Picture an 11-year-old child running down the street after a police car screaming and begging the officer to let her father stay home. Meryam Bouadjemi recalls the somber quiet of a morning in March of 2000. She remembers her mother leading the family in prayer after Meryam’s father was taken to prison. But until a family member told her the story 10 years later, she had blocked out the painful memory of chasing after the police car.
Meryam’s story is not unique. Twenty percent of the 2.7 million children of incarcerated parents witness their parent being taken away to prison. What happens to the children and families left behind? Generally, they are left to deal with the hardships and stigmas of having an incarcerated family member.
Meryam’s family became a single parent household. Living off her secretary’s income, Meryam’s mother struggled to keep up with the expenses of the home and family. Meryam experienced the social consequences of having an incarcerated parent. She lost the friendship of children whose families no longer wanted to associate with hers. She worked hard in school but received no counseling or support to help her deal with her father’s incarceration.
Children of incarcerated parents and their families are let down by the criminal justice system, the school system, and the community. Meryam was lucky to have a hard working mother and supportive family. Many children of incarcerated parents do not have this kind of support. Awareness needs to be built and policies need to be changed so that these children are not left behind with broken families and lives.
Source: Meryam Bouadjemi http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-incarcerated-parents-20160622-story.html
From the age of five Adriana spent most of her childhood weekends and holidays in prison visiting her father. She felt that “It was the only place and time in my life that my family was complete.” Now as an adult in her thirties her father is still in prison serving out his 35 year sentence for drug related charges.
As a child Adriana did not understand that this would create life-long trauma for her. From the sound of buzzers that are like that of prison doors opening to the sight of vending machines that trigger memories of the only food available for her to eat at the prison, there are reminders of her prison visits everywhere. To this day Adriana has difficulty with the stigma of having an incarcerated parent. “Even as an adult I find myself struggling to say that “My Father is in prison” out loud to anyone. My wound is always fresh every time I visit the prison and leave my father behind. What most people fail to recognize is that the children of incarcerated parents also serve time.”
Besides having the hardship of parental visitations in a prison setting, children of incarcerated parents also experience a variety of emotions that can be challenging to deal with. Early intervention and mental health services are essential for helping these children grow towards a healthy adulthood. The statistics are grim for those children who fall through the cracks of the judicial system and are left navigate their parent’s incarceration mostly on their own.
Adriana attributes her successes to the services that were provided to her as a child and also to her supportive extended family. She now has her own family and is in law school. She feels hopeful that her life experiences and her career path will help others including her own son who now visits his grandfather in prison. “My hope is to advocate for youth and to show them that their life experience and trauma does not need to define them.”
Source: Adriana Mendez https://www.youngmindsadvocacy.org/children-of-incarcerated-parents-also-serve-time/