A Financial Breakdown Of Having An Incarcerated Parent

My dad has been incarcerated since I was eleven or twelve years old. My memory is quite hazy. I won’t get into the details of his prison sentence or the circumstances leading up to his arrest, but it was legally and morally warranted. Since he’s been locked up, I have yet to see him in person. During my last year of high school, my mother and I went on a trip to Panama City for a surprise visit to the far-out penitentiary he was at the time. (He’s since moved to another part of Florida that’s much easier to get to.) Nothing went as planned. He fell ill and was rushed to the hospital merely hours before our flight landed. Unaware of what had happened, I was filled with excitement at the thought of seeing him after so many years, given the last time we’ve connected in person was about four years before his imprisonment. But that giddy feeling quickly gave way to disappointment the moment I called his assigned correctional counselor (the person who manages his life behind bars and ensures he gets proper medical treatment for his chronic medical illnesses) from my hotel room. “I’m sorry, but your dad is currently in a hospital way far out from the prison. It will probably be really difficult to get here from where you are,” she told me while relaying the news of his poor condition. I didn’t want to believe it. What was supposed to be a celebratory trip and a time to reconnect with my father turned out to a disaster for no fault of our own or his — timing just wasn’t on our side.

Besides being let down by not being able to see or speak with my dad after traveling countless miles to Florida, it was a costly experience. We went during a high travel season when most colleges were out for spring break so flights were more expensive, as was the hotel. Once my mom and I realized that we weren’t going to accomplish what we had set out to do (i.e. visit my dad in prison), we tried our best to enjoy the rest of our time there since we had already paid for everything. In that sense, we ended up somewhat getting our money’s worth, but it still did set us back financially. In fact, my mom spent the last of her tax return on our travels, which could’ve been spent on other necessities. But hey, none of us could’ve predicted what happened would have occurred, so I try not to think too much about what went wrong.

In a more just world where privatized prisons that make a profit from inmates didn’t exist, my Florida trip would be the only or one of the few costs of staying in touch with my dad. Spoiler: it’s not. As writer Jacky R. pointed out in her story for TFD,  The Cost of Being a Prison Wife, having any sort of contact or relationship with someone who’s imprisoned costs money — and lots of it, too. Here is a financial breakdown of how much either my mom or I have paid to speak or attempt to see him.

My Mom

  • Trip to Panama City, Florida (Hotel & Flights): $1,164.26
  • Cab to and from the airport: $30/each way
  • Phone Calls: $50 to $100/month

My Mom’s One Time Total: $1,224.26

My Mom’s Monthly Total: $50 – $100


  • Phone Calls: $50 to $100/month
  • Money on the commissary: $50 – $100 every other month

My Monthly Total: $100 – $200/month

I should note that the price of phone calls at a lot of federal prisons is overpriced (we’re quite lucky to only pay 14¢/minute through Securus Technologies; some companies charge as high as $10/minute). Additionally, the going prices for snacks and personal items (clothes, radios, personal hygiene products, etc.) that inmates can buy from the commissary are astronomical. For reference: a small bag of Fritos chips is $4.50. Yep, it’s marked up that much. Meanwhile, you can get a huge 20+ count variety pack from Walmart, Costco, and the like for under $15. And that’s partially why I’ve completely cut back on how much I speak with my dad (as are other emotional reasons). Outside of those expenses, many penitentiaries are located in remote areas, which require long drives to get to, and thus, forces you to spend quite a bit on gas if you’re driving or for a taxi. And such is the case with my father, who I will eventually try and pay a visit to in the next couple of years.


At the end of the day, my father went to prison because he committed a crime, and he’s rightfully paying for it. But why should I also be punished financially for keeping up some semblance of a father-daughter relationship with him? It’s about time we reconsider the way prisons are run in our nation. They shouldn’t be profit centers but rather for rehabilitation, as they were originally intended for. Children of the incarcerated parents, such as myself, would be better off if they were solely the latter. 

Shammara is the editorial assistant at The Financial Diet. When she’s not copy-editing or writing about her financial woes, you can find her on Twitter sharing her thoughts on beauty and fashion trends and pop culture

Image via Unsplash

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