Today, October 24, 2018 as I write this, I attended a symposium at John Jay College of Criminal Justice organized by NYCIP and the Prisoner Re-entry Institute. The topic was “Inside and Outside the Visiting Room” regarding child visitation in prison as well as its effects. It was a very emotional conference resulting from stories from both parents who had been incarcerated as well as those who had been children visiting their incarcerated parents.

There are 2 million children in the US who have an incarcerated parent. The US leads the world in this. As a note, 80% of women incarcerated in NY State are single mothers. This is a growing number. How can we do better?

These people are hurting. One panelist spoke of her experiences as a child visiting her father in prison for so many years. She said, “Leaving is the part that hurts the most.” She was always afraid as she grew older that she would get a call from the prison telling her that her father, who had health problems, had died. One day she got that call. She broke down here.

Another man had spent decades in prison. During that time, he had visitation with his son who asked him constantly, “Daddy, when are you coming home?” “Soon.” His reason for being in prison for so long was because he had killed a man, and never wanted to say that to his son, but he did eventually. The good news was that his son still loved him.

I remember going through these issues with my own children even though I had mental illness. There is a lot of stigma in having a parent who is incarcerated, but it doesn’t always turn out the right way. In my experience with my own children, my daughter hates me now. I have a letter from her from 2013 stating that she resents (her word) that I have mental illness. What am I supposed to do now? Put everything back? It doesn’t happen that way. Will she love me again as she once did if I make my crime go away? I cannot shed my past any more than a man can shed his skin. The judge made it worse. I was sending Hallmark cards once per month to my son and daughter for many years as we were not seeing each other. In my request for dismissal of my case this past year, the judge sent a detective just a few months ago to interview them and decided, based upon the report, that I should no longer have any communication with my son or daughter (and their families as a result) who are now adults in their 30s and 40s, completely capable of making their own decisions. The doctor disagreed with the decision, citing his own experiences in similar matters that these things sometimes work out.

These things matter. That is why there are organizations fighting the good fight, to advocate for a different criminal justice system – a healing system.