'Family Arrested' provides insight to justice system

Ann Edenfield helps families of prison inmates with a simple, understandable, every woman's guide to the criminal justice system. And she is uniquely qualified to help.

Society can be cruel to the children of prison inmates. Edenfield founded the Wings Ministry in New Mexico in 1995 to help these families.

In "Family Arrested," she tells what to do when federal agents come knocking � how to find a lawyer, make a phone call from jail or get an appointment with a prison doctor.

Details of her own difficult experience are mixed in with her suggestions.

Edenfield learned of her husband's arrest by phone � from her housekeeper � who described the scene as Edenfield's spouse was forced to the ground and cuffed by the FBI 16 years ago. She raised four boys alone while her husband spent six years in prison for drug conspiracy.

Besides learning to deal with humiliation, bewilderment, estrangement and sudden poverty, and factoring them into her program and her book, Edenfield also benefited from the lessons that federal agents, lawyers, judges and prison officials offered along the way.

Each is shared in an easy-to-read form that should be on the shelves of every battered women's shelter, homeless shelter, prison library, halfway house and public defender's office.

Under the heading "Prison Life," she outlines the availability of inmate counseling, how the commissary works, the purchase of stamps and the rules surrounding mail and packages, how to compute a prison sentence, how to factor in "good time" for good behavior and how to react when things go wrong, as they sometimes do in prison.

For example, what happens when a routine drug test indicates a false positive?

"The best defense against a false positive is to make the inmate aware of the importance of each step of the specimen's labeling, especially the Legal Evidence Tape. Yet, if there is a false positive," she advises, "call a lawyer. Legal counsel is well worth the expense you may incur clearing an inmate's record."

"Family Arrested" even deals with the hard realities of the homecoming.

"Your marriage will probably be in need of repair," Edenfield writes, suggesting counseling.

Trivial things may take on more scale, such as arguing over a husband's unilateral decision to get rid of his wife's favorite cake plate in a garage sale. And Edenfield's narrative sometimes expresses her own frustrations, and some of those may seem minor compared with those of a prisoner.

If minor things get magnified, important things such as child-rearing may place parents more at odds than ever before.

"If you have children living at home," she writes, "expect conflicting opinions between you and your returned spouse concerning discipline, family rules and guidelines."

But she advises: "Give it time."

Time can heal relationships, and it can make a reader appreciate Edenfield's guidebook effort even when it may at times look simplistically at complex problems.

Still, "Family Arrested" will grow on the skeptical reader.

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