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Prison Families & Loved Ones

Lost in the American Dream

The pull of the American Dream

The families of inmates feel torn between two worlds. American society is obsessed with living the American Dream. For most, that dream includes owning their own home, driving a new car off the lot every few years, owning the latest greatest music hits, the highest definition TV with the most channels available, and/or working a job that provides health insurance, good vacation time, and an eight to five job. The family of inmates are especially aware of these pressures in ways the rest of American Society does not face.

The loved ones of inmates are keenly aware that their incarcerated family member will have a tough time finding a decently paying job. How does one live the American Dream making minimum wage… or worse… facing ongoing unemployment. In a rough economy that has already forced many who have no record out of work, the ex-convict faces overwhelming challenges. And, the family of that ex-convict feels for them and often hurts with them through the low wage job, or the unemployment of a father, mother, sister or brother. The pressure to achieve that American ideal life places stress on the whole family, and may prove a huge temptation to the former inmate who is trying to get back on his/her feet.

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Choosing Life over the American Dream


So, how do you survive in a society obsessed with the latest and greatest? The answer may lie in a very difficult choice; the choice of life over the American Dream. American society is so driven to achieve, to go places, and to do great things that it forgets the joy of the simple. An old song claims “All you need is love.” And while, love does not provide food and housing, a good deal is to be said for it.


Think for just a moment. When was the last time you went and sat on your steps outside and listened to the world around you living? Watch the birds build their homes. No matter where you live in the world, you still see them. They still find the niche needed for their nests. They still find the food to sustain them each day. They still feel the joy of the sun on their wings, and the wind in their face as they soar through the sky.


Look around and see how long it takes you to spot a living plant. Chances are that even deep in the intercity, you’ll still find flowers, moss, and trees that have beaten the odds and grown up in the middle of the urban jungle. Look at the lawns of businesses nearby. Just think about that grass for a moment. It grows, and is mown down, and then grows again, over and over and over. And in its growing it gives the earth greenery and a soft place to walk or sit.


As you face a life with stark realities, perhaps rather than focusing on big things you don’t have right now, focusing on the things you have been given can give you the joy and hope you need. That plasma TV- who truly needs that when they have the whole world to watch?


For the families of inmates, let me urge you, make the conscious choice to choose to experience life, no matter what challenges you face. I’m not saying, don’t strive to better yourself. Or, don’t work hard. But, in the middle of working, and striving to better yourself, don’t lose your soul to the American Dream.

Interested in reading from the perspective of an inmate’s loved one? Check out Renee Patterson’s:

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