• Melissa Alvis

The Difficulty of Living Two Lives Apart

A Princeton University study examined the effects of incarceration on marriage and family life. The findings of their research included the idea that both the stigma of a prison sentence as well as the separation caused by incarceration had a negative impact on the families involved. As we provided marriage seminar programming in Texas prisons this past year, we discovered this was true for many of the couples attending our programs.

Fear is a terrible thing. Fear is what grips the families of incarcerated men and women. One wife who has overcome an incarceration with her husband stated it this way, “In the early days of his incarceration I discovered I could not share that part of my life. I felt criticized, judged, and rejected by many in society when I did. This included my family, my friends, my co-workers, my neighbors and even my church. At the time, I thought I had to erect walls of emotional protection in order to dispel the negativity I would experience, which would keep me from moving forward with my life.”

The impact that families experience due to the separation caused by incarceration seems to be just as difficult for couples as the stigma is, or at least that was our takeaway in providing seminars in 2019. The reality is that the spouse left behind is now filling both roles in the household. As both Mother and Father, as the sole provider – the day-to-day responsibilities must seem insurmountable at times. We were told by many that the experience can foster feelings of loneliness, abandonment, fear, and insecurity.

Of the couples we have interacted with, only a small group of wives had any support system in place. They were the exceptions. The rule tended to be that most wives (or even husbands of incarcerated women) had little or no support. Having involvement, especially by the church, could provide much needed feelings of acceptance, security and dignity for family members in need. As a faith community we should be reminded of these poignant words,

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” {Gal. 6:2}

It is one thing to know that God understands my situation, but if someone else meets me where I am and helps me through a difficulty, just knowing that person cares makes all the difference in my ability to overcome.

∞ Therefore, let us encourage one another!

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