It’s 3:00 am on New Year’s Day. You’re fast asleep all snug and warm in your bed. Suddenly, your phone rings. On the other end of the line, sounding like he’s inside of a tin can, is your loving son: the one you used to read to at night; the one under whose pillow you placed a dollar when he lost his first tooth; the one you taught to ride a bike. And what does this fine young man have to say to you after he’s woken you from your peaceful slumber? The last three words a parent ever wants to hear: “I’m in jail.” Although your first instinct is to tell him, “You got yourself into this, now get yourself out . . .” and then hang up the phone, at least your second instinct would be to ask yourself, “Now what?”
What to Say When You Get That Call
Our criminal justice system is one of the strongest connections to our Founding Fathers and the history of this nation, but very few people truly understand how it can affect them or, much less, how to maneuver through it once they have been caught up by the slow-spinning wheels of justice. Far too often people find themselves lamenting the fact that they are up a creek without a paddle instead of focusing on how to get out of that canoe. They want to tell their story to anyone who will listen, as if by some miracle a guard at the jail is going to say, “Oh, well, now that you’ve explained it that way, I see clearly that you did not commit this offense. Of course, you may leave! Here, let me get the door for you.” Which leads me to Rule Number One for those who find themselves behind bars: Keep your mouth shut! Do not discuss the facts of the case over the phone with your incarcerated loved one. Most conversations in a jail facility are recorded. Make sure your loved one understands this: No talk about apologies, regret, or recriminations—nothing that makes him sound guilty.
The next thing you need to worry about is your loved one’s stress level. Obviously, jail is not a nice place to be. But no one really understands the value of a day until they have spent 24 hours behind bars. Irrespective of the constant noise, lights, and of course that indelible smell, you must also consider that this individual has been separated from all forms of communication and identity. Most people nowadays can’t go more than 15 minutes without looking at their cell phone; imagine an entire weekend. This lack of communication leads to stress. What compounds the stress is the expectation of release.
Most jurisdictions take a significant amount of time to process inmates into their detention facility and an equal amount of time to process them out. A common misconception among lay people is the amount of time it takes to get their loved one out of custody. It could take hours or even days depending on the workload the guards have at the jail and whether or not it is a weekend—or worse, a holiday. So every time your loved one calls and gets news about his release, his expectations rise, only to be dashed by another passing hour or by an explanation that he has not had his medical screening yet and so cannot be moved to a different tank. This only serves to compound the stress, and it begins to build on itself. Therefore, one of the most important things you can do when loved ones are arrested is to have them take a deep breath and calm down. Assure them that you will be doing everything in your power to get them out as soon as possible. All they need to do is relax and get as much rest as possible.