Keeping Children From Parents in Prison Tortures The Children

When I read the headline “Sesame Street creates first Muppet to have a parent in prison” I was in awe. I was in awe because the incarceration rate in America has become so astronomical that Sesame Street has taken up the task of helping children with a parent in prison understand and cope with their feelings. Sesame Street is as mainstream as mainstream gets. I saw a few clips of Alex’s dilemma. He was talking to his peers about his father being incarcerated: the anger, the shame, the guilt. One media clip stated that 1 in 28 children have a parent in prison. Not long ago my two children who are now

young adults were a part of this statistic. When I think of the sadness they endured over the 18 years of incarceration I am so grateful that today they are thriving and surviving. When I spoke to my daughter about Sesame Street and how the characters went to Rikers Island to be with young children and their dads she began to recollect our visits over the years. I asked her to write about those experiences and she penned:

I can vaguely remember visits with my mother when I was younger. I remember one visit when I was about 6 years old and I was hollering and screaming because I didn’t want to leave my mother when the visit was over. When I got into the car my grandmother explained to me how it makes my mother sad when I cry and behave like that after a visit. I remember feeling so guilty that from then on out I never again cried after a visit. I think that was also the day I started carrying the guilt of my mother being in prison. When I was about 11 visits with my mother came to a sudden stop. I didn’t see her for years. I remember a friend of my mother’s coming up to my junior high school to take pictures of me to send to her. I also remember my mother trying to call the school a few times to talk to me but she couldn’t get through. Contact with my mother seemed to have stopped abruptly. One day I noticed I stopped receiving her mail. I used to look forward to my mother’s mail. It was always very encouraging. I remember clearly the moment I realized I lost contact with my mother. I felt so alone and hurt. I thought my mother abandoned me all over again. My father never told me he was going to stop all contact with my mother. One day when I finally confronted him he told me that my mother had a different religion and he didn’t want her putting her and her beliefs onto me. My father was Muslim and so was my mother but she was a different kind of Muslim.

Eventually my mother fought for court ordered visits. I ended up living with my paternal grandmother and aunt. Then, I began to visit my mother once, or twice a year through OUR PLACE, DC – an organization that helps incarcerated women. Our visits were always fun. It was special not only because I was able to be with my mother, but it was the only time I was able to see my younger brother. I didn’t really get to see my brother except when we went together to see my mom. I remember one of my visits when I was about fourteen years old I cried the entire visit, the tears were just rolling. I can’t even remember why.

The most fun and memorable time was Children’s Day. That was a special occasion because visits were held on the Recreation Yard, outside. The inmates would decorate the yard, and there was food and music. The visits most definitely helped us build a relationship and catch up on a lot of things that we were not able to write about or talk about in 15 minute conversations on the telephone. I enjoyed those Children’s Day visits and every visit I ever had with my mother, but the fact of the matter is, ‘I could have visited my mother every week and we still never would have gotten the opportunity to really get to know one another like we should have.’

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About Lashonia Etheridge-Bey

Lashonia Etheridge-Bey is a Public Speaker who can candidly and articulately speak to the consequences of youth violence, the effects of incarceration and the challenges of reentry into society. Read Lashonia's Full BIO Here 


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