Having an incarcerated loved one is challenging. Finding balance between being there for them in the ways that they need and maintaining your own quality of life per your standard can be equally as challenging. My younger brother is serving a nineteen year sentence and it’s been hard managing that. At this point in time, he has been locked up for seven years but it feels like much longer. If I am honest, some days I forget about him which feels horrible but I give myself grace because he has been out of our lives in one capacity or another for quite some time. He has been getting into trouble since our middle school days and I could not have imagined it would have gotten this bad by now but here we are. It’s scary how normalized his absence has been. One day, I was writing him a letter and spelled his name wrong. That felt really strange to me. Even writing letters can be hard because it’s becoming an outdated art form and the pandemic making us more stationary has prompted me to be less reliant upon our mail system for letters. I am so used to texting people or Facetiming them on my own time, and not necessarily relying upon a restrictive schedule like those that my brother adheres to.
Creating boundaries for a person whose time is not their own can be painful. I am incredibly fed up with my brother’s life choices that landed him in prison but mindful of the need that I serve in his life in connecting him to the outside world. It’s hard. Very hard. I also struggle with remaining hopeful for my brother once he gets out because I can see the ways that being institutionalized has altered his thinking. I am fearful for what that will be like once he is out. I wonder how he will navigate conflict and the quality of friends he will keep because he has been so connected to such a different way of life in there. This is not to say that the people he is incarcerated with are not good people, but I can only imagine what it would be like in a network filled with people who are reduced to survival mentalities and whatever else they have to do while in there to get by. I have already caught a glimpse of that as he has been asking me to make three way calls to people who have gotten out or the people he has given my number to who have gotten out. I get extremely frustrated being exposed to a way of life that I would not have otherwise interacted with if not for his incarceration.
I struggle with showing up for my brother in the ways that he needs and being true to myself and how I feel. I look forward to being in community with others who understand these particular issues and challenging these feelings with you all. Being connected to incarcerated community members can truly be a uniquely frustrating experience and the more we share with one another, the more we can navigate these relationships meaningfully.
Ngeri Nnachi is an Education and Outreach Associate with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights. Ms. Nnachi is also an Activist, Author, Educator and Small Business Owner. She is a Ph.D. student with her research focus on Black girls within the school-to-confinement pathway and their relationships with self-perception as a result of their educational experiences and generally very passionate about educational inequality as it relates to Black children. As a Board Member for two education centric organizations, Ngeri does a great deal of work in literacy and leadership with youth and communities at large. At this point in time, Ngeri has a number of children’s books in production, with the first slated to be released in January 2023. In her spare time, she can be found writing for leisure or sewing (she taught herself to sew a few years ago) for her business, Designs By Ngeri. Her favorite things to do are spend time with family and find new ways to be creative with her hands.