That being said, I always warn my clients to expect the unexpected. Things can change on a dime when you're in prison. You don't have the control that you had when you're living in freedom. The Department of Corrections, or the Bureau of Prisons for the federal, they control your whole life. They absolutely do. You may be expecting to go to one prison, and then that’s not happening and you're going somewhere else. It can turn everyone's life upside-down. I try to prepare them for those events. It's about coping and support.
Lam: In prison, a person is removed from everyone he or she knows. What do you advise your clients to do, in terms of not being able to see or talk to friends and family?
Snyder: There is visitation, and most inmates are allowed to have e-mail privileges with their family, so there is communication. They, of course, have phone conversations too. I also talk about the chance of being manipulated inside by other inmates. I caution them about whom they start to build relationships with inside the prison. It's a challenging walk for them. The isolation—being away from family—is really difficult for the family as well as the offender.
I essentially tell them, "This too will pass." Most inmates [I work with] are going to get out soon enough—"Cope with it. Deal with it the best you can. Get involved." Most of my clients are college-educated; they have a lot of skills. I encourage them to tutor and teach inmates that haven't had the opportunities that my clients have had.
Lam: It sounds like this is very sensitive for everybody involved. How does your work change based on how emotional—stressed, angry, anxious, worried, depressed—your clients are?
Snyder: Sometimes, it can be very emotionally charged when you're meeting with families. What I oftentimes notice happening is there's the blame game, where people are pointing fingers. What I try to do is shift their focus from blaming: "How are we going to deal with this most constructively?" It's separating the anger—for example, "How could you do this? Look what you've done to the family"—and switching that to, "How are we going to succeed as a family now? What do we need to do to get it right?" It's difficult, I'll tell you.
Lam: I know it's not the same for every client, but what are some of the general tips for how to keep the family together and how to not fall apart in these situations?
Snyder: For family and friends: Faith, hope, and building support. For the single parent, the one who's the remaining caregiver, they're carrying a heavy load. They're taking care of these children all by themselves. I always encourage therapy. Find a good therapist that you can talk to, because that helps. Otherwise, it's a pressure cooker. The children will also experience a lot of challenges: Their friends will find out, and classmates will find out about mom or dad being at prison. They're bullied, teased, and they will internalize that. They're my biggest concern, truly. That's where I really stress the support for the kids and the caregiver.