How can prisoners and their families remain connected while separated by prison and COVID-19 restrictions?
The following article first appeared in the Winter 2021 edition of Inside Journal®.
Inside Journal is a quarterly newspaper printed and distributed by Prison Fellowship® to correctional facilities across the country. Written specifically for incarcerated men and women, each issue (offered in a men's edition, a women's edition, and a Spanish-language edition) explains the Gospel in a fresh way, offers encouragement and motivation, and shares practical advice for the daily struggles of prison life.
As the world is now fast approaching the one-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic, many prisons are still on some sort of lockdown or restricted visitation. And most of the free world is dealing with a "new normal" of some kind.
Even in a regular non-pandemic year, the separation from family and from the outside world can impact the mental health of men and women behind bars during the holidays. This is especially rough on people with seasonal depression. And those who are normally positive around the holidays may experience more sadness and loneliness than usual this year because of all the changes the pandemic has brought.
So how can you keep away the holiday depression and stay connected to your friends and family?
5 WAYS TO CONNECT DURING THE COVID-19 HOLIDAYS
1. A CONNECTION COLORING PROJECT
If you have younger children, start a "connection coloring project" with them, taking turns coloring something together and mailing it back and forth. You can mail a coloring activity and ask them to color it and mail it back. Or you can color half of it and ask them to finish the other half.
2. START A MEMORY BOOK
Create a memory book of your favorite family memories from your holidays before or during prison and share it with them. Or if your memories were mostly negative, create a "vision board"-style notebook that describes what you think an ideal holiday would look like, using drawings or magazine cutouts, and share that instead.
3. CREATE A FAMILY CHRISTMAS BOND TRADITION
Bond over the same Christmas music or other media. Based on what's available in your prison library, choose one song, movie, or Bible verse to be your special "family bond" selection. Then, agree to listen to, watch, or read it at the same time every day or week (coordinate this time/day with your loved ones). Just knowing you're all doing something at the same time, even from miles apart, will make you feel closer together.
4. CREATE A FAMILY BOOK CLUB
Start a book club with your loved ones. Find a book in your prison library and ask your loved ones to check it out from their library. Choose a few chapters at a time and discuss them in your next phone call or email (or in-person visit, if your facility has returned to those).
5. WRITE A STORY
Collaborate on a social distancing story. Choose the topic or genre. Then write the opening sentence or paragraph and mail (or email) it to your loved ones, asking them to reply with the next paragraph. Go back and forth a pre-chosen number of times or until a certain date. When the story is finished, it'll be a great memento to always remember this crazy pandemic year.
GENERAL TIPS FOR CONNECTING
If you're planning to call around the holidays, it might be helpful to write a letter or email in advance, letting the loved one know when you plan to call. "I know you normally go to Grandma's the evening of New Year's Eve, but I'll try calling you that morning at 10."
Whenever you talk to your loved ones, whether in an email, phone call, or in-person visit, be sure to keep things positive, rather than venting or complaining.
If you're struggling with depression, carve out time for prayer and/or journaling, and if possible, speak to a mental health counselor in your facility.
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