Difficult Conversations

There are many aspects of prison life not to like, but I can't imagine how difficult it must be for inmates with small children. One of the many issues confronting those inmates is how to explain where daddy is. For a while he can be gone on business or vacation, but that explanation only works for so long. Sooner or later, a difficult conversation becomes inevitable.

I've always avoided difficult conversations like the plague. My thinking was that, given some time, perhaps the circumstances creating the need for the conversation might change, making the difficulty magically disappear. As that worked for me 2% of the time, I incorporated it as a core value. When the conversations would become unavoidable, I would rehearse them, playing out how they might go in my mind. This exercise invariably created more intense stress than the actual conversation ever did.

Recently an inmate here at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp got a first hand experience with this, when his 6 year old daughter was told by one of her friends, "Your daddy can't come to family day at school because he's in prison." Up until that time, she and her mom had come often to visit, but the setting here is nice, and the daughter hadn't realized that she was visiting a prison. She soon put 2 and 2 together and came up with a solid 4, and knew why daddy wasn't around. When this happened, mom freaked out.

Here's the summary of the next phone call.

Inmate: I wanted to talk to you about what your friend told you.

Daughter: OK

Inmate: I'm in timeout.

Daughter: Are you in prison?

Inmate: Yes

Daughter: For how long?

Inmate: For 3 Christmases

Daughter: But you're not in real prison.

Inmate: It's a real prison, but it's not a bad prison.

Daughter: What did you do?

Inmate: I took something I wasn't supposed to take.

Daughter: Did you give it back?

Inmate: I gave back most of it, but not all of it.

Daughter: Did you say you were sorry?

Inmate: Yes

Daughter: Are you OK?

Inmate: Yes, I'm at the same place where you visit.

Daughter: Oh, OK. That's a fun place. Gotta go.