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TitleParental Incarceration: Personal Accounts and Developmental Impact
File Size3.5 MB
Total Pages219
Table of Contents
Half Title
Title Page
Copyright Page
Table of Contents
Notes on Contributors
Contributor Biographies
1. Relationships
	Personal stories
		My Daddy by Betty
		My Guardian Angel by David Santiago
		The Unconditional Love by Manuel Reyes Williams
		Full Circle by Victoria Greene
		His Children’s Conviction by Danielle Chapman
		My Parents by Aliyah
		Blue by Larri Calhoun
		All Grown Up by Hollie Overton
2. Safety and Protection
	Personal stories
		A Life of Crime by Marcus T. Rogers
		I Think About My Father All the Time by Miranda Longo
		I Wish Things Had Been Different by Moe-Moe Sullivan
		Life as an Unhealed Wound by Nate A. Lindell
		Betty Boop by Percy Levy
		The Chain by Jasmine
		Nothing Like My Dad by Aaron Godinez
		My Parents’ Incarceration by Mary
3. Care and Guidance
	Personal stories
		Man of the Year by Pamela Hayes
		A Rocky Start by Willard C. Jimerson
		The Culture of Incarceration by Bruce Bennett
		My Mother’s Incarceration by Natalie Chaidez
		Life Without by Kris William Benson
		Everyone in My Family Has Been in Prison by Shadow
		About My Mother by Abel Hawkins
		In His Footsteps by Jeremy Mark Read
		This Indescribable Butterfly by Alisha Murdock
4. The Experiences of Parental Arrest, Incarceration and Reentry
	Personal stories
		My Name is Tony Shavers by Tony Shavers, III
		The White Bridge by Carie Spicer
		That Place by Ifetayo Harvey
		Visiting Day by Vannette Thomson
		Dad in Prison by Shari Ostrow Scher
		My Family by Jessamyn Ramirez
		We Never Part by Bianca S. Bryant
		Fathers and Sons by Michael P. Carlin
		Reentry Story by Daniel Bowes
Conclusions: What We Can Learn From Adults Who
Experienced Parental Incarceration as Children
	Personal stories
		The Most Important Thing by Sharika Lockhart Young
Document Text Contents
Page 2


Parental Incarceration: Personal Accounts and Developmental Impact makes available for the first time a collection
of personal stories by adults who have had the childhood experience of parental incarceration. These stories
help readers better understand the complex circumstances that influence these children’s health and devel-
opment, as well as their high risk for intergenerational crime and incarceration. Denise Johnston examines
her own children’s experience of her incarceration within the context of what the research and her 30 years
of practice with prisoners and their children has taught her, arguing that it is imperative to attempt to
understand parental incarceration within a developmental framework. Megan Sullivan, a scholar in the
humanities, examines the effects of her father’s incarceration on her family and with respect to her own
educational and class outcomes, and underscores the importance of the reentry process for families.

The number of arrested, jailed, and imprisoned persons in the United States has increased since 1960,
most dramatically between 1985 and 2000. As the majority of these incarcerated persons are parents, the
number of minor children with an incarcerated parent has increased alongside this, peaking at an estimated
2.9 million in 2006. The impact of the experience of parental incarceration has garnered attention by
researchers, but to date attention has been focused on the period when parents are actually in jail or
prison. This work goes beyond that to examine the developmental impact of children’s experiences that
extend long beyond that timeframe. A valuable resource for students in corrections, human services, social
work, counseling, and related courses, as well as practitioners, program/agency administrators, policy-
makers, advocates, and others involved with families of the incarcerated, this book is testimony that the
consequences of mass incarceration reach far beyond just the offender.

Denise Johnston* is the director of Families & Criminal Justice, the successor agency to the Center for
Children of Incarcerated Parents. A child development specialist, she has developed and directed educa-
tional, therapeutic, family support, and advocacy services for more than 25,000 families of justice-involved
parents since 1988. Johnston is also author of numerous publications for families and for professionals.

Megan Sullivan is the author of Women in Northern Ireland: Cultural Studies and Material Conditions
(University Press of Florida, 1999), Irish Women and Cinema: 1980–1990 (NOVA Southeastern University,
2001), and many essays and articles. Her essay “My Father’s Prison” was awarded the Anthony Prize in
Prose from Between the Lines Literary Journal. She co-edited “Children of Incarcerated Parents” for S&F
Online. She is an Associate Dean and Associate Professor of Rhetoric at Boston University.

Page 109

Though we narrowly avoided losing our house, we did lose our car. Pancakes were
often what we had for dinner, for meat was too expensive.

Shari O., adult child of an incarcerated father


Wherever a child is placed when a custodial parent is incarcerated, that child will probably
experience emotional and material instability.11 Yet research and our contributors’ reflections
provide insight into the exact nature of some of this material instability.
Women whose partners are incarcerated face an elevated risk of housing insecurity.12 If

a child’s mother is living with a partner who becomes incarcerated, that mother and
child’s housing is often jeopardized, especially if the housing is subsidized and even if the
mother has not been involved in any criminal activity.13 Mothers report “missing” or
“skipping” rent or mortgage payments, and are at an increased risk of losing public
housing as a child ages.14

One of our contributors speaks to longstanding housing insecurity that seems tied to
criminal activity, poverty and incarceration.

[My family was] … always living in the worst part of town or in some rudimentary
makeshift home out in the middle of nowhere.

Bruce B., adult child of two incarcerated parents

Another contributor recognizes the more direct link between housing insecurity and
criminal activity and/or incarceration.

Luckily my grandma was stable enough to keep her house in a nice working-class
neighborhood until my Mom’s legal bills forced her to sell it.

Natalie C., adult child of an incarcerated mother

The risk of housing insecurity often continues after parental incarceration.

[After her release] my mom was living in a shelter in Livermore, which meant that I was
also staying in a shelter for the summer. When I got there, my mom was so happy to see
me … The happiness soon came to an end, though, when my mom and I were kicked
out of the shelter. After staying in a motel in Livermore, we moved to Richmond, to
another shelter.

Alisha M., adult child of an incarcerated mother

In 2004, Human Rights Watch estimated that over a five-year period, more than
3.5 million people with criminal convictions would be denied access to housing assistance as
a result of “one-strike” policies, and their partners and children might also lose access to
public housing.15

Many other aspects of the basic care of prisoners’ children also remain unexplored. For
example, children’s general health status and their utilization of pediatric services are

68 Care and Guidance

Page 110

unknown, while most of the few existing studies related to their health care address mental
health services for behavioral problems.16 The need for investigation in this area is high-
lighted by a recent study that found an association between parental incarceration and
physical health disorders – including high cholesterol, asthma and migraine – in young

Caregivers and Placements

Almost all research on the living arrangements of children who have experienced parental
incarceration has addressed the periods when their parents are locked up. Except for reports
by jailed and imprisoned parents on their own living arrangements in relation to their children,
there are few reports of where these children lived before their parents were incarcerated and
virtually no information on where they live after their parents are released.

Prior to Parental Incarceration

National research has found that almost half of imprisoned fathers and almost two-thirds of
imprisoned mothers report living with at least one of their children immediately before they
were incarcerated.18 However, the high prevalence of multi-partnered fertility in this popula-
tion suggests that few of these parents will have been living with all of their minor children.
This suggestion is supported by smaller studies that examined pre-incarceration parent–child
living arrangements by child and found that only about half of the children of incarcerated
mothers and about two out of five children of incarcerated fathers reported living with those
parents prior to parental incarceration.19

In fact, many children of prisoners have never lived with their parents who have been
incarcerated. Among contributors to this book, more than one in four never lived with their
parent who was incarcerated. The Fragile Families Study found that at least 15 percent of
ever-incarcerated fathers are no longer in a relationship with the mothers of their children at
the time of the children’s birth.20 This proportion appears to increase with children’s age. A
study of randomly selected middle and high school students compared children of ever-
incarcerated parents with all other children and found that about 40 percent of the children
of ever-incarcerated fathers had never lived with their fathers, in contrast to about 9 percent
of other children.21 This study also found that about 20 percent of the children of ever-
incarcerated mothers had never lived with their mothers, compared to less than 1 percent of
other children.
This body of research tells us that since most children of prisoners were living with another

caregiver before their parents went to jail or prison, only a minority experience a change of
living arrangements when their parents are incarcerated.

During Parental Incarceration

When a parent goes to prison or jail, the degree to which children experience disruption of
their care and placement will depend upon the prior parent–child living and caregiving

Care and Guidance 69

Page 218

identification with parent 123–125s,
140s, 143s; parentification 8, 28–29s,
54–55s, 81–82s, 89–91s, 101–103s,

parent–child reunification after parental
incarceration xvii, 25s, 28s, 54–55s, 57s,
62–63s, 82s, 87–88s, 96s, 101s, 114–118, 136s,

parentification/family role reversal 8,
28–29s, 54–55s, 81–82s, 89–91s,
101–103s, 133s

peer relationships among children of incarcerated
parents 1, 10–13, 15, 23–24s, 91–94s,
126–127s, 133s, 140s, 141s

poverty and parental incarceration xxiii, 34–35,

public policy and children of incarcerated parents
x, 43, 118, 153–156

relationships in the lives of prisoners’ children

romantic and reproductive relationships: among
adult children of incarcerated parents 26–27s,
63s, 81s, 141–142s, 160s; among incarcerated
parents xiv, 13–15

sibling relationships and parental incarceration
10–11, 20s; sibling separations 10–11, 15,
28–29s, 41, 52s, 95s, 96s

stigma and parental incarceration x, xxiv, 32–33s,
71, 91s, 106, 107, 111–113, 123–125s, 127s,
134s, 136s

substance abuse/dependence: among children of
incarcerated parents 20, 48–49s, 60s, 61s,
63–64s, 85–86s, 88–90s, 153; among
incarcerated parents xv, xxv, 4–5, 22s, 24s,
31–33s, 41, 49–52s, 57s, 63s, 94–95s, 96s,
101–103s, 135–136s, 143–144s, 145s; among
family members of incarcerated parents 37,
48–49s; 88–89s, 91–94s; effects on parenting 89s

telling children about parental incarceration xv,
21s, 25–26s, 81s, 88s, 106–108, 119, 126s,
128s, 140s

termination of parental rights among incarcerated
parents xvii, 64s, 73, 113

trauma in childhood: among children of
incarcerated parents xiv, xv, xxiv, xxv, 3–4,
23s, 24s, 26–28s, 32–33s, 42, 48–49s, 51–59s,
60s, 62–63s, 84–85s, 89s, 95s, 105, 107, 132s,
135–138s, 140–141s; among incarcerated
parents 3–4, 27–28s, 38, 39, 53–54, 57–60s,
63s, 84–85s, 95s, 139s, 140–141s; effects on
parent–child relationships 3–4

violence in the lives of prisoners’ children xviii,
xxxiii, 34, 40–42, 47–48s, 57–59s, 62–63s,
84–87s, 92s, 139s, 142s

Index 177

Page 219

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