Friday, January 28, 2011

Children of the incarcerated: What will happen to them?

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Kevin, photo by Howard Zehr
In 2007, when I was co-facilitating a writers' workshop in a women's correctional facility, one topic that consistently came up in writing and discussion with the group was the deep pain associated with the break-up of families. Many of the the women were mothers who had lost access to their own children because of drug or alcohol arrests and subsequent incarceration. I don't wish to ignore the wrong committed by these women, just as I don't wish to ignore the psychosocial realities which fostered an environment for their wrongdoing to take place. But even while keeping these things in view, it was impossible not to feel compassion as they shared through sobs and tears, their stories of love and loss.

A new book of photographs and stories, What Will Happen To Me?, co-authored by one of my mentors here at EMU, Howard Zehr, focuses the lens on the other side of these kinds of situations: on 30 children whose parents are incarcerated. The book is co-authored with Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, a restorative justice practitioner and trainer working for Mennonite Central Committee/MCC in their Office of Crime and Justice.

Since 1 in 15 black children in the United States have a parent in prison, African American magazine, Ebony,  ran a story this week on the new book:
‘What Will Happen To Me?’: Restorative Justice Pioneer Takes Look At The Impact Of Parental Incarceration On Children In New Book
by Margena A. Christian
These move through society unnoticed. They harbor a secret they tell no one for a myriad of emotions consume them. Shame. Anger. Confusion. Isolation. They aren’t alone but one wouldn’t know it because people don’t like to discuss “the secret.”
As the article notes at the end, Howard was the first white student to attend Morehouse College, a traditionally black school in Atlanta. That a white Mennonite from Indiana did this at the height of the Civil Rights movement is still striking today. Howard once told me that his decision to attend Morehouse was partly influenced by John Howard Yoder, which I of course thought was totally awesome!

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