Developing a Personal Pardon Plan – Gratitude

When the totality of the damage we have done in the lives of others becomes revealed to us at a personal level, most individual will have moments feeling overcome by shame and grief. Use those moments to move on in life and embrace the opportunities they offer.

Do not look to a governmental board or the governor or president to issue you an official pardon. Your pardon has come from the top authority, Jesus Christ and it cannot be revoked.

Use the assessment time in the aftermath of re-discovering your true life to determine what you can do consistently for others on an anonymous basis; the joy is in the giving

Start your pardon plan by seeking personal reconciliation with God in the privacy of your heart. Surrender it all and ask Him to direct your future paths

The next step in drafting your pardon plan is family, which includes all members no matter how distant how have been offended or injured by our actions. The key to making this happen is to try to restore what has been lost by these others. We are not responsible for how they accept it, only for making a genuine attempt to repair and restore what has been lost.

The next element in developing a personal pardon plan is to do an honest inventory of our lives, counting the good and the bad. Once determined we make a list of things which we must complete to restore lost parts of our lives and we work to create those accomplishments.

The next component of your personal plan is the development of a very private action plan to reach out to others in your community who appear to be excluded, isolated, friendless, anger, mean and sullen consistently spending a brief time with them, a kind word of encouragement and perhaps a cup of coffee. These are your sheep, your personal flock to care for and feed.

The last element in a personal pardon plan is to determine what one small project can you do for others living well beyond our national borders. Perhaps making a donation toward digging a water well: Pledging a year’s support for the education of a needy child: Writing someone who has no one to reach out to them. Whatever you choose, make sure that it is done with an attitude of gratitude. Then stand back and watch how these gifts start to spill over into the lives of others.


Discarding the Mask and Abandoning Secret Lives

Everyone has an ideal image of themselves as well as the knowledge of the true characteristics which they display toward others in public and private life. Knowing the distinction is vital to the inner healing process.

Switching between the real and the ideal in relationships with others is highly destructive and destabilizing in the lives of others, particularly children who need consistency and a sense of order in their lives.

This pattern of alternating behaviors is crazy making, particularly for those in contact with such contradictory presentations. Trust can only be restored when one’s behaviors start to become consistent and predictable in a positive way.

Denial is often the primary pathway used by those who express themselves in contradictory behaviors. This is the ultimate breech in trust and will rapidly lead to the destruction of a relationship and the death of any expressed love interest.

Harboring secret behaviors, (drugs, gambling, prostitution, and pornography) becomes a burden to carry without impacting those who live just outside of your secret world.

If you feel that you cannot abandon the offensive behavior on your own, talk with someone and get some help now. Do not put it off as the pull of the secret life will just continue to grow if it is not extinguished now.

A great way to determine the presence of a personal mask and/or secret lives is to just ask yourself the question, would I be doing this in the presence of God, my spouse, my children, my family members?

Masks and secret lives dominate the landscape of modern life. As you start to pull off your own mask and resist the strong tugs of hidden activities you will be surprised at how pervasive this problem is in lives of those we know.


Perimeter Psychology, Labels and Severcide

Psychological evaluations are part of a court ordered exam and always happen upon admission to prison. There is no practical appeal from the determinations made by institutional professional staff.

It is a common practice to diagnosis an incoming offender with Antisocial Personality Disorder or other like diagnoses. These diagnoses are then used to make a determination at what prison an offender will housed and what training programs they will be allowed to engage in while incarcerated.

These diagnoses can haunt an individual through later years, so do all that you can to remain current on the official records maintained by the correctional agency. Some release restrictions are likely to be imposed based upon these findings, so be aware and be proactive.

In some jurisdictions these prison records serve as the information packet provided to parole boards, pardon boards, probation supervisor’s and media  contact. They may be rife with errors, so be sure to obtain copies of all these documents for purposes of review and correction.

Labels are a way of life when you become engaged in the criminal justice process. It is better to develop a tough outer hide and focus upon what God says: “You are my precious child.”

Slings and arrows will be launched against family members by those consumed with bitterness and a spirit lacking any indication of forgiveness. To those launching such attacks, there is little focus about who they hit. Be prepared for the occasional wound and practice forgiveness toward others.

Servercide is a term which has been developed to encompass the government and political approaches to exclusionary practices. While its primary targets are offenders and their family members, it may also be used to embrace those with birth limitations or behavioral defects.

Severcide is thought to directly impact the lives of one third of the American population. Given the targets of severcide, there is little interest or empathy for those who are stigmatized.


The Family on Parole – A Life of Transparency

When an offender returns home and is on parole or probation, one of the primary conditions is that their residence is always subject to an unannounced and warrantless search.

In practical terms this means that there is no place in the family residence which is beyond search and scrutiny. No one in the family has any practical right to privacy while the offender is on parole or probation.

Personal records like wage statements, credit card expenses, banking statements must be displayed to the parole or probation supervisor upon demand.

A curfew is likely to be imposed upon the newly released offender. Monitoring devices may be utilized to ensure compliance with the terms of release.

Individuals on parole have been known to be violated and returned to prison for breaking curfew or having access to alcohol or drugs, even if they belong to someone else.

It is highly unlikely that firearms will be permitted in a former prisoner’s home. Check with legal counsel to determine your rights to ownership and/or possession.

Unexpected changes of address or jobs as well as a dirty drug test or a positive result for alcohol use can trigger an immediate revocation and return to prison.

Failure to check the mandated parole or probation appointments and to pay the necessary supervision fees will result in a return to custody. Excuses will not work the authorities are seeking strict compliance.


Preparing for the Transition to Community Life

The family members and the prisoner have lived very different lives over an extended period of time. Do not expect anyone to adjust easily without indications of distress.

Since family members suffer in a number of ways, the adjustment period must include an opportunity to address their wounds and feelings of shame and mistrust.

The prisoner has likely experienced some dehumanizing encounters which may be triggered by any random trigger. It is common for prisoners to experience symptoms consistent with PTSD.

Learn the symptoms, talk about the underlying experiences and get help to deal with the intensity of emotions linked to any traumatizing experience.

Family members may need help in the adjustment process. Pick a mental health professional or clergy that has significant experience working with prisoners and their family members, or call Dismas Project for a referral.

The intensity of the pain and shame impacting all family members will lessen in time, but be prepared to experience peaks of pain for a significant time into the future.

Major decisions like divorce, remarriage, moving should be put off for at least one year after release. Each of these major life shifts produces stress. Do not add the burdens you are already carrying. Simplify your lives.

Remember that the transition period is a process. There will be low points and high points as you work through all of the challenges. Find a good church home which offers support, encouragement and Godly counsel.


Faith and Hope

Faith stems from a spiritual seed planted in our hearts. It is a personal response to Mercy, Grace and Forgiveness. Scripture is rich with many stories of impossibilities becoming realities. Do not give up before the miracle happens.

Faith is the opportunity to join with God’s plan for our lives. Faith requires surrender and acceptance in all domains where self-interests have previously reigned supreme -. One small step at a time.

Faith is its own reward. Out of the small seed of faith flows all of the power and direction we will ever need to fulfill our roles in God’s plan for our lives.

Have faith in His promise to use any and all circumstances toward our good. Hold onto that promise with every ounce of strength that you have within you.

Hope is the candle wick which floats on the oil of faith. It burns brightest in the darkest moments of adversity. Consider that hope is to adversity as warmth is to the sun.

Hope is born of faith, develops in the decisions we make throughout the day. Each day it is rekindled in every new encounter with pain and shame. It never yields to defeat.

Hope is what helps us to wake up every morning, to go to work, to love with abandon, to save money, to marry and have children, to pray and to worship. It courses through our lives in many forms and helps to sustain our lives.

Hope flows behind the battle lines of every life. It nourishes our souls with the sweet fruit of confidence in the promises of God. Even in death we take our hope as our companion on our final journey.


Mercy, Grace and Forgiveness

In addition to the primary gift of life, these are spiritual assets available to everyone. These tools are the mechanisms which can transform our lives from self-dependent to God-centered. They are not passively applied, but require active intervention.

Mercy was active up through the last moments of Jesus Christ’s earthly life. In that moment He assured the thief on the cross next to Him that “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

Mercy is the means that keeps us from utter devastation and hopelessness. His mercies are renewed each morning.

Jesus Christ has a special place in His heart for offenders, wrong doers and those who suffer as a result of their actions. Do not give up before you experience His victory for your offender and the rest of your family.

Grace is that flow of blessings which we receive each day. We have done nothing to earn it rather God provides grace to guide us through our daily lives. Most often we never recognize this gift, but once in a while, the effect of grace will be so startling that it imposes its own reality upon our lives.

Grace does not only flow from God to us, but is provided to each of us with the obligation to pass it on to others. Freely received and freely given.

Forgiveness is the single word which sums up the ministry of Jesus Christ. He came to provide us with forgiveness by His death in our place. He clinched the victory with His resurrection. There are none excluded from this promise. All we need do is reach out and accept His gift.

Forgiveness is not a popular concept. Yet it is love in action and it has the capacity to heal all wounds. Acts of forgiveness will not produce true friendships rather most likely you will be rebuffed. Forgiveness is the coin of the heavenly realms, the currency of love.


Keeping the Family Intact – Healing Betrayal

Any act which threatens the unity and integrity of the family is a betrayal of the trust of all the other family members, particularly the children.

Children usually have a fantasy image of their parents, they can do all things and overcome all obstacles and they never fail. They are all powerful. Recognizing the element of betrayal which all family members feel and talking about making mistakes and recovering from the errors we have made are character building moments for everyone.

Family love is not diminished by the thoughtless actions of another. We make the decision to forgive the failures of others and our own failures.

Reassure all family members particularly children that there is an end to this pain and shame. Encourage children to express themselves in drawings, writings, fairly tales and music as safe outlets for their fears and concerns.

Do not countdown the days to home coming. Focus upon some small goal for each week and then start putting those goals together into a clear family objective. All of these activates will work together for the common good of the family members.

Do not be fearful of angry or tearful encounters. These are opportunities to reach out to those responding to their personal pain. Move toward the individual in need, do not back away. Use touch and soft soothing words to help stabilize the crisis and assist the wounded toward peaceful resolution.

Never tell lies to protect someone, or soften the story because you have concerns how others will react to unfavorable news. These actions will only serve to undermine your own relationships with those who rely upon you for truthfulness and candor.

Do not make promises which are unlikely to be fulfilled. At the time of crisis another individual may hold on and grasp such a promise just to maintain their ability to function within the family. If you do not know what to say, ask for advice then proceed carefully.


Communication: Inside and Outside the Walls

The family lifeline is communication. Discover and use every method available to keep this link intact. Mail, telephone calls, visits are some of the possible opportunities to keep the contact fresh and meaningful.

At times, there may be a strong temptation to abandon further contact as all family members grapple with the pain and distress of the situation. The prisoner may reach a point of belief that cutting off communication would be best for those living in the community. One can have depression in prison as well as in the community.

Remember that those outside live a completely different life than the one inside. Share even the smallest things to keep the flow of information active.  Be creative and create your own family traditions which can be adapted to the restrictions imposed by incarceration.

Ask the prisoner what educational or training programs are available to them. Then encourage their participation in these activities. Each of these efforts will help the prisoner and family members to focus on a series of accomplishments, not just dwell on past failures and pain. Each family member can pass along one positive bit of information regarding their current life, it can help to reduce the tension between those inside and outside.

In some institutions it is possible to complete a GED or even an associate degree in conjunction with a local community college. Each day inside must be used as a day of preparation for life outside of prison.

Celebrate small victories. Don’t miss the opportunity to create a fusion of family moments and essential small steps by each member of the family. That is where the wealth of each family exists, in their most treasured memories.

Use telephone privileges wisely. They usually incur steep phone charges. Also avoid fighting or arguing. It destroys the value of a ten minute interaction between those who love each other. Always end the conversation on a positive note and bless each other.

Do not trust community or prison rumor mills. Check it out for yourself and find out the truth. Avoid being sucked into conflicts and hopeless situations. There is a plan for each member of your family, trust the process.


The Law: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Once an individual has been convicted of a crime, whether by jury or judge, the burden of proof is switched. Now the individual must prove their innocence.

It is a very difficult task to reverse a legal judgment. It does happen, but not very often. Think carefully before expending resources upon continued appeals. With each successive appeal, the burden may appear to be more difficult to prove.

Very few things that a prisoner will say are likely to have impact upon institutional policies or procedures. If your loved one has medical, mental or emotional problems before entry into prison, make sure a complete record of their healthcare needs is sent directly to the attention of the chief medical officer. Always follow up such submission with a verbal acknowledgement from the official.

Within the prison, there is a system of disciplinary procedures which can lead to various punishments for each infraction. Among these are a loss of good time (extra prison time), suspension of canteen privileges, placement in administrative segregation (the hole) without visiting privileges, denial of all contact visiting if found with contraband and possible referral for further prosecution.

If you bring any illegal items into a prison you may also be arrested and referred for felony prosecution. At a minimum you will lose your contact visiting privileges and be subject to strict inspection on any future visits.

Each state has its own parole, pardon and executive clemency policies. Review the published materials before seeking remedies through these avenues. In some jurisdictions there are procedures for petitioning for an early release based upon verified terminal illness.

There may be policies in place to request a move to a closer prison when the distance is extreme. Also be prepared to discover that your loved one may be placed in a prison far away, or even located in another state. Assignments are usually made for purposes of institutional convenience.

There is an institutional appeal policy in place to ask for review of any decision negatively impacting a prisoner during their period of incarceration. This practice must be initiated by the prisoner themselves.


Institutional Boundaries and Obstacles

Once your family member has been imprisoned, be prepared to be treated with suspicion and mistrust when dealing with prison authorities.

You will have to submit a background investigation application to arrange permission for visiting privileges.

Once visiting privileges have been granted, you will usually be restricted to certain visiting days and/or hours. Also the number of visitors is usually restricted.

Depending upon the prison facility, your visiting may be non-contact through a phone and glass window, or you may have contact visiting privileges in a large monitored room.

With contact visiting you may be permitted a brief hug and/or kiss at the beginning and end of your visit. Intimate behaviors will result in the termination of contact visiting privileges.

When visiting with children, they must be monitored at all times. Usually simple acts like allowing a child to sit on a prisoner’s lap will be discouraged.

Check before visiting to ascertain the dress regulations, you WILL be turned away if you or your children do not meet the appropriate dress requirements.

Always check the institutional mail and package regulations before sending anything to a loved one. There is usually a short list of things you can send, when you can send them and a list of eligibility requirements which YOU must meet before your loved one can receive items from outside of the prison. Always check before taking action to avoid unnecessary expense, disposal of your mailed packages and restrictions on contents.


Social Barriers and Community Scrutiny

Coldness and distance many become hallmarks governing old relationships in a new unfamiliar way. You may find that you are no longer welcomed in some circles, while your children are excluded from continued contact with other children.

Be prepared to receive U.S. mail from your incarcerated family member, with the words, “STATE PRISON” stamped on the front and back of the envelope.

Business people, with whom you have done business for years, may suddenly be reluctant to accept your check, or process your credit card without showing ID. There is a distinct gap from the way you had previously been viewed, in relation the way you are treated now.

If you are a wife raising children, you are likely to become a target for the interests of others who seek to use your situation for their own agenda. Be careful in accepting gifts from those you do not know. Counsel your children likewise.

Your plight may become the focus of those whose primary purpose is the get into your business for reasons of gossip. Some people make themselves feel better at the expense of those who are less fortunate. Be cautious.

Plan your activities ahead so that you minimize your public exposure to those who would profit in any way from your pain and shame. Just having a family member in prison makes you an object of interest.

Develop a relationship of accountability with a same-sex believer whose is rooted in their Christian spirituality. This communication link may become an essential support as you and your family work through the challenges of surviving a period of incarceration.

Locate a Christian advisor to help you plan a budget and to manage your financial obligations. Unless the family had money before the prison term, the period of this sentence may require hard fiscal choices to survive intact as a family.


Raising Children with a Parent in Prison

Children are particularly vulnerable to suffering, given their limited ability to process legal maneuvers or assess the actions of a parent in an unbiased manner.

Children need to be informed and helped to process their own thoughts and feelings at an age-appropriate level. Support and encouragement are essential.

Children will rarely broach painful topics with the parent or caregiver. Often they will harbor all types of misconceptions and misunderstandings about the facts and grave uncertainties about the future.

Children need to be guided in exploring the most sensitive issues, participating in a family dialogue and being reassured that with one parent already gone, they will not be abandoned by the other caregivers.

School children can be unmerciful in picking on another child whose parent is in prison. Talk with the child’s teachers, guidance counselor and school principal. Stay in touch with them and regularly keep them informed.

Children will often blame themselves for what has happened, by telling themselves that if they had been a better student or more obedient, than the imprisonment and loss of the parent would not have happened.

Bringing children to visit a parent in prison needs careful consideration and preparation. Children will also need time to freely discuss the impact of the visit without fear of wounding other family members

Children are malleable they can grow, bend and heal with loving care.


Surviving Incarceration and Release

Surviving Incarceration and Release:

It is not just the prisoner who suffers from the sentence imposed. The whole family (immediate and extended) are impacted by shock waves of rejection, suspicion and intrusion on personal privacy. The family serves its sentence in the community, while the offender is serving prison time.

Children are particularly impacted by issues of abandonment, loyalty, love, grief, shame and a pervasive lack of understanding.

Families and children have no legal standing in the courtroom.

Few resources are available to guide the family through the justice experience.  Less resources are available to help the family remain intact and to prepare for the post-prison transition process.

Relational Victimization Theory provides an overview of the impact of crime on primary victims, secondary victims and tertiary or community members.

Shame never heals, but instead rips at the fabric holding the family together.

Silence is not an indication of healing.  Suffering impacts everyone.

Healing is not a passive process, but requires a gentle knowing touch.


SIN and Crime

All crimes are sins against God

All sins are crimes against God.

We have all violated His laws.

The distinction between secular laws and God’s laws is artificial.

Early Church Fathers developed the concept of NOETICS, which is the belief that sin/crime negatively impacts the individual’s mental health.

The definition of KNOWETICS is an understanding and acceptance of the concept that Mercy, Grace, Forgiveness, Faith and Hope are vital spiritual tools which restores the individual’s mental health and redeems us from the influence of sin/crime, based upon the completed work of Jesus Christ.

Restoration of this spiritual relationship is the key focus of Dismas Project, restoring individuals, families and communities, one at a time.

This is a process, not an event. Be prepared for the journey.