Ever Been Arrested? – The Fear and Confusion of an Inmate in Jail – But, What About You? Part 2

Humans adapt. In no time at all, an inmate's life becomes the 'new normal'.

For those of you who have never been arrested and spent time in a jail, it is nearly impossible to fully understand the trauma that an inmate has to deal with.  This Article, the second in a series, will attempt to provide you with a clear picture of the horror and stress an inmate deals with as the days turn into weeks, the weeks into months.

The Inmate

Humans adapt. In no time at all, an inmate's life becomes the 'new normal'.

By the second month of incarceration an inmate begins to relax.  His mind begins to clear of all the original fears and confusion he was first consumed by as he understands his life as he knew it is over, at least for the moment.

Humans, like all animals, have an incredible ability to adapt to a changed environment. It takes a little bit of time, but we do find a way to survive.

In jail, the once-hard bed becomes more comfortable, the bland food begins to actually become acceptable.  The lack of privacy and fear of the people they live with is no longer as pressing as it once was.  The inmate has begun to develop a strategy for how he will fight or negotiate his criminal case and now looks at all the options he faces, not with fear, but with a healthy acceptance of his situation.

The inmate has accepted his job may be lost, his car, home and many of his possessions may have to be sold to fight his case or cover his bills. This is a time of transition. Either he will soon be free and will pick up his life as he left it, or he will be coming home to a situation where he will have to rebuild much of what he once had.

He has adjusted to the lack of physical contact with his loved ones.  Visits, phone contact, letters, cards and things to read from the outside are vital during this stage as he needs to know he is still loved and those on the outside are thinking about him. It is the one thing that he still expects and that keeps him sane. Those who do not have this contact withdraw into themselves and stop caring about you, if only to protect themselves from being hurt.


You have your own emotional and physical needs, and you begin living your life in a different way, but if you care about the person incarcerated and know this situation is only temporary, keep this relationship going by devoting four to five hours a week to him in the only way you are allowed. Do not feel you have to emphasize how you currently live your life. In the inmate’s mind, your relationship is as real as it was when you were together before his arrest. Having him consumed with jealousy or a fear that he has lost you is not the way for your relationship to stay strong. His memory of your good times together is all he remembers, even though you may remember and feel differently.

If the inmate is emotionally mature, he will start to feel empathy and acknowledge the difficult situation you are left with.  You have had to morph his responsibilities into your own, creating pressures and additional work that are completely unfair to you. Your focus on his needs, in addition to your own, will help him to be appreciative of your unselfishness, and he will feel inclined to profess this to you in the best way that he can. Remind him that you know if your situations were reversed, he would do the same for you.

However, if his demands are unrelenting and your phone calls and visits are filled with anger and accusations from him, then he needs a reality check, and you should tell him he needs to understand the difficult burdens you now have. In his mind he will believe you are being weak and unsupportive, but because it is a two-way street, you must be firm in instructing him to back off if he hopes to have you to stick around and wait for his release.

Happy couple - Inmate and his free wife.Many couples or friends that are thrust into this situation become closer. The fights and petty arguments end as they both look forward to their few meetings and contacts, and they don’t want to waste a minute with trivial matters.  Because he is now sober, he is more rational in his thinking.  He is learning to control his emotions as he lives in an environment where an emotional outburst can snowball into a serious altercation that will affect whether he lives with a few minor privileges or none at all.

Conversely, many couples or friendships completely unravel as the person on the outside comes to terms with the belief that they don’t want or need the person incarcerated.  You may find that your quality of life has subsequently improved considerably. Even if the inmate will be returning soon, he is not wanted back. This is a difficult thing to deal with, but if this is the way it is, you must accept it and lay out a plan to end your relationship sooner rather than later when the inmate is freed.

Keep in mind that a sober and lonely inmate will promise anything to keep you around. If promises are made and you are willing to hang in there, giving him another chance, make him write them in a letter and then go over his promises with him when he gets out.

Inmates who are waiting for a trial and expect to receive a lengthy jail or prison sentence fall into two categories:

  • They fight like hell to keep you.
  • They slowly pull away as their life as they know it is now over.

In both of these circumstances, the inmate probably still cares about you, however everyone deals with their situation with a close friend or loved one locked up in jail differently.  It becomes your decision whether you stay with the inmate or turn your back on him forever.


If you found this helpful and want to understand an Inmate’s initial thoughts and fears, click here for Part 1.

Relationships that must cope with Long-term incarceration – Part 3 in a series, click here.



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.