Understanding the emotional state and thinking process of an inmate can assist in-prison volunteers or others to minister them more efficiently. The five stages associated with incarceration typically involves:
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

These are the conventional stages of grief as outlined by psychiatrists. These stages are not essentially undeviating since individuals can flow into and outside of them. However, it is easier to explain a prisoner’s behavior and to determine where they are within these phases. Like everyone, inmates are going through a process, and are generally responding to what is occurring in their lives.


This phase starts when an individual enters the prison and usually lasts from a year to three years for those who are serving a sentence exceeding ten years. For fewer sentences, the inmate might go through denial for the whole sentence. Inmates go through emotions of uprising to withdrawal and find it hard to deal with the realization that they are in jail. They usually blame their circumstances on others, and can be uncaring towards victims, and often do not comprehend the severeness of consequences.


When an inmate is confronted with the reality that they no longer can deny, they often become furious, might threaten lawsuits, express injustices, or harass weaker individuals. They might demand the same treatment and will not show any regard for fairness. If you need to find out if someone is incarcerated, you can visit US Inmate locator for more information. 


The next phase involves a sense of “if only”, for instance, thinking if only family was still around, or if only they were treated more fairly in life”. They might even make promises or resort to making deals with others or God. In exchange for favors, they may pledge to mend their ways. Often filled with feelings of frustration, guilt, and shame, prisons can find it challenging to believe that God will forgive them. 


Feelings of sadness and hopelessness starts settling in once the anger stage or bargaining stages have passed with no success. A depressed inmate tends to exclude himself from others and emphasize on what they no longer have. Prisoners start facing the repercussions of their former actions and begin to grieve their seclusion from t hose they love and the loss of their freedom. 


Once acceptance begin and realization sinks in that they are going to be incarcerated for an awfully long time, have different effects on people. Some might become emotionally numb while others will seek redemption and accept the responsibility that goes along with their current situation. Their attitudes begin to improve, and they start falling into a routine. Some work on improving their skills or habits by reading, finishing school, working, studying, and going to church. A sense of peace overcome them and some of them show a genuine desire to change for the good. 

Helpful Guidelines For In-Prison Volunteers

Try not to put anyone down. Inmates must be guided gently to accept that they are not the victims and that their actions have repercussions.

It helps to encourage them to seek faith and that in Christ they can be forgiven and change their lives for the better. Work, skills, and housing will all start falling into place at a later stage.

Volunteers must instil trust and show validation for the prisoner’s frustrations and feelings. Healing only comes from confessing one’s wrongdoings to another.

Pray with them and allow them to tell their story.