08 Aug
My RSVP Is No To This Prison Party

Dear Mouthy Housewives,

I have a family situation that is just terrible. My little brother, who is now 20, will be going to prison for offenses involving drugs, theft, etc. for a few years. This has been a LONG time coming since he started down this path at the tender age of 14. My parents are upset with how my siblings and I have handled this, basically they believe he needs our support and we should have more contact with him while he serves his sentence IN PRISON!!!! My parents and I have gone head to head on this issue too many times over the past 5 yrs or so, I’ve told them he’s NOT the brother I grew up with and I don’t want a relationship with him. Am I wrong for not wanting to send my brother a card or letter or pictures of my child, who he’s only seen three times anyway? Am I wrong for being honest with my parents about my decision? Why can’t they respect the relationship (or lack there of) I’ve chosen to have with my brother?


Rejecting a Rikers Reunion


Dear Rejecting a Rikers Reunion,

Let me begin by saying I’ve been studying my prison slang dictionary (it helps with Scrabble) so I can relate to this problem not only on an empathetic level, but also on a verbal one.

Having a sibling that is “going away to cooking school” can be an extremely stressful and very emotional ordeal for the entire family and not everyone is going to look at Little Johnny’s time “killing his number” in the same way.

To your parents he is still their little baby boy. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine if it were your child who was “on the hustle.” It has to be hard for them to separate the baby they held in their arms 20 years ago and the adult who’s been “slinging rock” and “jumping out.”

Ok, I’m being told that I have to stop the slang now. Perhaps, this is because I just fashioned a shank out of my toothbrush and asked my husband who I needed to cut to score some cake up in this joint.

The important thing here is to understand where your parents are coming from. That being said, as a parent yourself, you still must do what you think is best for your own family. And if that means keeping your distance from your brother and halting any contact between him and your child then, as the mother here, you know best.

Explain to your parents that you understand their position and the unfailing love they have for their son. Tell them that you respect their desire to continue to support him; that you hope things with your brother will change for the better. However, until that time, you must do what you believe is best for yourself and for your family.


Tonya, TMH

22 Responses to “My RSVP Is No To This Prison Party”


Comment by patrick.

I agree that RRR must do what she feels best for herself and her children. But, she should make her decision with all of the facts, not just the influence of Tonya’s pejorative slang “humor”. All of the research regarding the future fate of imprisoned offenders indicates strongly that those inmates who maintain close ties with their families during incarceration do much, much better following release. They re-offend at significantly lower rates and are much more likely to establish non-criminal lifestyles going forward.

StephanieG Reply:

I have to respectfully disagree with your tactics here. RRR’s brother has made the life choices that have landed him in prison. I don’t think it’s fair to imply that if RRR doesn’t stay in touch with him during prison that he’s more likely to re-offend. She’s not to blame for his original offenses, and she shouldn’t be guilted in to supporting him to prevent future ones.

RRR, if you are ok with severing your ties with your brother forever, even though he may rehabilitate in prison and come out a nicer guy, then you’re wise to cut off communications now. However, if you ever hope to reconnect with the little brother you once knew, supporting him now is probably the best thing you can do for him, and for any hope of a future relationship.

Should you decide to try to maintain a relationship, set some firm boundaries. Personally, it would kind of creep me out to send photos of my kid to prison, so you can always draw a line in the sand that you refuse to cross. Share with him what you’re willing to share, but keep your distance on the other stuff.

My heart aches for you and your family, and I hope that you find the solutions you’re looking for here.

Wendi Reply:

Thank goodness I have SG to say what I wanted to say.

Steph Reply:

I totally thought I was reading a Wendi response til I say the signature line. And, Tonya, that is a big compliment!

Danielle Reply:

Expect him to ask for money too. We do criminal defense at my work. I listen to the phone calls of those in prison. I haven’t met one who really cares what he is doing to his family. It’s all about what you can do for them.

VG Reply:

I’m RRR, and thank you for comment. Though I’d like to disclose that I actually work in the Mental Health/D&A area, went to school for it, and I know how the mind of an addict works. So, by my decision to NOT have him in my life or my child’s life make him keep doing drugs? You know there’s other consequences to using drugs and breaking the law than just jail time… just sayin’


Comment by Leah.

As a siser who has been in the same situation, I can TOTALLY sympathize and empathize. My brother was locked up at 17 and was in and out until he was 30. He was not rehabilitated any of the 4 times he was imprisioned. He would take advantage of my parents and get their hopes up only to do it all over again. It caused a pretty big riff in my family for a while-especially with my mom.
I did keep in touch with him at first, but after he came to my house one holiday and stole some things from me I was done. I did not want him anywhere near my family. Of course, he went back to jail again and again for the same stupid things. It was not until he was out and clean and sober for over a year that I finally had any contact with him. We are now very close and my children are going to be in his upcoming wedding.
You have to do for you and your family first. You can only hope he will be rehabilitated and can become the brother you once knew and loved and you can let him back into your life, slowly.
Good luck to you (and to him)

VG Reply:

I’m RRR and thanks for the “hope” that one day my little brother may become the person I know he can be.


Comment by Meredith L..

But think of all the fun playground threats your son will accumulate! “My turn to ride the swings OR I WILL SHANK YOU, FRESH MEAT!”

In all seriousness, I’ve not been in your situ, but you have my utmost sympathy. Is there a sort of happy medium you could find? Like, once a month you send him a long letter about your life, but that’s all – no phone calls, no visits, and certainly no photos?

He may rehabilitate, he may not. That’s not your call, and it’s not your doing or not doing. I’ve never believed that “blood is thicker than water,” because I have plenty of my own worthless relatives polluting my family tree. Do what you think is best.


Comment by Plano Mom.

Relationship goes both ways. Why is it your responsibility to make the connection? If he isn’t interested, it’s not his parents job to force it.

If he reaches out, don’t close the door – one should never give up on the hope of life change. But your boundaries are yours to set, and your love is conditional. Don’t let your parents’ unconditional love for their son affect your decision.


Comment by Nona.

Plano Mom wrote exactly what I was thinking, so I would follow her advice because she can read thoughts like Sookie Stackhouse. And Sookie always seems to know how to handle a rough crowd.

VG Reply:

I like Sookie 🙂 I’ve read all her “adventures” so far…


Comment by PM.

My brother was in and out of prison during his twenties. Althouh I was ashamed of him, and embarrassed, I still loved him and wanted him to have a life when he got out. I didn’t write to him or visit often, but I did do both.

That TINY little bit of humanity and compassion I showed him went a long way. He said reading those cards and letters gave him inspiration to better his life.

Please, get over yourself just a bit and realize not everyone is perfect. You don’t have to be PROUD of him, but for crying out loud, don’t disown the guy.

I pray it all works out for your family.

I'm a big ol' b with a captial B! Reply:

“Please get over yourself”?! WHAT?! Seriously? How is considering her safety and sanity, and that of her family, being self-centered? It’s not. It’s called being SAFE. She’s not a mat to be walked on.

Seriously, he’s the one that messed up for so many years that he’s finally now landed himself a cozy spot in jail. Let him work towards a renewed relationship with his sis, when he’s EARNED it back.


Comment by rojopaul.

Lots of great advice here from steering clear to having some contact to lots of contact. I can’t relate in any way (other than having crazy family members), but my two cents is you can still send a note from time-to-time or have your kids draw him a picture. (I definitely vote no on sending him pics of your kid though.) I also wonder if part of why he is why he is is because your parents coddled him like they are trying to make you and your siblings do as well. Maybe this is the time for tough love. “We love you but you’ve made your choices, and now it’s time to experiences the consequences of those choices.” It doesn’t mean you don’t love him.

I vote for periodic interaction, which may at least help him see you are there as you can be. And if it doesn’t help him, you did what you could anyway. At the end of the day, his choices are his and his alone. Unfortunately, some people just never learn that lesson. Or it takes 20 years.


Comment by Chunky Mama.

This was a great answer to a difficult question. Nice job.


Comment by Steve Bennett.

Some great advice there! My great nephew is looking at another spell in prison, for the same thing as he’s been in the last four times for. When I got married and had children, they became my “family” and the ones I feel loyalty and respect for, all the rest are relatives, you don’t get to choose them, and I don’t think anyone has the right to guilt trip you into being responsible for or to them. Your life, your choice. And good luck!


Comment by VG.

Hey everyone.
I think instead of writing to you all individually, I’ll just write openly to all. 1st: THANK YOU very much for the comments and suggestions/advice. Even coming from both ends of the spectrum, it’s refreshing to hear them.
I just read Tonya’s response since I wrote to you all a few wks ago and I did pretty much what she suggested: Let my parents know that my decisions/relationship with my lil’ brother hasn’t changed and won’t for a while. My Dad did tell me what prison he was taken to and how long he would get (5 yrs). He didn’t exactly “tell” me to write to him, but said, “I’m just putting it in your head, that’s all”. I thanked him and that was that. They respected my honesty and we’re now on the same page, I hope…
Also, I had long conversations with my siblings on this matter and my assumptions about being the “dark horse” were wrong, since my older brother is feeling the same way I am, where as my sister is more so siding with my parents.
This is really hard for me since I have the background in dealing with these issues on a MH/D&A side of things, but yet he’s MY BROTHER! But there needs to be a cut-off or ending. Addicts will manipulate and will do ANYTHING to get what they want. Do they want to hurt their families? No, it’s the disease that hurts, but they also have a choice to stop it. It takes years for some to get on the right track, to clean up their lives, and sometimes it takes just one more hit or drink, and then that’s it, lights out. He needs to learn that there are consequences to his actions, our relationship is one of them.
I still need to work this out where I’m not angry at him for putting us in this situation, angry at my parents/siblings who still want to enable him, angry at myself for maybe not doing more… there’s just so much crap to sift through. I’ll keep you all posted!

Tonya Reply:

I just want you to know that your question was a really hard one to answer and that’s from an outsider’s perspective. You seem extremely knowledgable and very strong. Whatever you choose to do with regard to your relationship with your brother will be the right choice for you and your family. I wish you all the luck in the world!! Yours is not an easy place to be.


Comment by AP.

I just thought I might throw another side in, not really relating to whether or not RRR decides to keep in contact with her brother.

My mother’s only sibling was in and out of jail for years, for drug abuse, when I was younger. Looking back, I appreciate that my parents didn’t totally hide everything that was happening. It wasn’t something that we discussed with other people, but I was able to see a direct example of strong consequences for poor choices.

My grandparents reacted the same way that RRR’s parents are reacting…they just kept loving him the best way they knew how. My parents did not choose to keep such close contact with my uncle, but they also did not reject any letters or calls that he made. I remember that he would send “book chapters” to my sister and I with cute little stories of dragons, characters with names similar to ours, and illustrations. I really think that my parents letting us see these pages helped me to understand better how all of my different family members were feeling. I understood that my mom was hurt and even a little angry, but it was also a great reminder that the brother that she grew up with was still in there somewhere.

All that to say, keep making choices that you feel comfortable with. But also, don’t forget to talk through this experience with your child (assuming they are old enough to understand some of what is happening).

Also, my mom went through the stage of being exasperated with her parents for their continued enabling…if your parents are anything like my grandparents, then you may as well skip that stage because they never have changed. They just keep on loving their “little boy” as best they can. Instead, we have all taken on the roll of loving on my grandparents even more. Because despite the fact that supporting him is their choice, the years of my uncle’s struggling really did hurt them in a huge way (whether or not they let it show).

Sorry for the rambling!

VG Reply:

Thank you for your comment AP. My child is only 16 months old, so she’s unaware of the situation. But if she ever asks me about it one day, I have no qualms with telling her what happened and how it affected me (if she also asks that too). Maybe by then, my brother will be able to tell her himself, who knows?


Comment by Melody M.

I feel so much for your situation because it is pretty much identical with what I dealt with. (Except I had no other siblings but my brother and there was an abundance of insanity pretty much my whole childhood, between him and our father.) It sounds like the two of you got along before he swerved off the path as a teenager. My brother and I were more than opposites and even though he’s a year younger than me, he was bigger, meaner, and angrier. But he was still my brother. When he went to jail, I felt like he did deserve to be punished for his crimes and I hoped that he would learn from the experience and try to become a better person. He’s the only sibling I have and prison is a very scary place. I was worried sick something would happen to him there or something would happen to him when he got out. I did visit him when I was able (living out of state made it trickier). Somehow, desperately wanting him to change his ways trumped the childhood full of torment. I’ll never understand him- to this day, we get along better apart mostly. But growing up and moving on from the pain of the past has helped us to have more of a relationship than we ever had before, for what it’s worth. At times, he still breaks my heart, but it would break my heart more to lose him forever.
My mom would never give up on him (or my dad), even though she would have had a right to many times over the years. With the similar experience to yours and being a mother myself, I can understand your parents’ reaction- they are scared your brother will be alientated by the family, give up, and be doomed to repeat his mistakes and they are terrified for him. But they need to respect the fact that you are going through a grieving process of sorts- you’ve lost your brother as you knew him, and now you’ve lost years of time with him during his incarceration. It takes a long time to process and deal with all of that. You need the distance from him during that. Trust has been lost and it won’t come easy to regain it- you will want proof that he is willing and actively trying to change his ways. Only time will tell if there is a future for your relationship. Even after all he’s put your family through, it’s hard to walk away completely and never wonder what’s to become of him. Because he’s your brother and you love him. It would be so much easier, cut and dry, if you didn’t.
I would really recommend counseling to help you sort your feelings out an decide what is best for you. It helped me immensely to work through everything and be able to let go of the past. (Having someone who doesn’t personally know you and can help you objectively organize your thoughts and feelings really works, ironically.) Not forgetting, but not letting it have a hold on me. I’m sorry for what you’re going through. Things will never be the same, and it’s ok to be angry about your brother’s bad life choices, because no one’s decisions in life ever just affect them. But if your family can respect that you need time yourself to heal from this, maybe the future won’t be lost.

Consider Checking Out...