My husband's brother is going to jail for eighteen months and with good behavior will be out in about a year. This is devastating to our family. We are a very close family, and we had no idea that he was involved in some illegal, white-collar activities.
When he was first arrested, the family raised money for his defense lawyer and did everything they could to help him. At this point, I am sick of everyone feeling sorry for him and being preoccupied with his needs. I understand that his wife and children need to be cared for, but I don't feel I need to do without so that his children can get the best camps, toys, or guitar lessons for the next year, or send money to jail to help him have the easiest time there possible.
He did something illegal and now has to pay the price of his actions. How do I put a stop to this and tell my husband enough is enough?
This is a very painful subject and I hear your frustration. Many of your comments are valid and yet, something seems off about your assessment of the situation and your evident anger about being forced to help financially and possibly emotionally.
Therefore, I am going to break up your question according to the possible psychological factors inhibiting your desire to help, perhaps reframing various aspects of your problem to see things differently. Then I will address your concrete concerns so that you can figure out solutions according to your (hopefully) clearer perceptions.
Your righteous indignation at your brother-in-law seems valid at first glance, but really it may help you to put two things into perspective. One is that none of us is perfect, and this has been his nisayon that he has unfortunately failed, as we may have failed in other nisyonos. True, what he did to cause this calamity was absolutely wrong, but sometimes, the social view of a crime is what drives our reactions rather than the crime itself. Secondly, it is important to separate your (valid) condemnation of your brother-in-law's behavior — which was wrong and a chillul Hashem — and the needs of his innocent family.
Let us say that he did cross a line. Shamed the family, dragged you all into his problems, cost you money. And now that he is going to jail, you are done.
But really, this might be precisely the time to truly help. He is coming out in about a year, you say. What kind of man would you like to see emerge from jail? A bitter man, feeling alone, isolated, and cut off from his brothers? A man filled with resentment at the callous disregard of others at his mistakes? A man coming home to traumatized children, an angry wife? Is that what you want to achieve? Or, does it seem more productive to support your brother-in-law both financially and emotionally so that when he comes home, at least the family won't need therapy to undo the damage of his mistakes, to reconcile all those terrible feelings that could have been avoided.
Standing at this crossroads of debating whether or not to help him, without resentment and with a full heart, consider that it may not be in you—and your family's best interest to have your brother-in-law emerge from prison a broken person, unable to move on with his life, a better fut.ure. You may also want to consider that a year in prison has helped him re-evaluate his moral, religious, and spiritual sense of wrong and right, to do teshuvah.
Tough choices, no?
So let's look at what happens to a man in federal prison (where most white-collar criminals go). Although it is not the club people think it is, it is not home to violent offenders either. Which makes it easier to tolerate. However, it is still a prison. Bound by prison laws. Believe it or not, inmates are allowed only one religious text (think one chumash or one siddur), one pair of glasses, and $20 worth of change for vending machines. In addition, although inmates are allowed to deposit any amount they want in their account, they can only spend about $175 per month. Most inmates spend most of their money on — can you guess? Telephone calls! Their link to the outside world becomes more important than any other thing they can buy.
Now what about the family he has left behind?
Studies show that children who have incarcerated fathers suffer more shame, bullying, stigma and loss than children whose parent has died or divorced. Heavy stuff, no? Studies show that different ages react differently to an incarcerated parent. Two- to six-year-old children suffer separation anxiety, traumatic stress and even survivor's guilt. Seven- to ten-year-old children may suffer from developmental regression, poor self-esteem and acute traumatic stress reactions that may impact their later ability to overcome life challenges. Children ages eleven to fourteen reject limits on behavior and exhibit behaviors that trauma based. And teens experience premature independence, which impacts negatively on their ability to select adults to emulate in adulthood.
Younger children experience disorganized behavior and older children may display conduct disorders and depression. While boys are more likely to exhibit those conduct disorders, girls' behavior may be more internal, such as depression, anxiety, and self-harm.
The good news is that children who stay in touch with their parent while in prison exhibit fewer of these symptoms. And when the parent comes home, reunification goes more smoothly, and the family unit is more likely to remain intact. It stands to reason then, that a man who feels his family's support and whose family is supported, is able to allow his children to visit, has the confidence and self-esteem to admit his mistakes, and in turn his children will have a continued positive relationship with their father.
As a side note, the number one reason children do not visit their incarcerated parent has to do with finances. There is no money for such a trip, or for the other parent to take off from work so many hours to do so. Obviously, this is not the case in our frum community where chessed abounds. Although this chessed can come from strangers, the greatest gift you can give your brother-in-law and his family is your support.
It is true he has made a very serious mistake. But it is so much easier to admit to mistakes, to acknowledge them, to make amends when possible, from a position of support and an intact self-esteem. Otherwise, a person's defenses do not allow that sort of vulnerability.
I can assure you that the money you spend today helping this family retain their pride, their footing, their relationships will go a long way in rehabilitating your brother-in-law both emotionally and financially as he enters again the work force. Think of it as an investment against future issues with his children as they flounder with dysfunction; with himself as he is able to find work without his shame crippling him.
And if his children need extra things to compensate for their difficult situation, remember this most certainly was not their fault. And in the same way our community compensates the siblings of cancer patients with trips and toys beyond anything other children will ever have, we need to provide this for children with incarcerated parents.
Precisely because you don't want this saga to drag on endlessly, making your brother-in-law into a rachmanus, the support you give in the next year will bring the saga to an end more quickly.
Think about it.
When you think about possibilities, possibilities open up.
Don't stay stuck in the prison of your own choices. Free yourself to do the right thing.
NOTE: THIS WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN BINAH MAGAZINE
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