Mom’s in jail

First Day of School by Steve Wilhelm

I settled my son into his 4th grade classroom this morning, as part of that familiar First Day of School ritual.  I helped him unload a mountain of school supplies from the plaid Burton backpack we purchased together last week—an early birthday present that cost way, way too much money for my tastes.

As I departed the cheery school environment, I thought of the children of incarcerated parents who begin a new school year today alongside our children.

In 2011, according to Vermont DOC Facts & Figures, 40-percent of incarcerated women (and 28-percent of men) were the parents of minor children.  (Those numbers seem low to me based on my experiences of writing with inmate women.)

Anyway, add to the scary feelings of new teacher and classmates, the reality that your parent is in jail and unable to buy you a new pack of Crayolas, for example, or meet you at the afternoon bus drop-off.  This child enters school with a serious stigma through no fault of his/her own.  It’s not hard to envision the trauma such an experience wreaks on a developing child.

Thankfully, Lund’s Kids-A-Part program works with children and families of incarcerated women at Chittenden Correctional Facility, helping nourish those vital relationships, as well as offering moms valuable parenting and communication skills.

That said, what is our responsibility in all of this?  Hopefully, you feel you have one.

As parents, are we obsessed with surrounding our children with only the best, most advantageous friendships–in other words, with kids whose parents are like us, well-educated and well-resourced?!

Am I concerned about the bedraggled child sitting near my son who doesn’t have the sneakers and supplies she needs to be successful in school?  Is there an active role for me to play in supporting her?  I plan to ponder these personal questions during the coming school year.

6 thoughts on “Mom’s in jail

  1. Mike Ohler says:

    I was quite taken with your question: “what is our responsibility in all of this?” having spent a bunch of years working with offenders, and still encountering the aftermath of the system in my current work, I find myself asking myself that question often. I wrote what follows as part of a paper for my graduate program. As a social worker type who spent a few years working with female offenders I became convinced of/obsessed with the fact that we don’t know the people we are working with. I am not excusing the actions of some, I am merely saying that as so-called advocates sometimes we should know better;the proverbial writing was on the wall before the wall consisted of prison bars. I am trying to do better….

    “There can be no denial that there are those in our society who are considered to be deviant and deserve to be locked up. However, the social construction of the common criminal negates us from looking beyond the deviance. Most social service models of treatment suggest that while the goal is to assist all who are in need, reality suggests something different. As stated in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: “logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…Or the one.” The criminal, in most cases, comes in the form of an individual. He/she is often sacrificed for what is seen as the greater good, an effort to quiet the potential panic of the masses. It is not that the sacrifice is without substantial merit, it is that when the story of the crime ends at apprehension, we neglect to seek further answers in regards to the perpetrator.

    We, those of us considered to be part of the dominant non-criminal culture, concentrate on the act, not what is behind the act. What should remain, if our attempt is to actually right society’s woes, and to ultimately better protect ourselves, is to question how those who came to be known as criminal got to be the way they are.”

    PS: I am a Memoir Writing instructor, and this project is absolutely wonderful !


    • Marybeth says:

      Wow, Mike, I really enjoyed the excerpt from your graduate paper–thank you for sharing. Our work with women offenders (utlizing writing to develop personal voice and vision, and build healthy community together) does facilitate more deeply ‘getting to know the people we are working with’ (as you say is so vital–I agree). As a society, we have much to learn about the intersecting pathways that lead ultimately to a criminal act that lands someone behind bars. It’s nice then to have an opportunity to pose these questions in a wider sphere (hence, the blog). Thanks for being in touch! MB


      • Mike Ohler says:

        let me know if there is anything I can do to assist you in this incredible project. I can send you the entire paper if you might find it interesting. the group might find it interesting as well. I ended up doing my entire dissertation about truly getting to know the people we work with, and the lack of a “personal team” that many experience. I fear I am a bit obsessed.

        I teach Intro to Sociology at CCV. I have brought my classes to facilities in the past. if you think that your group would benefit from explaining what they are engaged in to an audience, I would be happy to arrange a field trip.


  2. Marybeth says:

    This kind of an “obsession”is a GOOD thing–I admire your quest to truly understand these marginalized Vermonters and the backdrop of issues that undermine them. I will definitely keep your field trip idea in mind–thanks for being in touch. MB


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