Understanding Incarceration’s Impact on Children: A Personal Reflection

By Reem Jayyousi, NCPCF Social Media Associate

According to the Casey Report, more than 5 million children in the United States have a parent behind bars. That is 1 in 14 children.

Ask me about the 1 in 14, ask me about the 1, ask me about me. My father was incarcerated when I was 14 and I grew up feeling isolated; isolated by the community, my family, and estranged from even myself. I didn’t want to face the reality. I didn’t know how. How would a 14 year old make sense of her father going to prison for a crime he did not commit? How would I face it if I couldn’t even understand it?

The pain was unbearable. My grades suffered. I had trouble keeping friends, and it even affected my relationship with my family. I had an overwhelming sense of sadness and loneliness, and I felt like I couldn’t deal with any of it. Especially since I felt like I was alone throughout the entire experience.

This past week I attended the International Prisoner’s Family Conference, I met some amazing people; some who at one point in their lives had an incarcerated parent or those who were the parents that were in prison themselves. I walked around booths, hearing people’s personal stories about their own father or mother who was once in jail, I met people who turned their pain into children’s stories so that other children could have a guide to help them make sense of what is happening. It was a great experience, and it made me realize that there is a lack of research done on political prisoner’s children. Their stories impacted me in a positive way, it showed me that it isn’t the end of the world and that it does get better when you become older and perhaps makes you more capable of constructively channeling your hurt and anger. These stories taught me that I can make a difference in the community when I use my own experience and knowledge. I am inspired to create a program for impacted Political Prisoner’s children. The program will aim to help work directly with the children, their families, and it will also aim to collect data and research on the different emotions and problems that the political prisoner’s children experience. The programs main focus is to help connect the child with what is happening and to make them feel good about themselves and to help them understand that they are not alone.

I look forward to bringing new ideas and possibly creating research that looks at these children who are impacted by the incarceration of their parents and abuses in the American justice system.