West Side children visit their dads in prison

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A group of children made the trip last weekend to the Sheridan Correctional Center to celebrate Father’s Day with their dads.

The visit June 14 was organized by Congressman Danny K. Davis in conjunction with a coalition of community organizations to aid victims of the drug culture by bringing a group of children to visit their incarcerated dads. The aim is to reconnect families in need amidst adversity.

The group, accompanied by Congressman Davis and community members, left Chicago Saturday morning, arriving in time for the children to get a minimum two-hour visit with their fathers.

One of the highlights for this trip included a non-profit community leading a rap session on the role of fatherhood, parenting classes/resources, mentorship and launching the “2nd Chance Family Engagement” initiative. The children got to play games, and there were refreshments.

The theme for this trip was restorative justice. By the best estimates, about 2.7 million children nationwide under the age of 18 have a parent in prison or jail.

That means one in 28 kids in the United States (as of 2010) has a mother or father, or both, in lockup – a dramatic change from the one in 125 rate a quarter of a century ago, according to sociologists Bruce Western and Becky Petit.

About one in nine black children have an imprisoned parent, four times as many as 25 years ago. And at least 14,000 children of the imprisoned enter foster care each year, while an undetermined number enter juvenile detention and adult prisons.

The losses children experience from of an imprisoned parent are many. While imprisoned, children are deprived of consistent contact and engagement with their parents. Their kids rarely visit them in prison because these parents are often isolated at great distances from their communities.

Even phone calls become difficult and rare because of exorbitant telephone rates. Some imprisoned parents with long sentences permanently lose their parental rights.

The lack of parental contact and engagement during imprisonment hurts kids of the incarcerated, psychologically and socially. Many children  of the imprisoned are teased and taunted, shamed and stigmatized for the actions and absences of their parents. This is true even in communities like Austin with high rates of parental imprisonment.

Naturally, kids of the imprisoned try to hide the trauma of parental arrests, convictions and incarceration. Some mask it. Others act out, resulting in school suspensions, dropouts, criminal arrests and juvenile imprisonment, which maintains the “school-to-prison pipeline” that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has talked about.

The children of the formerly incarcerated suffer, too.

A collection of federal and state laws, for instance, bar mothers and fathers with drug felony convictions from federal social welfare programs, such as cash assistance for the poor, food stamps, vouchers for rental housing, apartments in public housing and subsidized student loans for college educations.

Some states also prevent parents with felony convictions from voting and ban them from obtaining employment licenses for jobs like truck drivers and barbers.

The coalition involved in Saturday’s visit included non-profit community organizations and individuals, some of whom are already engaged with children of
incarcerated parents/moms:

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