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Helping Your Loved One Adjust to Life After Prison

While it’s exciting to have your loved one back home after they’ve been incarcerated, adjusting to life back outside of a cell can prove challenging. While inside jail or prison, the incarcerated have to learn to adapt that life in order to survive. However, these life-saving adaptations can cause them harm on the outside. As a result of the culture shock of re-entering life on the outside, your friend or family member may sometimes have to deal with depression and anger. Addictions, mental illness, and lack of community support are just a few factors that can limit their chances of success. Stigma and fear can make rehabilitation even more difficult. Having an understanding of what they might be going through can make the path to a higher quality of life—for everyone—a much easier one.

The longer your loved one has been imprisoned, the greater the culture shock may be when they are released. In confinement, someone else dictates their entire lives for them, 24 hours a day. This no longer applies on the outside. They may notice changes in technology or social media that a person on the outside might not have. They may also be overwhelmed by the sudden influx of choices they have. You can help by helping them set small, realistic goals. Help them look over larger lifestyle options, like financing and housing. Eventually, these larger goals won’t seem as daunting.

The abnormal life of confinement likely results in coping methods that don’t translate well to life on the outside. For example, anger and aggression may be useful survival methods behind bars, but these methods are less beneficial following release. You can identify these emotional expressions and consider why your loved one is responding in the way that they are. Depression, anxiety, and hypervigilance after incarceration is also common. If you demonstrate an understanding of these feelings, it can help your loved one feel respected and safe. Consider therapy for them if possible, especially if improvement in mental health is slow or nonexistent. Your loved one may have traumatic experiences from jail or prison they are not ready to share with you.

Regardless of the choices you make on the journey to help your loved one adjust to life outside, it is extremely important to exercise empathy. You and your loved one may experience frustration in their adjustments to living in a home, as well as having to face vulnerability. They may also experience social rejection due to the stigma they associate with incarceration. Remind them to stay focused on their progress and to be easy on themselves; always reaffirm positive thinking. Act from a place of love and support, rather than from a place of judgement.

About Bridges To Hope

If you or your loved one need support following incarceration, Bridges To Hope is a first point of contact for the formerly incarcerated population of Nebraska. Our mission is to act as a bridge to serve and encourage men and women transitioning back into the community after incarceration, helping them become successful contributors to society. We provide the guidance the formerly incarcerated need in the form of a new life. We provide tangible items, referrals, and other needed resources that expand community support and encouragement. We also work closely with many other organizations that provide mentoring, job training, leadership skill training, and other key elements of rehabilitation.

Often after serving their time, many issues plaguing the formerly incarcerated can cause them to recidivate back behind bars. Lack of stable housing is a huge part of this issue. The critical first steps back into the community—and out of the cell—require a home and all that a home entails.

Some leave prison without anyone left in their lives to support them. We offer the reassurance that there will always be someone around for them to assist in whatever ways they may need, and we understand that a prosperous future for the formerly incarcerated depends on the stability that only a home can provide. For more information, contact us directly at

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