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Contact with bioparent who is incarcerated?

completely overwhelmed's picture

I wondered what others experiences have been dealing their stepkids calling or visiting a bioparent who is incarcerated.

My SD is almost 16. Her BM is back in jail again after violating her probation by testing positive for drugs and a number of other violations. We have had SD full time for 4 years now and BM has been in and out of jail the whole time.

When the judge granted DH full custody, BM was given a list of requirements to have supervised visitations and she didn’t follow through with them. So there’s no required visitation. BM also has never paid her very minimal child support payments and hasn't made any effort to keep in contact with SD. Currently she does not have our phone number or address and DH wants to keep it that way.

3 years ago SD asked to go see BM at a county jail. It was SD’s idea, but afterwards she was crying and upset and yelled at her dad for making her go. But DH took her there against his better judgment because SD was begging to see her mom.

SD is very immature and acts much younger than an almost 16 year old, but isn’t naïve. She’s well aware of bad things that happen in the world but doesn’t have the ability to process this information.

SD has been in therapy for 4 years over the issues with BM and I’m not sure it really helped or just brought up a biweekly reminder since BM is one of the few topics SD likes to talk about.

DH and BM have a very contentious relationship. She’s been arrested for assaulting him and he’s had a restraining order against her. DH would prefer he never have to deal with her ever again and wishes that SD would stop mentioning any sort of reunion.

He knows it destroys SD every time she has to face reality when she sees or talks to her mom. But on the other hand, SD builds up a fantasy that her mom will have changed or she can go live with her mom.

SD is currently in a mental health facility due to a suicide attempt, depression and anxiety. She’s been asking to be able to call her mom. DH and I believe this is a very bad idea.

SD is very anxious about her mom’s safety and whether she’s okay in jail (she’s told her current therapist she believe all women in jail are raped). Her therapist wants her to at least be able to speak weekly with her mom for a few minutes to be reassured that her mom is okay.

DH doesn’t want BM to know what’s going on with SD or SD to have to deal with BM’s lies. The therapists has mentioned studies showing the benefit for regular contact for both the incarcerated parent and the child, but I really don’t think this is the average situation. BM was given her opportunity to stay in SD’s life and decided to not follow through.

DH is planning on telling the therapist and all the staff at the facility that there is absolutely no contacting BM. But I worry that will continue to let SD believe the fantasy that she can go live with her mom.

SD is refusing to speak to DH and doesn’t want to come home. IMO, the sooner she realizes that living with her mom isn’t an option and she needs to work on cooperating with her dad, the better.

still learning's picture

SD will have issues if she talks to her mother and issues if she doesn't; that's the reality of your DH having a child with an unstable woman. Withhold her mother from her now then she will see her mother as the victim saint and SD will likely bolt when she is 18 yrs old and maybe follow in her footsteps. If you allow her to contact and visit her mother while incarcerated SD may see that actions have consequences and perhaps she will choose a different life for herself.

You can try to shield her from her mother but it will only cause more harm in the long run.

completely overwhelmed's picture

The problem is BM doesn't seem to take responsibility for anything. I've gone through public court records trying to figure out how long she's in jail for and it's all minor things that snowball. Failure to appear in court, failure to pay fines, failure to report to probation officer. Over five years ago she was living with some guy they broke up. He reported she stole his property when she moved out and that's the cause of her current jail time. When she was arrested, she was high and had a considerable amount of drugs on her.

BM denies that she stole anything. She says the guy was getting back at her for moving out. That may be true, but it was something minor that has her in jail 5 years later for simple, stupid things. I'm not sure it's exactly the lesson SD needs to learn. BM does see herself as a victim.

She just fails at life the same way SD does.

ChiefGrownup's picture

There is nothing stopping BM from writing to her daughter every week. Make it a PO box in a different zip code.

You should also be able to look up BM on the website of your state's prison system. Typically a current photo of her will be posted and her prison jobs and her prison disciplinary record. SD can see that she is currently assigned to the cafeteria or library or whatever. That should give her a picture of what BM's daily life is like. She can also see the reality of BM's behavior. There may be disciplinary actions for contraband or drugs or violence etc. Should take some of the gild off the lily.

Personally I would much rather bring this digital window into the girl's world than take her to prison. I have been to prison many times for professional reasons and I am always astonished at the amount of young children including tiny infants in the lobby. I can't believe people allow their children to think of jail as any kind of normal. Why would you want that? Frankly I don't care if it benefits the inmate and I don't believe it really benefits the kids. I would like to see the methodology on the studies.

I believe SD ought to be given better tools by therapist to deal with irrational anxiety instead of allowed to indulge obsessive thoughts and to make prison just another facet of adolescence. It's not. It should be thought of as not an option and no place for kids. Therapist should work on girl coming to understand that BM's own behavior put her where she is and to focus on thoughts of gratitude and positivity that she has a stable dad who provides and cares for her. This obsession with BM can lead no where good in my opinion.

still learning's picture

There are different types of "normal." Many would say that being in a stepfamily is not normal and is unhealthy for children. For those families having an incarcerated parent that is their new normal. These parents are serving their time, hopefully getting some kind of help and rehabilitation and most will return to society and their families. Unless they've been lied to the children know that their parents are in jail and it's much healthier to have visitation rather than not seeing them for years at a time. Children will not turn out to be criminals just because they visited a parent in jail.

America has the highest percentage of any nation in the world's population incarcerated. Why?! People get locked up here for stupid things that aren't even crimes in other countries. Many people who should be treated for mental health issues are thrown in jail instead.

I know a family who reunited after the father served 14 yrs for 2nd degree murder. His son was an infant when it happened. The son grew up visiting his father in prison. The son also went on to graduate high school and go on to college. The son is a professional and has never been in trouble with the law. My own brother got into drugs and has been in and out of jail for much of his adult life. We have a younger brother that my mom would take when she would visit older brother in jail. The result; my youngest brother would say, "I'm not going to be like **Johnny!" **Name changed My youngest brother is very successful despite having a father who died of alcholism and an older brother who he visited in jail often.

It's easy to judge others if you've had a perfect *normal* life. But really what is normal? The intact nuclear family?

ChiefGrownup's picture

Well, thanks for judging that my life and my childhood have been perfect. I had no idea.

No, jail is not normal. By definition it is an aberration. By definition.

Lots of unsavory people go there and by that I mean are there in the lobby. Some of those people are currently in the act of committing more crimes which is why prisoner visits and phone calls are monitored. Why people would drag their little kids to be paraded in front of them is beyond me. I am really glad for you that things turned out well for your brother. He sounds like a fine person. I'm guessing he would have been a fine person without the object lesson of his brother's failures.

Many kids would take the opposite message. We see this in gang life constantly. Oh, it's not so bad here, if dad can do it so can I, I'm going to be tough like my brother, jails are comfortable to me it's what I'm used to. A lot of psychology seems to be about adults reliving childhood patterns so setting a childhood pattern of comfort with the jail environment seems like a very dangerous game to me.

As for the national incarceration rate it seems to me beyond the scope of this discussion. We are talking about one 16 year old girl and her repeat offender mother.

still learning's picture

You're judging people saying that they shouldn't be allowed to see their own children because of mistakes that they made and are paying for. Jail is not *normal* but it is those family's reality. Visitation is heavily supervised so that everyone is safe. One of my students had her father taken by ICE for an immigration glitch. He was incarcerated, should she have not been allowed to visit her father because of an unfortunate circumstance?!

And yes, the national incarceration rate is applicable to this discussion because like many inmates SD's mother probably needs help with her substance abuse addiction instead of repeat punishments which are obviously not working.

ChiefGrownup's picture

No one is "not allowing" them. That's why I see waiting rooms full of kids.

OP asked about an individual child and individual inmate. This is a choice the custodial parent is allowed to make. The state is not stopping them. No one's trying to "punish" inmates by wittholding child visits. My advice is to make a decision--and for the inmate the sacrifice--in the best interests of the child. Jail is not a wholesome place. We usually want kids in wholesome places.

What if OP's SD hada mother on combat duty? She would not see her either. SD can use the digital window to see that BM is fine and she can receive letters. Kids with parents in combat don't get better than that.

It would also be a big sacrifice for OP and her dh. Jails are usually located a bit of a drive away at least and they'd have to go there with her and go through the whole unsavory experience with her. Why should they have to put themselves through that?

An ICE hold is not the same as a criminal incarceration.

still learning's picture

I have only seen the positive benefits of parent/child contact in these situations so we'll have to agree to disagree on what's in the best interest of the child. Jails/prisons are extremely sterile and guarded while the inmates are all wearing jumpsuits, not sure what is unwholesome about that. Letting your kid get online will expose them to more unwholesomeness than an inmate visiting area.

The *unsavory experience* is less traumatic than going through TSA at the airport. Our local jail is right by the library, not hard to get to at all.

ChiefGrownup's picture

Our jail, and I have been there many times, is next to the animal incineration facility for the pound. The smell permeates the entire grounds of the jail. Inmates appear in shackles not to mention stripes, unless you do the video phone interview in which case the shackles are missing. If you get a private booth there's also a heavy leather belt to which the handcuffed hands are chained. I could go on and on but you are right, we shall agree to disagree.

Rhiannon's picture

A friend of ours was in a similar situation to your step daughter. Her mom was in prison when she was 16. Unfortunately her dad was deceased, her step-dad didn't want her around, and she had no other family. What helped her through it all though was the fact that her mother was cooperative in making sure that she was okay. But even with that help, it was still hard on her. I can't imagine how hard it is when BM isn't being cooperative.

Does the therapist know how uncooperative BM is? I mean it doesn't sound like she's tried to keep in touch with her daughter (which can be emotional hell in itself). I'm not sure how much contact with her BM will help if her BM isn't being cooperative. Contact by mail with dad's approval sounds like it might be the best option if contact is absolutely necessary.

I wish you and your husband the best of luck in dealing with this difficult situation.

completely overwhelmed's picture

The therapist is new, which is one of our big complaints about every time SD is hospitalized. It’s starting with a new doctor and therapist who don’t really have a good picture of the history of what’s going on.

For those that don’t remember my blog post from a few weeks ago, SD went on essentially a hunger strike at the out of state residential treatment center DH sent her to and told the staff she would rather die than stay there. This was treated as a suicide attempt and they called an ambulance. She’s now at a different facility, but still in another state. DH calls them at least once a day and they’ve spoken to her usual therapist and psychiatrist, but neither of us really like them.

The therapist is one of those types that believes kids need their parents in their life no matter if the parent is a low life or not. She’s told DH about studies showing prisoners do better when they have contact with their kids. But DH doesn’t want BM to be inspired to clean up her life for SD. He wants BM out of SD’s life forever.

I'm not sure what SD has told the therapist either.

The only way that BM can contact us is through DH's mother. BM was paroled last year and moved into a half-way type facility. A person from the staff there attempted to contact DH to see if he would allow BM to call SD and the only contact they had for him was his mom's phone number. My MIL absolutely cannot stand BM and told them to never contact her again and that BM should never try to contact SD or DH ever again. That's the last we have heard from BM.

What I'm afraid is that when SD turns 18, she'll go back to her BM and BM will tell her that DH prevented her from contacting her. I don't think BM really cares enough about trying to make contact, but DH has not done anything to make it easy for her to contact SD.

ChiefGrownup's picture

Ah. I do remember this story now. I don't know what can be done for this girl. When she's 18 she will undoubtedly make some very poor decisions no matter what you do. She is quite an extreme case. Even full time professionals can't seem to influence her for the positive. I would say do what you think is best but maintain an existential attitude about it. Don't be too hurt when she inevitably makes a complete wreck of her life after 18. What a shame.