Parents in Prison Still Deserve to Be in Contact with Their Kids


Jail is not a nice place. Anywhere with metal bars or big steel doors is pretty unwelcoming by design. So I’m baffled why more people don’t seem to take every precaution necessary to make sure they don’t wind up having an extended visit. Still, more than 2 million folks have somehow managed to get an invitation to stay in one of these institutions, and many of them are parents.

When I mentioned to a friend the other day that I was planning to volunteer with a program that helps facilitate kids’ relationships with their imprisoned moms, she furrowed her face like I just accused her of passing gas or smelled something foul herself, one or the other. Her words were deliberate and dripping with disgust. “Why should anybody in prison have the right to be a parent? They messed that up when they did whatever they did to wind up in there.”


Ah, the silent song of the self-righteous. And you guys think I’m bad. Sometimes I’m the mildest person in my inner circle, if you can wrap your mind around that one. That attitude implies that just because a parent has never been in jail, or isn’t there right now, that they’re making a stellar investment in their kid’s lives. And we all know that’s not even close to being true.

I’m of the high mind that someone can make a crazy mistake in their own lives and still have something to contribute to their kids, even from the confines of incarceration. If nothing else, they might teach their children — without even saying a word — that the way they’ve been living ain’t the right way to do it. That orange jumpsuit typically speaks volumes before anybody even opens their mouths to speak.

Short of being a serial killer, a molester, or a violent maniac, every mother or father has the right to continue to sow into their children. Heck, I know some fathers who have been locked up for years and still manage to be more actively involved in their kid’s lives than some dudes I know who are free-roaming menaces to society. They can’t be there to do the physical checking of homework or eyeball guys coming to take their daughter’s on dates, but they’ve got eyes and ears all over their lives through family members, letters, phone calls, and genuine concern for their kids’ well-being.  

I first learned about the Girl Scouts’ Beyond Bars program from a commercial — I think Lisa Ling was the spokeswoman detailing what exactly they do and who they do it for — and I was so impressed. I don’t think a lot of people, myself included, think regularly about little girls who don’t come home from their school to their mamas because for whatever reason, their mothers are holed up in a prison or detention center or holding cell somewhere. I wanted to help. The application process was pretty darn rigorous. Now I’m just waiting for my marching orders.

In the meantime, I’ve become an unlikely advocate for moms and dads who are temporarily, or perhaps permanently, removed from the day-to-day responsibilities of parenting. But the point is they’re still parents, nonetheless.

Has someone in your family been incarcerated?

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