So, your child is in jail, eh? How's that working for you?
December 4, 2012 8:27 PM   Subscribe

Guide me through calling the parents of a friend who is in jail.

I am going to call a friend's parents to get information about my friend, who has been charged with a (non-violent) crime and is in jail. In a letter from the jail, he gave me their number in case we lose contact.

He said that he would be bonded out by this time, but he's not responding to his old email or phone number. So, it may not have happened. Or, it did, and he's somewhere without access to the internet or his old phone.

I have not talked to these parents in about 17 years. Suffice to say, I find this call awkward. What should I say in order to maximize the chances of everyone involved feeling OK about this? I imagine I ask how they're doing, but what do I say about the whole issue with their son being in jail? "I'm sorry he's in jail, and..." I cannot fill in that ellipsis. I can't say that I have anything to offer them beyond "moral support." Yet something seems off about just saying, "Hey, that sucks. So, where is he now and how do I get a hold of him?"

Also, what should I avoid saying?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total)
Start simply:

"Hi Mr. Smith, it's anon, John's friend. He gave me your number in case we ever lost contact, and I haven't been able to reach him lately. Do you know how I could contact him?"

If you'd like, you can say something like, "I'm sorry that John has been going through a rough time lately - he's a good guy and a good friend." But, you don't need to say anything other than ask for the contact information. They will probably be glad you called, and glad that their son's old friend still cares about him and wants to be in touch with him.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:33 PM on December 4, 2012 [21 favorites]

Yet something seems off about just saying, "Hey, that sucks. So, where is he now and how do I get a hold of him?"

I think what is off in this sentence is the "So." Because using it here makes it seem like you're abruptly changing to a new topic. And that is awkward for this situation.

But in reality, when you ask for his contact info or where he is you are not changing to a new topic at all. The entire reason you want his contact info is because it is a shitty situation that sucks and you are trying to do something for him, stay in contact with him.

So just take out the "so." Maybe use "and" instead. I think you could say something like "I'm sorry he's in jail, and...I am really concerned about him and want to support him and make sure we keep in contact. I can't get a hold of him anymore, and he said I should contact you if that happens."
posted by cairdeas at 8:37 PM on December 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

Just say "I''ve heard about John's situation [the news about John, etc], and as an old friend I'd like to get in touch and let him know I'm still here. Can you put me back in touch with him?"

That's all. It's not really awkward; once they're in this situation, your news is the good news. They've had much worse phone calls, I guarantee.
posted by Miko at 8:38 PM on December 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

"John wrote me a letter explaining he had been arrested and was in jail. I'm very sorry to hear about this. Is there a way for me to contact him?"

Keep it simple.
posted by jbenben at 8:49 PM on December 4, 2012 [11 favorites]

Simple is right. And, if it makes it any easier on you, knowing that he has someone else who gives a damn about him still (especially someone from his life "before") is probably going to be a comfort, so despite the awkwardness, you're probably doing them a favor.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:08 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yep. Everyone above is pretty much on the nose. It is completely appropriate to offer sympathy for your friend's situation, for their situation, and then to just ask for your friend's contact information. The difficult thing is that it would be inappropriate for you to ask about the case itself (either to your friend or to the parents). So all you can do is convey your sympathy for what is surely a tough situation.
posted by Nx at 9:21 PM on December 4, 2012

"Hi Mrs. Smith, it is John Anon. I know we haven't spoken in a while and I am sorry to be calling under these circumstances, but your son gave me your contact information in the event we lose contact. I know his situation is fluid, but could you either give me a way to contact him or pass on my contact information to him? I want your son to know I am here for him and he has a friend who is willing to help in anyway I can. Likewise, if I can ever be of any help to you and Mr. Smith, please do not hesitate to ask."
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:01 PM on December 4, 2012 [8 favorites]

If he's in the US, and you know what prison system he's in, you may not need to call his parents to get his location/status -- just find the prisoner locator service for that state (or the Feds). Google "[name of state" prisoner locator]". Prisoner location/status is generally public information and is usually online, although in a few states you may need to call the Dept of Corrections to ask. If he's on parole it won't have his location, but it'll let you know he's on parole. That will at least tell you if he's still inside before you call.
posted by pie ninja at 3:56 AM on December 5, 2012

Check vinelink before calling the parents.
posted by wearyaswater at 5:12 AM on December 5, 2012

Are you sure they know he's been in jail?

Don't open that can of worms for him if he's not already made them aware of it.

Better to just call his folks and ask if they have current contact info for him. You need not say why, just as they may or may not want to tell you what they know of his current situation.
posted by wkearney99 at 6:29 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

In a letter from the jail, he gave me their number in case we lose contact.

Given that the friend gave the OP their number from jail, I think that he would have specified if the OP should keep the arrest on the DL, and that it would only create weirdness and confusion if the OP were to pretend not to know that their friend had been arrested.
posted by endless_forms at 9:09 AM on December 5, 2012

I agree that if anything, it could confound confusion. If the parents didn't think you already knew, they might be reluctant to tell you.
posted by Miko at 1:31 PM on December 5, 2012

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