A few weeks back, I wrote this letter to my brother on my blog. Posting that letter was very cathartic for me and I feel like I have finally accepted that I have a brother in jail. For a very long time, I was very ashamed and embarrassed to have a family member incarcerated.
For many reasons, but there is one that stands out more than others: I didn't want small-minded people judging my entire family based on the errors made by one.
"Oh, her brother is in jail? Their parents must be a real piece of work if one of their children ends up in jail."
I had an AMAZING upbringing. I never remember being left wanting anything essential. We ate homemade meals every day, rarely eating fast food and we always ate around the dinner table as a family. We had routine, structure, and lots of love. I never doubted that my parents loved me wholeheartedly. They kept us safe and led by example morally. We took family vacations every year and participated in endless extracurricular activites. There is not ONE thing that I can think of that my parents could have done differently to affect the outcome of my brother's life. We were a very typical middle-class family. The reason my brother is in jail is because of HIS decisions. He made them as an adult, outside of my parents home.
"If her brother is a criminal, I bet she has some sort of record too. Usually this stuff runs in a family."
I have never been arrested. I have had ONE traffic ticket (thanks to my husband, I totally blame him for it he is bad influence!). I have never done any sort of illegal drugs, I have never even smoked a cigarette. Yup, I am a total goodie-two-shoes-thank-you-very-much.
I was so terrified of these thoughts by people who obviously don't know my family or me, that I kept it very quiet for years about my brother. This was re-inforced when I did trust this secret with a very close friend who betrayed me. It was not her secret to tell and our friendship ultimately ended as a result of this. That is how much I wanted to keep this "secret" kept that way.
I don't know what made me finally accept that my brother was in jail. Maybe I finally realized the thoughts of small-minded people that I don't even know shouldn't matter to me. Maybe I realized that no matter how embarrassed or ashamed I felt, it wasn't going to change the situation. Maybe its a combination of many things!
So like I said, posting this letter on my blog was therapeutic. Even after I posted it, I was not sure when I was going to actually send it to him. I love my brother but its hard let myself get emotionally invested in him when I have been let down so many times. And since the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, his track record isn't stellar. Fortunately for me, my Dad stepped in and mailed a copy of my letter to my brother. I am glad he was able to do what I didn't quite have the guts to do.
My brother wrote back a very nice letter. But once again I am hemming and hawing about it. I received the response on Valentine's Day and I still haven't replied. I have to let myself be in a vulnerable place so I can be totally honest and real with him. I am not going to waste my time pretending to be okay with him, but if he is really being accountable for his actions then I can take the time to work on our relationship. But his response was very touching and I hope he was being honest with me.
I still have the daydream that after this stint in jail he will finally clean up. That his daughter and my daughter will be able to grow up together, be pen pals if we live far apart or be friends if we live close enough. It kills me when my daughter asks about seeing her cousin. When she names all of her friends, she always lists her cousin. But at the same time, I am afraid to expose my daughter to my brother if he is not being a good role model. Yes, he has made mistakes. But what matters most is if he learns from those mistakes and takes the steps to not make them again. I realize no one is perfect and I do not expect perfection from anyone but myself. I would just like to see his future mistakes be on a smaller scale, like forgetting to take out the garbage on trash day.
I just hope he has as much faith in himself as I have in him because I truly believe he can change if HE wants to and he does it for HIMSELF. While changing for his kids is very admirable, the change won't stick if he doesn't realize that he must do it all for himself first.