Chapter 4

Talking to Family and Friends

This is the most important chapter in this manual. It is also the most difficult to execute.  The good news is once you have told family and friends, everything gets a lot easier.

It is not to say problems go away or things get easy, but after you have family and friends on your side you can enlist their help.  If you have strong family ties and good friends they are going to beneficial if you end up going to prison.

How do we tell family and friends when we don’t know the outcome, especially when some of the (likely) possibilities are so devastating? Not telling them is worse.

Skipping or delaying telling them only complicates matters. Avoiding family and friends only causes them to be concerned.  Love ones start asking question that you don’t want to answer. This creates new difficulties that you really don’t want to deal with, on top of the other things you don’t want to deal with.

   Here are some time proven helpful hints:

1.      Use your outline of events from the previous chapter. Refer to it as needed.  Establish a plan with talking points. Present the news in a thoughtful way.


2.      Be honest. Credibility is the key to getting them on your side.  Let them know as much as possible in a sincere manner.


3.      Use a quiet, comfortable place. A restaurant or bar with a lot of noise and interruptions is not a good place.  If speaking to someone on the phone ensure neither of you are driving, at work, or other wise going to be distracted.

4.      Explain the situation in a calm manner. Expect them to get excited, maybe even upset.  You control the meeting by remaining calm and speaking in a low-slow voice.  


5.      Stay on point. Don’t be side tracked by “I knew it” and “I told you so.” Swiftly move to the next topic of your outline when the conversation starts to drift or becomes unproductive.


6.      Get to the point quickly. The sooner the bad news gets out the better.  Make each point. Have a brief discussion and move on.  If you linger too long on any point it gives them a chance to go off topic.  Cover each point, but don’t dwell.


7.      Let them talk. Explore what they know.  Allow them to ask questions along the way.  Giving them a voice also helps them become more deeply vested in a course of action you may want them to take.


8.      Be comfortable with their emotions. Expect there to be crying, anger, and shock.  Remain in control but understand they may not.  It takes two to fight.  Remember you are trying to work out a solution not created new problems.


9.      Don’t procrastinate.  You may want to start out with, “I have bad news” But don’t be melodramatic. Maybe you would feel more comfortable just blurting out the worst new and going from there.  Either way don’t make things seem worse.


10.  Be reassuring. You are not dying.  As bad as this may seem, it is rather small compared to a terminal illness.  Try to find some comparisons and examples to put everything in perspective.  As bad as this is, it is not the end of the world, or your life!



Sometime authorities go after family members to coerce cooperation. Of course this can put a tremendous stress on any relationship.

            In one case the DEA arrested a moderately connected drug dealer.  They                         brought in his wife who was seated right across the table from him.

They threatened to arrest and charge her even though they knew she had nothing to do with his enterprise. All they wanted was corroboration on two guys who they already had in custody.  The DEA even laid out the case in detail against him and his friends. He claimed ignorance.

He sat calmly in the chair as they hand cuffed his wife making good on their threat. The next morning the DEA made sure he saw the newspaper with his wife’s mug                                     shot on the front page with the story the DEA wanted.  Still he remained silent while he and his wife remained in county lock-up.

Two days later he finally told them what they already knew.  Oh yeah, after he also found out his friends were out on bond for ratting him out!

She lost a good paying job.  Even though the DEA quickly dropped the charges, against her the damage was done to her reputation.

Still, she eventually forgave him.  Well, as much as anyone can in that type of situation. She sent money and brought their 1 year old daughter to visitation quite often.  If this woman can still stand by her man, you have pretty strong hope.

Husbands and wives often times come together in critical times.  Women in particular show an amazing willingness to go the extra mile in the face of adversity.

Most of those interviewed said they told their wife only the basic information and minimized the outcome until each scenario played itself out.

For example, if their attorney said they could get probation to 5 years, they told their wife they would probably get probation (forgetting to mention any prison term).

Time and again inmates said they did not thoroughly discuss finances or long term future prospects their spouse.  This created a turbulent long term problem.

It might be more comfortable for both of you to discuss your situation in short conversations. As the pain and strain grows close the conversation and agree to come back later, either in an hour or the next day.

Make sure your spouse reads this manual.  Cover each topic together, especially the financial chapters.

You might be surprised how much can get done if the two of you work as a team.  The important part is to keep communicating.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help or get upset at any question.

1.      What am I going to say to my spouse?


A surprising number of inmates told their children they were going out of town to work or college. A youngster commented one of the buildings must be the dean’s office because it was surrounded by a fence!

There does not seem to be a great deal of disappointment when children are told the truth.  This real the question is who are the parents are protecting, the children or themselves?

Maybe parents do not want their story let out to everyone on the play ground and neighborhood?  Whatever the case, realize the truth is probably going to come out.  It is just a question if it will be on your terms.

There are a few exceptions but children of all ages rally and highly support the parents.  Children from 4 to 40 write frequently, visit often, and even in the case of older children send in a fair amount of money.

One inmate interviewed mentioned his 8 and 10 year old daughters saved their allowance so they could buy dad snacks and drinks with their own money during visitation.  They refused to allow any one else to buy and got mad if dad did not eat enough.

What you tell young kids is totally dependent on how you believe they will react.  Certainly if you don’t want everyone and their brother to know then it is a prickly situation.  You and your spouse need to work out a story.  However you should also have a plan on when you are going to tell them the entire story.


If you choose to tell them about going to prison be sure to tell them about visitation.  Include some of the positives like education opportunities and sports.  Let them know you will be making all kinds of new friends. One inmate told his kids he was going to time-out for being bad.  He turned it into a life lesson for his kids.

1.      What am I going to say to my kids?


Inmates consistently reported it was hardest telling their parents than anyone else.  However once involved parents gave considerable comfort and financial support.   No matter the accusation or the seriousness of the situation, parents were the first to put on a smiley face and bring hope to the worst case scenario.

Inmates who were not very close to mom and dad became a center of attention and in some cases almost a purpose to live.

In-laws also seemed to be enthusiastic supporters. In cases where husband and wife were incarcerated it was not unusual for in-laws to visit them as much as the inmate’s spouse.

Parents and in-laws appear to be highly reliable sources for sending money, books, and dealing with personal affairs and in many instances even more so than their spouse.

It is important not to sugar coat anything when discussing your situation with parents or in-laws.  Be brutally honest.  Give the most absolute worst case scenario upfront.  Either they will give you support or not however leaking worse and worse news will try their patience.

Parents can also tell others about your situation in a non-gossip style. To be sure there is going to be some gossiping about you.  Parents can tell your story while protecting your integrity especially with other family members such as aunts and uncles.


Maternal and paternal instincts kick in when their children are involved.  Swallow your pride and let them help.

1.      What am I going to say to my parents?

2.      What am I going to say to my in-law?

3.      What am I going to say to my grandparents?


Now is a wonderful time to have good friends. Now is a dreadful time to have friends. This event will separate your good friends from your friends.  Some will see this as a call to action while others will see it as an opportunity to call and gossip.

While speaking to family a healthy dose of humility may be in order.  When speaking to friends, a more self-assured tone may be best.

In the internet age, stories are hard to hide. The truth (or at least the government’s version,) is going to be a few key strokes away. Spouse, children and parents are likely to take your story at face value.  Friends are much more likely to dig deep and maybe even embellish. Therefore it may be a good idea to give as few details as possible in the beginning.  As time progresses you can let out more details.

Consult with your attorney on what you (and your family) can or should not say. You don’t want to unintentionally incriminate you or others any further.

In some case the rumor mills and falsehoods are going to run wild.  It is just part of the process.  While this manual tries to keep you in the here and now, in this case it is absolutely crucial you focus on the future. The fury will pass. The rumors will die down.

Control what you can and don’t worry about what people say.  Easy advice in hard times.

Be careful who you alienate.  This is not the time to make new enemies. Some people are petty, it is their nature. There is nothing wrong with distancing yourself from those types.

At the same time it is important to surround yourself with a support group of friends and family.  This is a time to bring people closer to you when instinctively you want to push them away.

1.      How do I tell my friends?


Chapter 3

Chapter 5

Table of Contents

Glossary Terms