67% of participants have children, and several participants described losing contact with their children or not knowing much about their children’s lives.
“I haven’t seen them since I’ve been locked up”Mirinda Boob
“I don’t know where she is. I do know she is married and as far as I know has 2 children.”Paula Johnson
“Do not know, do not have communication with them.”Elizabeth Collazo
Over half of respondents were separated from their children when they were under 5 years old.
Number and Age of Children. Participants had on average 2 children. For those with children, 58% were separated from them when the children were between the ages of 0-5.
Studies show that children with incarcerated parents are more likely to struggle in school, have poor mental health, be antisocial, and develop substance abuse issues. As adults, they are significantly more likely to become engaged with the criminal justice system than their peers (Huebner & Gustafson, 2007; Murray, Farrington, Sekol, & Olsen, 2009; Poehlmann, 2005; Poehlmann, 2010). Indeed, this study, some participants reported that their children were incarcerated
“All three of my children who were the ages of 6, 13, 15 years old at the time of arrest have all been incarcerated off and on through out my incarceration.”Jennifer Rhodes
“He’s grown up in Cincinnati with my mom’s brothers. He now lives in Pittsburgh after being incarcerated in PA”Dierdre Owens
“My son is in SCI Albion and my daughter has her own home”Sheená King
What’s more, over 30% of participants listed family members who were currently or formerly incarcerated, suggesting entire family lines disrupted by incarceration.
Incarcerated Family Members. A quarter of participants have immediate family members who are currently or were formerly incarcerated.
After she was incarcerated, Sheená’s children went to live with her mother and two younger sisters. She writes, “My incarceration devastated my family…at ages 30 and 33, [my children] still have enduring effects of my incarceration.” Keiff is currently serving the same sentence as his mom- a life sentence without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder.Sheená’ King
- “I didn’t take just one life, I took four. The other three were my children. All that they could have been, all they were meant to be. If only…”
- She wants to start a latchkey program for girls with incarcerated mothers. The program already has a name: Girls Just Like Us. With enough funds – the plan now is to sell homemade cookies – the program could organize educational field trips and collect funds for the children’s futures. So by providing a safe place to go, an adult to look up to, feel accepted and loved, it would tackle something more fundamental:
- “These kids go through hell. They might get visits or phone calls, but that’s not a hug from a mother. A mother’s presence is her assurance.”
- “It will be a place to feel sheltered from peer pressure, shame, and abandonment issues from having a mom in prison. A place to demolish their shame, build self-esteem and hopefully keep them from becoming one of the statistics: 85% of children with mothers in prisons become incarcerated themselves.”
Elizabeth’s incarceration and the realities of her crime caused a severing of her family. She writes, “My incarceration caused a lot of pain, suffering, torment and separation. Anger, questioning, abandonment, addiction.” She says, “I lost all ‘family’ support upon my crime.” She does not have communication with her children, now in their early-mid 20s, who went to live with her victim’s family when she was incarcerated. She never receives in-person visits. As Elizabeth distills it, “Prison is a lonely life filled with suffering.”Elizabeth Collazo