Supporting a Former Felon: A Guide for Loved Ones

Being released from prison doesn’t mean that everything is suddenly back to normal. The culture shock of returning to everyday life after incarceration can be difficult for not only the former prisoner, but their friends and family, too. How can you and your loved one adjust to your new situation?

Here are a few ideas. For advice on seeking employment, visit

Set goals.

Getting to grips with the outside world can be very hard, especially if your loved one has been in prison for a long time. The world has moved on while they have stayed largely the same. Setting small goals can help things feel less overwhelming, but when these goals are achieved, the rewards can be great.

Dealing with addiction

Addiction is a huge problem in the prison population. Many prisoners were addicted to drugs of some sort before entering prison, and on release, the temptation can be overwhelming. Others became addicted to drugs while in prison and risk re-entering prison as a result of continuing their addiction on the outside.

If they are dealing with addiction, your loved one will need huge amounts of support and tough love to get through it. Don’t deal with it alone. Get professional help.

Stay away from the wrong things.

People who leave prison often find themselves isolated from the friends they knew before they went inside, and it can be tricky to readjust to not spending time with those same people. This is especially tricky to navigate for people whose former friends are still involved in some sort of criminal activity. You can help your loved  one to resist temptation by spending time with them, checking in with them, and potentially even having them stay with you until they’re firmly back on their feet. Communication is key. Encourage your loved one to tell you if they’re struggling, so you can work through it together.

Accept that it will be hard.

It’s unfortunate but true that for many people, being released from prison will be extremely difficult. They might be rejected by their family and friends, experience stigma, and even be looked down upon by complete strangers.

The only way to move past this kind of rejection is to accept it, while also understanding that it doesn’t mean they’ll never be accepted back into society. Make sure your loved one understands that even small steps can make a huge difference, and keep them focused on where they want to go rather than where they’ve been. Others will come around eventually.

Communicate constructively.

In prison, many methods of communication that aren’t acceptable on the outside are the norm. Behaving aggressively can be a way to protect oneself from other inmates, and it’s easy for anger and frustration to fester. This anger and aggression can be extremely detrimental to people trying to adjust to life on the outside, so communicating with your loved one calmly and honestly is essential. There will be times when one or both of you will be frustrated or find things difficult, but you can get through it as long as you keep talking honestly and openly about how you feel.