Telling My Kids About Federal Prison

Justin Paperny:
Hi everyone. I’m Justin Paperny and I’m back with my good friend Rosanne Clausen. Hi Ro.

Rosanne Clausen:
Hi Justin. Thanks for having me again.

Justin Paperny:
It’s good to see you again. We’re going to talk today about fathers and mothers telling their children that they may be going to federal prison. I want to get your insights, and I’ll certainly share mine.

Rosanne Clausen:
Thank you. Of course.

Justin Paperny:
So let’s jump into telling the children that mommy or daddy is going to federal prison. Let’s jump off with general advice you have for a mom or a dad who’s going to federal prison. What’s a good age to maybe tell them that they’re going to federal prison? What are some factors to consider when disclosing it to children.

Rosanne Clausen:
Yeah, absolutely age is I would think the number one factor. I think anything above three you should tell them, and I’ll tell you why. I think that it can be used as a wonderful teaching tool. I think I explained this on another video, so pardon if it’s a repeat, but I think it’s worth repeating.

Justin Paperny:
Sure.

Rosanne Clausen:
I was sitting, waiting to be processed at visit one time, and there was this beautiful little girl who was probably three, maybe four. And she says to me, “Are you here to visit your daddy too?” And she was so cute. And she said … And her mom, of course, “Stop, stop. You don’t ask questions.” And she said, “My daddy’s here because …” She said, “Is your daddy in time out too?” And she said, “What did he do?” And her mom said, “You don’t ask questions. Her husband was here because he did something wrong just like your dad, and he’s in time out.” So I think it could be a beautiful way that you can teach them right from wrong, and repercussions for your actions.

I also think that the older they get nowadays, especially if the case is high profile and in the media, they’re going to find out anyway, so you don’t want them to resent you as the parent. You want it to come from you. You don’t want it to come from a friend. You don’t want it to come from bullies at school. You don’t want it to come from Facebook. I think this was your example, Justin. All the kids have cellphones nowadays, so you don’t want them to go into school and somebody to bring up the article and say, “Tell me all about this.” And them have no idea.

Justin Paperny:
Right, and that has happened. And before I get into that story, I want to make clear, while Roe and I are experts in our space, we’re offering general suggestions. Every family dynamic is different. You have to use your own judgment and make your own decision. We’ve both been doing this for a really long time and we’ve seen just about everything. So we’re offering some generalities and suggestions based on what we’ve seen. But at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to your judgment as a husband, father, and family. So I want to be clear about that.

There was a story many years ago where a client of mine was reluctant, even after he was sentenced, to tell his son who was 11 years old that he was going to prison. And the denial of it was very difficult. And I pushed and I suggested and I implored him to have that discussion. He really wanted to push and wait until just before his surrender. And unfortunately, he was beaten to it because some wicked kids at school, they didn’t use the phone, they actually printed out the Department of Justice press release and they taped it around the school. And the kid wanted to defend his father, but he didn’t know how to. And he couldn’t believe what he was reading.

So it’s important to be as transparent as you can. And like you said, given the age. Certainly, I served time with men who their kids were two, three, and four years old, and if they’re only away for three or six months, perhaps you tell them daddy’s going to work for the government. A lot of them did that. So let’s talk a little bit about sentence length and how that actually could impact when you may tell your children. Now, some of the Strong Prison Wives, their husbands go away for very long periods of time. White Collar Advice is anywhere from probation to five or ten years, even longer. Do you think sentence length could play a factor in when you disclose it to children?

Rosanne Clausen:
Absolutely, because daddy will be gone for either a short amount of time, or an extended amount of time, and I think it boils down to kind of hand in hand visits and length. So if he’s gone for a short period of time, you probably won’t take the child, especially if they’re young, into the prison visiting room. But if they’re older … I’m sorry, but if it’s longer, then you’ll probably want them to continue that relationship with their father. You’re going to want him to be part of their life in whatever capacity that that means. And if you’re bringing them into a prison situation, even a camp, they’ll probably wind up figuring out where they’re going, or hearing things, or seeing correctional officers.

How To Tell Your Kids You're Going To Federal Prison

How To Tell Your Kids You’re Going To Federal Prison

So you’ll probably want to explain to them that, what’s going on, where they’re going. Because at the end of the day, kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for, and you don’t want to set yourself up for a situation where they’re going to resent you, or they’re going to … You’re going to lose personal integrity with your kids and you’re a liar to them. And you know your children the best, but that’s kind of things that you just want to think of when you’re making the decision if you want to tell them or not.

Justin Paperny:
So when I went to federal prison, I was 32. I did not have children. In preparation for this video, I asked 30 past clients who had children when they disclosed it. And all of them did. And some have said as young as three, as you said. And several clients said six or above you absolutely have to make that disclosure. They’re totally going to find out. So again, it’s very subjective. Three, four, five, six. I’ve often been asked, Ro, if you’re going to have the talk, when? And I have offered advice to clients who there’s a chance they may get probation. I mean, there are defendants who get probation, a year of home confinement, six months halfway house, six months imprisonment.

In those instances, if there is a realistic chance. Now, if the government’s asking for six years and your lawyer’s going to ask for probation, so I’m going to wait. Okay, if there is a chance that probation or a very short sentence could be an option, I will sometimes encourage defendants to wait until their sentenced because on average, my clients have about 60 days until they self-surrender, and they can use that 60 day gap to prepare the family, to have that talk. And some longer instances though, if they know they’re going away for a long period of time, and I would say three years, two to three years or more, they should probably nurture that process a little earlier. They should begin to nurture that process a little bit earlier from my experience. You have some thoughts, or I guess generally agree with that?

Rosanne Clausen:
I’m with you 100% with one caveat. Because we don’t want to give our kids more anxiety. So you want to protect them. You want to make sure that you have all of the facts before you open up that door and allow them to be hurt. So I agree with you completely unless it’s a very high-profile case and there’s a possibility of them turning on the TV and seeing it, or hearing it on the radio, or like you said earlier, going on, depending on their age, going online and seeing it or have somebody bring it to them at school. Otherwise, absolutely I’m with you. Why give them more stress and anxiety when we don’t have all the facts?

Justin Paperny:
And something that I’ll see defendants have to consider is post-defense conduct. There are some defendants, unfortunately, that continue to make bad decisions on pre-trial, or move money, or do deals, or continue to engage in criminal conduct at times where you don’t even get a chance to tell the kid yet because you may get remanded to custody. And it happens and I get some of those calls too. So post-defense conduct is a big deal. Roe, some defendants, but not all, it takes a long time to totally come to terms with their conduct, and I was one of them. In Lessons from Prison, I write about living in denial, making terrible decisions, trying to cheat my way through lie detector tests. I was not prepared to really talk about my conduct until I was in prison.

And I’ve had some wives, client’s wive say to me, “I’m fine with Joe or Jim discussing it to our children, but I’m afraid what he’s going to say. Is he going to accept responsibility? Is it really going to be a teachable moment? Or is it, ‘Daddy got screwed and I shouldn’t be going to prison and this is the way the government works?'” So I want to talk about if you’re going to tell the children, working on telling them to the extent that they can understand it and embrace it and terms that they can understand. The importance of telling the story honestly without rationalizations. Let’s talk about that for a moment.

Rosanne Clausen:
Yeah, I think that that’s such a great concern. And I think that the parents should probably have a conversation before they tell the children and come up with some sort of rules of engagement, or something along the lines of, “We’re going to broach this but not this. We’re going to take accountability for this and we’re not going to talk about this because that gets him running off on a tangent and then he just can’t.” He’s just cynical and he can’t be positive about anything. At the end of the day, it’s about the child. It’s not about him. It’s not about the government. It’s not about his bad rap. It’s about the child. It’s about making them comfortable. It’s about protecting them. It’s about making this as easy for them as you possibly can while telling them the truth, while telling them whatever you need to tell them and protecting them.

Justin Paperny:
Let’s talk about ways that children can stay connected with their parents on the inside. And that’s something I can relate to. So I was in at 33 and I would read books and I’d encourage my mom to read some of the same books. Sometimes she would flatter me and say that she was reading them when I learned she later did not read them, but she didn’t want to hurt my feelings I guess. But what are some suggestions or exercised you offer to our clients who their 10 year old, 15 year old, 20 year old, whatever age son is going to be in prison that they can stay connected during that journey? Because just because your body’s in prison doesn’t mean your mind isn’t free to roam and connect with the outside world and grow the network and grow closer with your kids. So what are some things that children and their parents can do together?

Rosanne Clausen:
I have one very good friend who actually has such a rapport with his child’s teacher that she came in to the prison for some sort of summit that they were giving. So just because you’re in jail, yes it’s going to be hard, it’s going to be as difficult as it is to maintain any other relationship. But you can absolutely do it. So I had members who on holidays, they’ll set time for, let’s say it’s Christmas, opening presents. So he’ll call and they’ll open the presents when he calls. Whatever your rituals, what you did with the kids was when you were home, there are ways to figure out how to do it together. So if you did homework with them, I have another girlfriend whose husband calls at a certain time every evening and does homework with the kids. Like I said, get in touch with the teacher.

You could do … There are journals out there, I know, for couples to go through where there’s a question that the husband and the wife both get, and then they answer, and then they send the answers to one another. I am sure there are some out there for fathers and their children. If not, we can come up with question. We could help you on … Between Justin and I, I’m sure we can help you. Or you could just pick topics and talk about them. Like you said, a book club type of scenario. And just keeping that open line of communication. It’s so much easier now that there’s Corrlinks. And Corrlinks can come directly to the child as long as their old enough to have them through the app. So there’s that open continuous line of communication.

Justin Paperny:
That’s right. So with the Corrlinks app, when I send an email to a client in prison, usually it takes an hour to get there, sometimes within two hours I’ve already gotten a lengthy message back. So you can be connected in so many ways. I want to talk a little bit about intergenerational recidivism. Of course, studies show if you have a parent in prison, there’s a good chance, even with white collar defendants, there’s a big case out of New York where a defendant was sentenced to 15 or 16 years, a white collar case, because his father was a white collar defendant. So intergenerational recidivism exists for white collar defendants as well.

And by setting the appropriate tone in telling your children honestly what happened, “I made a mistake. I’m going away.” It can set the tone that this isn’t a life that I want you to live. I don’t want you to follow in my footsteps because I served time with fathers who are in with their sons and their nephews. And it must be very disheartening. So talk a little bit, just more about telling the story properly of accepting responsibility and ensuring as the leader of the home that your children, they don’t go down the same path.

Rosanne Clausen:
Absolutely. And I think it goes back to what we’ve said since the beginning. It’s about being honest with them. It’s about continuing that relationship with them. And I wish there were studies … There might be studies that I’m not aware of that were done with the fathers or whomever of the children that repeat the cycle that were in their life and the fathers that weren’t in their life and were [inaudible 00:14:33]. I can almost guarantee, although I haven’t seen any stats, I would love to run a study. The ones that are in their life and constantly being that father figure, even from behind a wall, it’s possible that that’s going to break that cycle.

It’s about openness. It’s about honesty. It’s about keeping the communication flowing. It’s about, like you just said, talking about my bad mistakes, talking about the consequences, talking about how you want better for them. I think it’s the ones that disappear that psychologically, that’s what starts the problem with the child at that young age that’s going to make them follow in those footsteps.

Justin Paperny:
Well, you talk about disappearing. As we wrap up here, there are, and I wrote about this in Lessons from Prison, there are a number of men who serve time and get through their sentence by essentially shutting out the outside world because it’s so hard for them to stay connected to all that their missing. And in so doing, they’re shutting off those that desperately need them. And the reentry process is so much harder because you’re kind of stepping back into a foreign land because you’ve been apart from it for so very long. And last thought, sometimes marriages comes to an end as well while going to prison. And some of those situations, they have children. So offer some advice to the husband or wife who may be on the other side, going through that divorce, knowing that they have children, and the importance of broaching the subject properly, maybe even if a divorce is taking place, of still trying to keep the children connected with the dad. I know you’ve seen a lot of those scenarios. Let’s close there.

Rosanne Clausen:
Absolutely. And we just have to always remember that the child is the innocent one in that situation. And although you’re going to disagree on lot of things, and I’m the first person to say if a marriage isn’t going to work out because of prison, then go your separate ways. But do your best to keep that child connected their father. Because there shouldn’t be badmouthing of him and saying that he’s a scum bag. And that goes both ways. I mean, he shouldn’t say it about the mother either. But there are ways to keep the child connected, even if the mother doesn’t want to visit. Maybe there’s a family member, a grandparent that go and to bring him. Or there’s always, depending on the age, like you were saying before, the Corrlinks app that can be set up for them and the mother doesn’t have to be involved with those conversations.

There are, depending on their age, shuttles to bring children to visit where they would be safe. There’s a lot of services where you can still keep them connected. And going back to it depends on how long the sentence is. But you just don’t want to make … You just want to make sure. In any situation, in any divorce, doesn’t have to be inside prison, that you’re not using the child as leverage between you two because it’s just so unfair and it causes so many deep-rooted emotional issues for the child in the future. The child’s innocent, and in their best interest should be both of your best interest.

Justin Paperny:
That’s well said. That’s how I’ll wrap it up. If you have questions for Ro, Ro@WhiteCollarAdvice.com. I’ll put up my contact information as well. Give a plug, Roe. Give one more plug for the 10 thousand dollar goal. Actually I’m giving the plug, not you. But give one more plug for your Strong Prison Wife year-end raising goal. Because I’m going to put up a link so people can support your foundation.

Rosanne Clausen:
Yes, absolutely. Thank you so much. It’s on StrongPrisonWives.com, and it’s to develop programs for prison wives and family members to keep them connected, support and empower them during the sentence and well beyond when he gets home.

Justin Paperny:
Well certainly you said it better than me. You’re awesome, Ro. I’m grateful that you contributed again. Thank you so much for your time and expertise.

Rosanne Clausen:
Thank you.

How To Tell Your Kids You’re Going To Federal Prison
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