things, research and to ask questions. It is also a place that may need, to be your safe hang out place to spend your time during your initial day out.

7.     MAKE YOUR HEALTH A PRIORITY. If your insurance has been dropped due to incarceration perhaps your first day should also include going to sign up for insurance. Upon release you may even ask jailers or your caseworker where to go to sign up for health insurance again. Next, if you have any health or dental concerns, call around and schedule your dental or medical appointments as soon as you are insured, or if you can find a sliding scale clinic to assist you. Plan with those around you or by using public transportation as to how you'll make it to those appointments.

8.     EATING AND SLEEPING. Make your health a priority some more. Let's face it prison and jail food are not meant to increase your nutrition level and help your body transition into being healthy. Now, I'm well aware that getting back into the swing of life will take time, emotionally, for your digestive system and your ability to sleep well, but this is your aim, your long-term goal. If you previously used substances, your body depleted of many of the important minerals and vitamins that it needs to function at its top level. So instead of hitting up lots of McDonald's, set your sights on some healthier meals. Remember, a lack of moderation leads to habits that can be difficult to break. Having trouble locating a meal at all? Most towns have at least one soup kitchen or church that serves a free meal a day, and likely, a fairly balanced one. There you may also meet a lot of helpful people so don't be afraid to check it out. Make sure you go to bed at reasonable hours and get good sleep, And make sure to at least do some exercise every day to help build your brains natural chemicals that relate to happiness and may also help establish your sleep/wake schedule.

9. ACT AND BE THE PART. You don't want to do this again? Remember that old saying, "guilty by association", well, this is often the perspective of many. So, you may need to begin grieving the losses of the friends who may or may not have visited or wrote you, essentially plan to not go back to them. Change your number, don't show up at their homes, thank them when they arrive for caring about your well-being, and with some class, send them on their way, because caring about your well-being means they will understand when you tell them that they do not fit in to your outline of a healthy, law-abiding person. Don't give out your new number; and don't feel bad about leaving them with a simple phrase of, "Alright. Take care then." There is absolutely nothing more that really needs to be said. Remember that when you begin to feel guilty, that this is also a time when you may not be putting you and your sobriety or crime-free life first. Surround yourself with positive support that also look and act the part. Dress the role of a person who is not hang affiliated. Consider your clothing choice. Don't get new gang tattoos, and consider getting existing ones covered or if on the neck, face, arms and hands- removed. There are scholarships for free removal, given they qualify. It is really worth considering and really a large step toward substantial behavioral change. Although your tattoos may remind you where you've been, it will make an even larger impact on those around you.

10.     FOLLOW THROUGH. Follow through with all the things by writing them on your schedule and actually completing them. It is one thing to schedule an appointment, but it is another thing entirely to make all your appointments. Part of doing things in a more responsible, different way, includes phoning at least 24 hours in advance if you need to cancel or reschedule an appointment. Sometimes emergencies happen, but if it is not and you are skipping out, it's just flat out rude and takes away from precious clinical time for the clinician and others who may desperately need a time slot. If you must reschedule an appointment make sure that is not just because your motivation is low, but that you have a valid reason that includes having gone through many problem-solving ideas to attempt to make that appointment. If it feels like an excuse you made before, check yourself. Carry this list with you in your wallet or pocket if it may help you to remember these tips for success. Remember success takes a bit of effort, and you can also be your own largest barrier to success. So, keep the hope and want your success! I sincerely wish you all the best.

All information is written not as professional advice, but for the sharing of information, opinions, research and educational purposes. All materials are copyright of Kimberly Carroll; please reflect this in some capacity when sharing. This blog and others can be found at greatnorthcounseling.com.