A Prisoner’s Guide to Building and Maintaining Relationships
In this age of quarantine, it’s easy to feel way too close to or way too far away from our loved ones. I have been experiencing at least half of this reality for the last 17 1/2 years, since coming to prison.
Even before Covid-19 the vast majority of my significant interactions were by phone, letter or email. At most we were allowed a face-to-face visit once per week for a few hours. These days all visits are cancelled so we’re in the same boat as everyone else.
Yet, despite all this, my social life is richer and I feel more connected than ever before in my life. Here’s why:
For the first time in my life I have an idea of who I am and what I want. That means I’m in a better place to be a friend or partner than ever before. It also means I’m actually choosing people who are good for me and in whose life I can be a positive force. This is a huge shift – so much of my life was defined by being around the wrong people or not knowing how to be the right person to those in my life.
I only know who I am and what I want because of reflection born of these circumstances. Feeling lonely, afraid and full of self pity gets old fast. I tried running from those feelings but there is only so far to run in a 6×12 cell.
Good people helped me see that these feelings are needs expressing themselves. So, I listened to what they had to say. Even when I couldn’t change my circumstances or address the need directly, just recognizing what it was helped make space for it and broke me out of the trance of habit.
Not only do I have time for myself but I also have time for relationships. This difference means being able to really learn about the person I’m in relationship with. With romance it is a blessing to really get to know someone rather than falling into bed or falling into a life with them. With friends it means really learning who this person is and what boundaries are healthy for this relationship.
Having limited interaction also means developing better communication skills. Without body language or other cues I’ve had to learn to express my needs and desires directly. I’ve also gotten better at listening and asking what another person wants or needs. It seems obvious but I didn’t know how to do that for most of my life.
Getting to know someone from afar is special too because it means getting to know the heart of someone. It’s easy to be swayed by looks, sex appeal or a few good lines. Having time means I get to see someone for who they are, almost like a courting from years gone by. With friends it means being able to see someone for his or her actions rather than words.
Over the years people have had to go out of their way to maintain a relationship with me. There is no dropping in for coffee, they can’t text to say hi and they can’t expect to see me at social functions. So the people who have stayed in my life are those that really want to be there. Despite the times I have cursed my limitations, they have been a blessing in disguise by leaving only the truest people in my life.
I have a better perspective on my life and I’m grateful for things I previously took for granted. I’m able to be a better friend and I’ve found better friends. We can all experience this as a result of quarantine. Things are what they are. It’s up to us make something great out of them.