Parenting while one parent is in federal prison can be a challenging and emotional experience, both for incarcerated individuals and their children, but it is also one of the most important things to consider. I know this from personal experience, as my two children were in their early 20’s when I was incarcerated and saw how hard it can be. 

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, here are some suggestions for those looking to maintain a strong relationship with their children while serving a federal prison sentence:

1.    Stay in Regular Contact:
o   Encourage your children to write letters or emails to you as well, as this can help them express their thoughts and feelings.

2.    Utilize Visitation:
o   If possible, encourage family members, including your children, to visit you in prison. Visits can provide valuable face-to-face time and help maintain a sense of connection. In federal prison camps, visits are relaxed and usually free from guard interference. 
o   Children often have dedicated areas to play games while their parents visit. There are usually vending machines available for the family during the visits, and some camps have a dedicated “picnic-area” to use during visits.

3.    Support from Family and Friends:
o   Encourage your children to seek support from trusted family members or friends who can provide emotional stability and guidance in your absence.

4.    Education and Involvement:
o   Stay involved in your children’s education, even from prison. Stay informed about their school progress, attend parent-teacher conferences remotely if possible, and provide guidance and encouragement for their academic pursuits.
o   Be aware of your children’s extracurricular activities and interests and offer support and encouragement.

5.    Positive Role Model:
o   Strive to be a positive role model for your children, even while incarcerated.
o   Focus on personal growth, self-improvement, and rehabilitation to demonstrate your commitment to their well-being.

6.    Plan for Reentry:
o   Use your time in prison to plan for your eventual release and reintegration into your children’s lives. Develop a plan for how you will provide emotional and financial support upon your release.
Every prison will have unique policies regarding children, so be sure to confirm with your case manager or another prison official what the policies are.

An absolutely essential part of parenting while behind bars is being open and honest with your children. Of course, you should tailor your discussions to their age and level of understanding, but you should be as transparent as possible about why you are there, how long you can expect to be away, and what you will do when you come home. It is also important that your children know that even while away, you will still be there for them, to the best of your ability.

To be sure, while there is no “perfect” way to parent while in federal prison, there are several steps you can take that make it easier, both on you and most importantly, on the children. 

If you or your loved one will soon be entering federal prison and are concerned about the impact it will have on your children, please do not hesitate to get in touch, and I will happily discuss your situation, and see how I can best assist you!

Sam Mangel
Member: American Bar Association