What Do I Say When People Ask if They’re in Prison?

It was difficult enough to face that fact that your loved one was going to jail or prison but with time you accepted it. It can still be awkward when others ask where he or she is. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Good people make bad choices. And it isn’t you who is incarcerated, but that still doesn’t make it easy when the question comes up.

Here are some suggestions for how to address the question:

Tell the truth: Depending on how you feel about people knowing where your loved one is, you might just say prison or jail. You don’t have to give details unless you want to. A quick, “She is incarcerated,” is sufficient. If they push for details it’s okay to say you don’t want to discuss it. “It’s a long boring story that I’d rather not get into,” usually shuts the questions down.

Give a Partial Address: Let’s say your inmate is in an Indiana prison and you live in Alabama. When someone asks where your loved one is, give the geographic location. For example, “He lives in Indiana.” The same thing works when you live in the same state as the jail or prison. If you live in Nashville, TN and the inmate is in the Sumner County Jail in Gallatin, TN, you simply say he lives in Gallatin.

Decide who will know: There is no reason to cause undue stress by giving information to people who have no need for it. You never know how this information could someday harm your loved one. Once released, she will be looking for a job, making new friends, starting over. It may be that the less you share before his or her release the better. People in your circle will get to know the person first and learn about their history of incarceration later, if it is relevant. In general, your place of employment, the civic organizations you belong to, and neighborhood gatherings are not where you should discuss having an incarcerated loved one. Spiritual leaders, family members, close friends, and support groups are typically safe for you to open up to.

Don’t hide the location: In some cases, the person asking already knows the answer but is hoping to get the details. Once you say your inmate lives in Indiana the person who asked may give you a smug smile and say, “I heard she is in prison.” This is why you should always give the true geographic location. You can then respond by saying, “Yes, in Indiana, is there something more about it you feel a need to know?” Without being rude you have subtly called that person out about being too nosy and it will typically stop further questioning.



About Mark Miclette 682 Articles
writes about inmates, jails, prisons, courts and the lives of people who live and work within the United States Criminal Justice System. His mission can be summed up in a single word; transparency.