Sometimes we forget that when we casually say “lock’em up,” we are locking up children as well. While the children of those who are sent to jail and prison may have the freedom of movement, they usually suffer emotionally from not being with their parents and from the stigma that comes when having to explain why their parent is not around.
Over 6 million children in this country have a parent in jail. Last year, OAR’s clients collectively had 1,230 children. These children are six to seven times more likely to get in trouble with the law. So, what can be done?
One thing OAR does is offer parenting classes inside the Arlington County Detention Facility throughout the year. Volunteers facilitate the six week course multiple times a year. An important assignment in that class is to have the parent write to his or her child or children. Such contact, even if the child cannot come to visit, is critical – not only for the child but for the parent as well.
Here are a few excerpts from some of the parents’ letters to their children:
“I made some mistakes in my life and I didn’t realize that it didn’t just affect me, it also affected you and the rest of the family. I’m proud to say that I have learned from my mistakes and I’m ready to be a mother to you. I apologize from the bottom of my heart and I promise you that things are going to get better as soon as mommy comes home.”
“I want you to understand that I had to go away. I broke the law and that means that I did something I should not have done. Someday I hope that you and I will talk about what happened to me, and how you felt, and what you did while we had to be apart. You are always loved. Never forget that.”
“This is your mother. I’m sorry for spending so much time away from you. Mommy made some mistakes and I’m changing. I’ve learned my lesson. Bad choices send you to places that you don’t ever want to be. It won’t happen again. We will come together soon and we will be able to have fun again. I love you.”
Over 200 community members came together December 15th to wrap presents for children of parents incarcerated in the Arlington County Detention Facility. We had fun picking out special gifts for over 300 children based on the information that their parent gave us about each child. Then, volunteers delivered the presents to the homes where the children live. Project Christmas Angel is another way OAR – with the extensive help of volunteers, faith communities and businesses in our community – are helping families stay connected through a difficult period in their lives.
Let us know if you have other ideas about how we can help keep these families united. Email our Executive Director at <a href=”mailto:email@example.com”>firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.