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What to Do When Someone You Love Goes to Jail

I enjoy giving relationship advice to help others get through rough patches.

Do you know someone who has recently been put into jail? Are you feeling overwhelmed, confused, angry, upset, or depressed? These feelings and emotions are completely normal. Having someone you love go into jail is an awful situation to experience. It's as if you've lost someone but they are still alive. It's hard to describe it to someone who hasn't experienced it.

You may notice yourself going through somewhat of a grieving process. Allow yourself to fully experience all the emotions and feelings regarding the situation, and seek guidance or counseling if necessary. The person in jail might need you now more than ever. So, allow yourself to start a healing process, and then do what they may need of you. Here are some useful tips below.


Beware, visiting someone in jail is stressful and annoying. Be prepared to do a lot of waiting. Every correctional institution is different, but they all have their own rules and guidelines regarding visitation. There are, most likely, specific days of the week and times when visits are allowed. And there will probably be a dress code too.

I have a family member in jail, and I've been visiting her for about eight years now. I can only visit her on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, or Sundays, and the hours are in blocks of 3-4 hours (twice a day). I'm not allowed to wear jeans, tank tops, or jewelry (except an engagement/wedding ring). There are tons of other attire restrictions as well. My average wait-time to get in and see her is about two hours. By that time, I'm usually tired, hungry, and thirsty. So, as I said before, be prepared. Hopefully, my family member will be out of jail in two or three years, so I won't have to deal with visitation "annoyances" ever again.

If the jail you are going to visit has a website, check it out! You should be able to find all the information you need on there.

Phone Accounts & Money

Your loved one in jail will most likely call you at some point. The calls are initially made "collect," but a phone account can be set-up on either end. I set-up a phone account through my cell phone to save my family member some money, and also because I don't have a home phone, so I can't receive collect calls. How the phone account usually works is that you will receive a call from your loved one; it will be an automated message. It should allow you to set-up an account or add money to an existing account. In the state that I live in (MA), it allows me to put money on my phone account in increments of $25. So, when my family member calls in, she doesn't have to worry about paying for the call. The phone account is very useful for people who plan on being in prison for a long period of time; most people who are only in jail for a small amount of time will usually just call collect. But it's really a matter of preference, convenience, and money availability.

Your loved one may need you to send money. In MA, we can only send money in the form of a cashier's check or money order; cash and personal checks are not allowed. Also in MA, you are only allowed to send money to someone that you personally visit in jail. So, my family member couldn't tell me to send money to one of her new friends in jail.

Guidelines and policies regarding phone accounts and money-sending in your state (or even country) may be different than the state I live in. It's always important to find out how these things operate beforehand so that you don't get overwhelmed and frustrated.


Again, this is a heart-wrenching and stressful time for you. But it's even worse for the person inside the prison. He/she needs your support, love, and guidance. They need to be kept on the right-track and they need to stay positive. So, make sure you are an active force in their life. It can get very lonely in jail, especially at the beginning, when they don't know anyone yet. Encourage your loved one to participate in programs within the jail, such as groups, counseling, school classes, employment, etc. Going suddenly from the outside world into prison can be hard for the body and mind to handle. So it's important for them to try to maintain some normalcy and regular routines into their new, and hopefully temporary, reality.

Give your loved one hope!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.