By: Lennie Spitale
10 Guidelines for Success
Following are 10 guidelines I would suggest after observing these visits for nearly 30 years in Christian prison ministry. Maybe one or two will be helpful to you.
1. Verbally acknowledge that the other person's stress is real. You are temporarily living in two different worlds. Acknowledge that the differences can create misunderstandings. Empathize, but don't pretend to fully understand the other's stress factors.
2. Give each other adequate time to express your feelings. I recommend that the one doing time allow the visitor to be the one who talks about his or her life first. The prison world is a small one; by listening to your loved one's experiences first, it'll help to pull you out of it a little bit.
3. Give each other the freedom to be honest about your feelings. (If you can't handle the truth, don't ask for it.)
4. There is a time for everything. Agree together whether or not the timing is right to bring up certain issues. If one (or both) of you is not emotionally ready to handle something, you must mutually agree to put it on a back burner until the time is right.
5. Listen with your heart as well as your ears. For the men, keep in mind that, if the visitor is a wife or girlfriend, she doesn't necessarily want you to fix the problem; she just wants you to know how she feels. (Since you are already feeling frustrated at your inability to fix outside problems, this should actually be a help to you.)
6. Identify the real issues. (But do this with gentleness and respect.) Most of the time, the surface issues aren't the real problem. Sometimes the anger is rooted in unresolved conflicts. For example, family members may be hiding their anger over all the pain and turmoil the incarcerated one has caused, but be afraid to express it.
7. The conversation shouldn't be dominated by one person. Agree to give each other equal time to talk about what has been going on in your lives.
8. Be kind. It's not all about you. I once heard someone say: "Be kind to each other. Everyone is fighting big battles." The shrink-wrapped world of prison life can cause one to become very self-focused. And, just as easily, the demands and responsibilities of outside life can cause visitors to become the same way.
9. Make a commitment at the beginning of each visit that you will make no unreasonable demands upon the other. Stick by it.
10. Ask for practical ways in which you can be of help to each other.
As a young man, Lennie Spitale served a prison sentence for an armed robbery that was later reduced to assault and robbery. Two years after his conversion to Christianity, he began conducting a weekly Bible study in a local jail and has been involved in prison ministry for more than two decades.