October 18, 2014

Erasing Stigmas, Building Support

The School District of Philadelphia Family and Community Engagement Conversation Series Support for Incarcerated Parents

I attended Conversation number two at the School District on Tuesday. Great information was shared. I am impressed with Evelyn Sample-Oates (Director of F.A.C.E.) who decided to host the conversations to hear from the families – what their needs are and how the School District can better serve them. We learned so much at this conversation on support for incarcerated parents.

The family bonds are destroyed when mothers are incarcerated, for moms are the nurturers of the family and youth don’t understand the life situation that is causing them to lose their anchor temporarily and sometimes permanently. The questions was asked to the returning citizens, how did you tell your youth that you were going to prison? One had time to discuss the issue with her son, who could not understand that his mother had committed a crime and was leaving him for some time. The other mother was locked up while her youth were in school so they came home to an empty house and had to learn from family members. A gentleman in the audience stated that he and his wife lied to their youth and told them that he was going into the service. He regrets telling his youth that lie, for there is honor in being in the service and his youth had bragged about their dad being in the service. When he was reconnected to his family he told his youth the truth and that truth bought more issues and feelings of deceit. We learned that honesty is the best policy and youth need to be told the truth.

You’ve been arrested and you’re going to jail or prison… 
How do you tell your children?

This is hard. But obviously you have to tell them you will be gone. You also have to tell them where you are going. If you do not tell them, someone else will. 
Children of all ages miss their parents and can feel abandoned. If they are lied to, or they don’t know why you’ve left them, it could be hard for them to love or trust you. 
There’s probably no one right way to tell your children. And it depends a lot on how old your children are. But no matter what:

  • Tell your children the truth. 
  • Tell them that you are going to jail or prison – or that you already are in jail or prison. 
  • Tell them that what is happening to you is not their fault. 
  • Tell them you love them. 

Don’t make promises to your children while you are in jail or prison. Lots of things may change, and lots of things might not be under your control. Unkept promises hurt your children and cause them to not trust you. 

This booklet will give you some suggestions about how to tell your children the truth. It will also give you some suggestions about how to make a plan to be sure your children will be safe.

We learned from Mrs. Hilary Emerson from State Representative Cherelle Parker office about “Little Children Big Challenges: Incarceration”, a book produced by Sesame Street.

How many families enrolled at the school district are coping with incarceration? Was asked. The school district doesn’t have a number or system to identify the families dealing with incarceration. Stigmas keep the situation pretty hush hush so unless their is a method put in place these families quietly suffer. Suggestions such as a parent locator would help and education on the topic would raise awareness and remove the stigmas. Knowing the issue and providing support is key.

We were informed by the Community Legal Service staff attorney Jamie Gullen that the prison society has created a database to assist returning citizens, www.phillyreentry.com. Community Legal service assist with applying for public benefits, expungements, pardons and band the box issues.

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