Thursday, February 16, 2012

When a Loved One Goes to Prison

They'd come into the store with their request lists and ask very quietly for the books or magazines. Rarely were they knowledgable of the store layout, not being readers themselves. Then, they'd go to the counter where they'd run their purchases by the cashier and brace themselves for the review. When the cashier would find out the shipping address for the packages, they'd go over the purchases, as a courtesy for the customer, to try and avoid a "return to sender" situation. The customer usually took this part of the transition with quiet dignity, but still the sensitive cashier understood the invasion to the privacy of the customer and the receiver of the package.  Magazines were scanned for scantily clad women and violent images, books for their subject matter - no erotica, no mobster material.  Invasive.  Six weeks later, no matter how well the cashier reviewed the product, US Postal usually returned the package for some unknown fraction. The purchaser received a phone call, but they rarely returned to pick up the package.

Too many times, I played the role of the cashier. Too many times, I scanned the product. Too many times, I told the purchaser bad news or felt the need to recommend other purchases. Too many times, I returned the product to the shelf after the return and then notated in the log that we owed someone a refund.

As a result of this unhappy experience, I came to the conclusion that when a family member goes to prison, the family who supports that member finds themselves in a similar one. They find themselves experiencing invasive indignities in arenas they never imagined: not just the courtroom, not just the process of visiting. Other areas exposes the family's personal business: church friends wonders where so-and-so is, co-workers wonder why so much work gets missed, landlords need notifying and apartments need packing up, utilities cancelled, and the hits just keep on coming.

Way back in my bookseller days, I became a favorite of one particular family. They'd call to make sure of my working schedule and I'd meet them at the Info desk. Their brother didn't care what we sent as long as the book was either long or wieldy. We sent a lot of really long books: The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Chronicles of Narnia, and Twilight (that sucker looked long!). We also sent a mass of philosophy books as they took him longer to read.  We avoided magazines because, even though they were valuable for trading (I didn't ask what he traded them for), any package that contained a magazine seemed to come back stamped "Inappropriate Material" or maybe not stamped at all.  I never knew who the women were that came to pick up the package and I never asked. I always greeted them happily and told them how good I felt at seeing them again. I'd try to make the visit as pleasant as possible and always gave them the best service I could. Usually, by the end of the transaction, they left fairly happy. Eventually, they stopped coming. I didn't know if I felt good about that or not. I just hoped that their lives found some peace, somehow.

Twitterland's response to Whitney Houston's death prompted this blog entry. I read some of my favorite Tweetfriends who knew people who'd died of addictions and felt saddened how her death of possible addiction issues affected them.  They reminded me of the family I dealt with back in my bookseller days and  I couldn't help but think that, in  a way, when addicts enter the prison of addiction, they take their loved ones, too. Addicts' loved ones find their lives invaded and their dignity bruised as they find themselves answering questions about their addicted loved one.

Society seems to not show a great deal of respect or compassion towards families who suffer alongside addicts of criminals. We call these families "enablers" and make assumptions about their roles in the lives of the troubled people. We make snap judgements about "blindness" or "indifference". We make morbid jokes when addicts die and say "no surprise" without stopping to think that they left behind loved ones who's hopes just died, as well. I say that society members who say such things show the blindness and the indifference, and they're the ones I pity the most.

Unfortunately, nobody will really read my blog, so I'm not going to change anyone's mind or make anyone think twice about their own attitude. I'll just settle for changing my own.


  1. You couldn't be more right. Society often place this intrusive attitude into lives of addicts, criminals and even their families...but sadly continue to be blind to the loved ones needs and feelings. We all have our problems yet hide them in fear of what "society" will think. Sad isn't it?

  2. You may not be able to change someones mind... but you help put some of my "unresolved feelings" to words. My best friend robbed a bank, he didn't get far and he didn't get much. He was doing drugs I was unaware of him doing. We live in an upper scale area, he had lost his job a few days prior, he was nowhere near desperate for money. I don't know why he did it, the drugs had a large factor on it. But my point being, its hard to pack up his things, what should be sold? What should be saved? Then you find all the unpaid tickets, unpaid bills and even though it seems like little details from a distance, it wasn't to him. Neither of us have family in the state, we were planning on going to one of our families for the holidays. It feels like he has died. I awoke from a dream today, unable to help him, and I realized I am truly mourning as if he has died.

  3. Dear Tea-Drinking Writer,
    You have a kind, compassionate heart.
    Keep on doing what you do.
    One never knows all the effects of even the smallest of ripples
    across the pond.....

  4. Your blog is very moving, Lee Ann. This should serve as an eye-opener for those who are blinded by society's judgmental nature. It is sad that people often show their animal instincts as if they live in the jungle. People should realize that the family of the convicted suffers the most. They have to handle all the criticisms and still be as supportive to their loved one who got imprisoned for drug addiction. They, too, need the support and understanding, I believe.

    Buford Embry

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