Transitions Clinic Network (TCN) is a network of community health clinics that serve returning community members. TCN clinic programs are led by Community Health Workers (CHWs) with lived experience of incarceration and reentry and support people with their healthcare and reentry. TCN hosts a monthly Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) column. This column is a space where we answer questions about health care and empower individuals to prepare for healthy reentry. This month we are writing about caregivers and how being separated from loved ones by incarceration can impact your health and reentry.
► What is a caregiver?
A caregiver is anyone who takes care of someone else. In the health care setting, a caregiver tends to the needs of someone who has a medical condition, illness, or disability. Caregivers provide physical and emotional support. Caregivers can be paid or unpaid, and may be hired professionals, members of a family, or someone else unrelated. Your support network is defined by you and everyone’s support system looks different.
► Why are caregivers important?
Dealing with a physical or emotional health condition can be very difficult, and it’s hard to go through that alone. A caregiver can help support someone to get their health needs met and to live a higher quality of life.
► How can my loved ones care for me while I’m inside?
Outside of prison, a caregiver may attend doctor appointments and help with things like medication, driving, and paperwork. If you are dealing with a health condition while incarcerated, it may feel scary and painful that your friends and family on the outside are not able to provide care for you in the same way that they would if you were together. But even while you’re inside, your loved ones can still provide care and be your support system to help you through health issues.
The first thing to remember — to get care, you must let your loved ones know what you’re going through. It can be tempting during incarceration to keep information from loved ones on the outside because you don’t want them to worry. If you’re dealing with a health issue, it can be helpful to share what you’re going through so that your loved ones can care for you, even from afar. Your caregivers on the outside may not be able to attend doctor appointments with you, but they can help discuss health issues and share information you need to make informed decisions and advocate for your needs. For instance, a loved one can help research information about a medication or a medical test to help you consider the pros and cons. Your caregivers at home can also be there for you emotionally, even when they can’t be there in person. Open, honest communication about how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking can help your caregiver support you.
► How can I care for my loved ones while I’m inside?
It can be so frustrating to be incarcerated while a loved one on the outside is dealing with health challenges. You may feel like you cannot give them care in the way that you want to. Even if you can’t make your loved one soup, you can still be their caregiver by listening to how they are doing and by being the person they can be honest with about their feelings. You can provide love, compassion, encouragement, and a listening ear, even from the inside. While visits, phone calls, and e-mails are great for maintaining contact, sometimes old-fashioned snail mail is the best way to work through complex emotions around a medical diagnosis or condition. Don’t send out mail while angry — sleep on it, re-read, and re-think before sending something off in the heat of the moment.
► What should I know before I leave prison?
Often, there is so much excitement about returning home, and the difficulty of reentry can be overlooked or swept under the rug. The challenges of reentry are very real, and it can be hard for a returning community member and for their loved ones to acknowledge that things may be very different from how they were before incarceration. People inside and outside are changed by the time and by the experience of incarceration. While it can be great to finally give care to and receive care from your loved ones in-person again, it is also helpful to lean on professionals instead of relying solely on yourself or your loved ones for help with reentry. TCN CHWs all have lived experience of incarceration and reentry and are here to help you get set up with medical care, medications, and support services in your community of release. There may also be other reentry support services in your home community, and we encourage you to get connected.
If you have healthcare-related questions about reentry, feel free to write us at: Transitions Clinic Network, 2403 Keith Street, San Francisco, CA 94124. Or call our Reentry Health Hotline today at (510) 606-6400 to speak with a CHW and to see if there’s a TCN program in your community of return. We accept collect calls from CDCR. We are open Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm.