Sitting in jail, awaiting trial or resolution of a case, can be one of the most difficult things that defendants in criminal cases can go through. It can really wear at a person’s resolve to take their case to trial, even if innocent; or, in cases where a plea agreement has been reached, the worry about sentencing can nearly drive a person crazy.
Family members on the outside often have difficulty knowing what to do to help their loved ones who are in jail. Here are some of the ways you might be able to make their time bearable:
(1) Write them letters. In the days of text messaging, emails, and social media, nobody writes old fashioned letters anymore. In fact, I’m pretty sure there are going to be kids that don’t even know what that means. But when you are incarcerated, getting a pen-and-paper letter means more than most of them can say. It’s a huge rush of emotions to see that someone took the time to sit down and write out some words of encouragement. And it is something that they can keep hanging on to. Remember, however, that you should NEVER talk about the case in your letters to your loved one. You should assume that all of the letters that you send are likely to be read by the jail staff and copied to the prosecutor. Even if what you write is innocent, it still can end up being misconstrued and be very detrimental to the defendant.
(2) Send them books. One of the biggest problems with jail is that there is nothing but time. Most of the clients I have who are incarcerated are battling with boredom. There isn’t a lot they can do, but they can read. Most jails permit you to send new books directly to the jail from the publisher or from online sellers such as amazon.com. There is typically a limit on the number of books that are permitted at one time, so contact the jail before sending any books for their specific policy.
(3) Put money on their commissary account. This is particularly important in the beginning of their incarceration, because they will be without a number of self-care items. They will want to order things such as deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste. They will need to purchase a phone card to communicate with loved ones on the outside, and food will be another important factor in getting them through their stint in the jail. Snacks are going to be essential, because nothing makes passing the time worse than having to pass the time hungry. Dinner time in the jail is usually held around 4:30pm. That’s alright if you went in to the jail already ready for a nursing home, but most human beings are used to eating dinner much later. The wait for the next meal at 6:00am can be brutal if they don’t have anything to munch on in between.
(4) Make sure they have their “whites.” Generally, at the beginning of the defendant’s stay, the jails will permit you to bring to the jail new, unopened packages of underwear and white t-shirts that your loved one can wear underneath their jail uniform. In the winter, some jails also permit long-john type garments to go underneath. These items will be essential to your loved one feeling like they are not completely gross. The jail will make them go commando if they don’t have enough underwear. It’s going to be cold, uncomfortable, and embarrassing.
(5) Take their phone calls, but DO NOT TALK ABOUT THE CASE. Your loved one needs to talk to people on the outside to stay sane. But as tempting as it is to talk about what is happening with their case, DO NOT DO IT. I know that you are curious and want to know what is happening, but if you must know, then you need to find out through their lawyer. Do not ever talk about anything case related when your loved one calls you on the phone from jail. Every single phone call in the jail is recorded, and believe me, they are listening. How do I know that they are listening? Because nothing ruins my day more than when I have a client who hasn’t confessed, is going to trial because they are innocent, and suddenly, I get a tape delivered to my office with a nasty “I-told-you-so” note from the prosecutor letting me know that my client made incriminating statements on a call to his mama. It happens. And it happens on cases where my clients are ACTUALLY innocent. When you talk about the case, anything you say can and will be taken out of context, twisted up, and spit back out for the prosecutor’s use. It also ruins my day when family members get my client talking about our (secret) case strategy over the phone, and tip the prosecutor off to my winning argument. Criminal cases are always uphill battles. We need all of the advantages we can get. So, don’t go blowing your loved one’s case by talking about it with them on a jail phone.
(6) Visit, as frequently as possible. Most jails only allow for about one visit per week, though some permit more frequent visits. Check with the jail about their visitation policy. Most require you to schedule appointments, so make sure that you do that in plenty of time. Some jails have gone to video visitation, which just kind of sucks. It essentially allows you to show up at the jail and skype with your loved one, as if the talking through glass wasn’t bad enough. But, something is better than nothing.
(7) Stay in contact with their lawyer. Make sure that their lawyer is seeing them with enough frequency. Our office’s policy is that we see incarcerated clients once per week, even if nothing is going on in the case during the last 7 days. There isn’t a way for our clients to know that nothing is going on, and it makes them feel significantly better to know they are up to date on the case, even if that means telling them that nothing is currently happening.
(8) Cut them some slack. It’s easy to get into a bad mindset in the jail. It’s easy to get down in the dumps and depressed. It’s easy to get angry. It’s easy to start feeling sorry for yourself. Whatever your loved one is feeling, try to feel some empathy for them. They are in a difficult environment that would drive most sane people over the edge. Try to give them encouragement, and try not to yell at them for being down in the dumps.
(9) Make sure that they have good representation. You want your loved one to come home, and soon. So that means hiring the best to be on their side. Nothing makes jail easier than shortening the stay, and having a lawyer fighting for them is the best means to accomplish that.
If you have a loved one who is currently incarcerated and awaiting trial, contact the Michigan criminal defense lawyers at Miel & Carr, PLC at 616-773-2945 to discuss their case.