There are 2.3 million people incarcerated in the United States and about 744,200 fathers in prison (as of 2007). In 2008 over 1.5 million children had a parent in prison.
On December 7, Dr. Michelle Smith, Educational Coordinator at the Metropolitan Detention Center and CEO and Founder of Good Morning Parents, LLC joined Shu’aib Abdur-Raheem, case manager at the Osborne Association to share their work and experiences at Fathering From Prison, an event we hosted in partnership with the Men’s Caucus.
Mr. Raheem spoke on the panel “Voices of People in the System” at last year’s criminal justice conference, Removing the Bars along with his daughter. They each shared their experiences of Mr. Raheem’s incarceration. Mr. Raheem was in state prison for 37 years, during which time he struggled to remain a part of his daughter’s life and upbringing. Mr. Raheem’s daughter would come visit nearly every weekend of his incarceration. He spoke of the difficulty he had being a father while feeling the effects of incarceration. A child of an incarcerated parent does not necessarily know the details of why their parent is gone; the most important thing they know is that their parent is not around. Many life events were missed and at one point Mr. Raheem’s daughter wrote him a letter explaining her feelings, something she had been keeping inside. Together they published this letter, which helped other incarcerated fathers recognize what their children were going through.
Dr. Smith was a teacher for a time before she began working for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. While there she listened to the needs of the fathers she interacted with as a corrections officer. Based on their needs and concerns Dr. Smith was able to develop a curriculum and programs to aid the fathers and their families. One of her first initiatives was to develop a parenting room that would be a welcoming place for children. She has since developed various parenting initiatives to prepare fathers for their release including a job fair where incarcerated individuals can learn about searching for jobs, get connected to community resources, and even make connections that will lead to jobs after their release. Recently Dr. Smith helped to bring a Scholastic Book Fair to the facility where inmates could purchase books that will be sent to their children. Dr. Smith emphasized how great it would feel for a child to receive a card and a book from their father and what a better use it would be for the limited funds they receive, as she tells her clients, “Put that snickers away and give your kid a book.”
Engaging with children is extremely important especially engagement from an absent parent. The effects on children of having an incarcerated parent are similar to the effects on a child who has a dying parent. It has also been found that children of prisoners are five times more likely to end up in prison themselves.
It is important to recognize the different perspectives of this issue; the parent who has to be removed from their child, the child who has to live without one of their parents, and the people who work to bridge that gap whether they are service providers or other family members.
Mr. Raheem shared a powerful video (Daniel Beaty – “Knock Knock”)with us, featuring a performer representing his experience as a child of an incarcerated parent. Mr. Raheem is still close with his daughter, who he talks about with great pride. “You’ll always be a parent,” he said, “no matter how old you are or how old they [the children] are.”
To learn more about Good Morning Parents and Dr. Smith please visit Good Morning Parents, LLC.
Click here to learn more about the Osborne Association.