Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families


Beyond Prison’s Bars: Intergenerational Learning, Compassion and Healing

This morning, like every other morning, countless children will wake up and look over at their parent's picture... leaning against their favorite teddy bear over on the dresser, or hanging on the wall right there next to the bed. This picture is the first thing they look at when they wake up in the morning, and the last thing they look at and think about when their room goes dark at night. It's a reminder of those really fun family moments before things changed. Or maybe it was that funny face daddy always made before tucking her in at night. It could also show that huge smiley face mommy would make whenever he brought home his 'A' report card. Those memories mean more now than they ever did before.

Upon waking, the kids will say a quick yet deeply heartfelt prayer for their parent's safety and well-being, and then pull it together enough to get ready for school. They'll do this every day for years, imagining and re-imagining what it might feel like to wake up to their parent's loving hugs and kisses once again.

These are all children who have at least one parent in jail or in prison, and will go the better part of, if not their entire childhood, without their parent at home.

On the other side, frequently hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away there are parents replaying those same memories and looking at those same pictures.

Families separated because of the incarceration of a parent have it harder than most people ever really stop to imagine. And through it all, these are families counting down the years, the months, the days until they can be reunited on the other side of the sentence, outside of the prison walls.

That re-entry process is not easy, though. And many families are doing everything it takes to make it work.

I highly recommend Prison Culture for very thoughtful perspectives about this nation's prison injustices, and our role in making a difference.

Men and women behind bars are not statistics. They are our family members... sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, and indeed mothers and fathers. It's up to each one of us to try to understand the experience of families with relatives who are incarcerated, and push for more family friendly justice policies. So please be more thoughtful next time you vote for your elected officials, especially those who heartlessly promote more and more punitive incarceration policies, as well as those wanting to block the far more resources needed to support transition and re-entry programs.

To highlight the very real and personal side of this experience, I also wanted to share a video resource I came across.

A series of videos pulled together by New America Media helps to tell some of these stories. They are stories of integrity, of family love and understanding, of compassion, of family pain, and of family healing. One of these stories is shared just below. Others can be viewed online.

Basic Facts:

  • Nearly 10 million children have a parent who is or has been under some form of criminal justice supervision.
  • One in 15 black children and 1 in 42 Latino children has a parent in prison, compared to 1 in 111 white children.
  • Approximately half of children with incarcerated parents are under ten years old.


New America Media presents portraits of parents returning home from incarceration through the eyes of their children.

The single most accurate predictor for successful re-entry is strong family bonds. And no group has a stronger vested interest in re-establishing relations with ex-prisoners than their children. Like children of divorce, they bear the brunt of separation and yearn for an integrated family life. With the recent implementation of Governor Jerry Brown's prison realignment policy, county officials are debating what they can do with constrained resources to avoid replicating the prison overcrowding problem in county jails. Some are looking to adopt "family-centric" strategies to prevent recidivism. Produced by young reporters at Richmond Pulse and Silicon Valley De-Bug, these videos tell the evolving stories of six families.

Here is one of those stories highlighting the strength and integrity of family relationships...

"I Want To Be Like Him When I Grow Up" from New America Media on Vimeo.

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