Minority Matters September 2013
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The impact of crime on our communities from the perspective of the children of those incarcerated.
Panelist: Dee Ann Newell - Founder and Executive Director, Arkansas Voices; Brenda Olive - Grandparent, Support Group Leader, Arkansas Voices; Alexis Beavers - Child of an Incarcerated Parent.
Welcome to "Minority Matters". I am your host Sylvester Smith. Crime affects all of us. People and community are impacted in a variety of ways. One group who is often over looked in the discussions of crime are the children with loved ones that are incarcerated and we will talk about their perspective and the people that care for them. Today we have Dee Ann Newell Founder and Executive Director for Arkansas Voices and Brenda Olive support group leader of Arkansas Voices and Alexis Beavers a child of a incarcerated parent. Ladies I want to thank you you so much to talk about this important but under discussed topic. I think you all agree that we don't hear much about this topic. As we begin the discussion I want to start with you Ms. Newell. You have been doing this work for 25 years so tell us your story and how you got involved in this effort.
It's pretty amazing. 25 years ago in our state prison system in Arkansas there were only 200 women in prison and they asked the Department of Corrections at that time if they could have parenting classing and a group went down to Pine Bluff and teaching parenting and in the chicken coop and the mothers told us please go look at our families and children. They're barely holding on with their fingernails and we were funded and we interviewed the family of every mother in that system who had a minor age child and the moms were correct. These were families holding on, not only economically and emotionally and a whole lot of other ways and we were the third organization in the country to ever take a close look at these children, and by 1998 the number of women in prison had tripled across the country including in Arkansas and a number of men in prison had doubled in that one decade in the 90's so we were in the usual perch of witnessing the rise of incarcerated men and women and consequently the children and those that we incarcerate those have children and in Arkansas it's younger children and nationally the average age is eight and ours is five. We don't have a good explanation for it but it is true these are mainly families of poverty. These are families of low educational attainment as you might expect and all of these things are parts of inner-generational cycles so when I started teaching my mens classes for dads at Wrightville and Dimes I would find grandfather, father and son in prison at the same time and it was a wake up call that we need to intervene, not only for the safety and security of these children because there is a lack of stability in these families due to the poverty that they live in and due to the fact they're invisible and it's programs like yours that have helped us barely increase the visibility. I attend the White House conference and honored for my work for 25 years and I think when you finally hit the White House you know they're paying attention but it's a serious issue for a child to lose a child to incarceration. It brings risk factors that are distinct from the other risk factors that you associate with a child of poverty. The stigma and the shame that they have and the sense of guilt where you feel badly about something and shame is that you just shouldn't be, and consequently our target population of children and incarcerated parents have a higher rate of suicide than other children and it's difficult to cope with the stigmatizing things that are said, not only directly to the children, but there are ads on television that mock it and I have seen movies and trailers and it breaks my heart and I know there are a pair of eyes watching it that it has a different meaning to it, and we have to realize these children love their parents. They understand they did something wrong, but it's very painful for them to come to grips with the kind of stigmatizing that happens, not only to their parent but to their entire family including them.
You know you provided some great information but you covered a lot of ground and I want to make sure that all of the panel gets involved and I want to come back to something you said and let's go back to the first group of studies that you did in the early 80's and -- late 80's and early 90's and can you talk about the data points and some of the changes in the womens' family situations if you remember or else I will move on?
The most interesting finding was for a incarcerated mother opposed to the dad is more likely it's a maternal single grandmother taking care of the child, not the dad, not anybody else in the family but a single maternal grandmother who is living at or below the level of poverty so when that grandmother brings a child into her home the economic resources father either further and these are typically seniors or almost seniors who are living on fixed incomes anyway so the resources -- they come in packages of 3.1 package so it's not small so the resources are diffused over a larger number of children and the truth is that we saw a terrible decline in the number of children that got to visit their parents. It cost money to go visit a prison, even a prison in the state and especially the federal prison where I have also worked. We placed the prisons outside of the more common areas where the families come from and the urban areas and we put the prisons out in the boonies and it's more difficult to travel and visit. It's costly. Gasoline is costly. Whenever gas goes up in the summer the number of visits decline and truly we have research data that shows that children do better if the parent is incarcerated if they see the parent unless the parent ever harmed them and that happens less and less and we have to realize maintaining parent inside and that is in the news and we're trying to lower the cost of a telephone call and I know from my calls they're extremely expensive. Lawyers know that too as well as family members and it's difficult to maintain a relationship and that's really what we want to do. The majority of people that go to prison are not going to be there forever and ever and Alexis' mom has been convicted for life and we need to find ways to keep them connected.
I think we can agree keeping people connected is important and important for the children. I imagine and I don't have the data to bear this out but I imagine there are studies out there that would suggest that the inmates probably behave a little better if they have that incentive to communicate with the family and I'm going to put this question out to all of you, and I understand the issues with travel, but what do you all say to people that would argue some of the folks are dangerous and we don't want them to be kept in urban areas and we put them out in really rural areas and far away from society for a reason because if something happens and they get out we want them to travel a long ways to do something to someone. What do you all say to that?
Well, I can understand trying to put it in a remote area but it would seem as though when they could have a place closer if they're on good behavior. Like a place where you can work to get to with good behavior and you could be closer to your family, and that I think would be ideal because even though the children -- the mother or father is gone the children still love their mother and father and they miss them. It's like a part of the puzzle that's gone.
Well, and you have an interesting story yourself because correct me if I am wrong, but you yourself at one point were incarcerated.
And now your son is incarcerated serving a long-term sentence and you're caring for his child so you have been the incarcerated and then the parent and why don't you share this story and how these things happened in your life.
Okay. I went to prison years ago, 1982. What happened was -- it just happened so fast. On November 10 which my adopted mother's birthday my husband called and said they were going to keep him in the hospital and he went in the hospital and my daughter went in the hospital and he called and tell Dennis it's going to be a race who gets out first and he didn't know what he was saying, but it happened like it was a race. He died four days before Christmas and she was nine when she was diagnosed with cancer so he -- and they said at the same time it was nothing more they could do for her so she was like "Momma I want to go home. I want to die in your bed" so my husband is gone and a single mother with four children and working but the child is dying and nothing else we can do, so I did her wish and I brought her home to die. Meanwhile no funds, no help. I am adopted. The family isn't here but the family is here and I tried to sell drugs to keep things going and the first dad and she wanted a guitar for Christmas. It didn't matter to him but I was determined she was going to have it and she got it and it was the last thing she played with. I left to go to the store and I followed the ambulance back into my house and I knew that's where it was going and it was and she died and my daughter said -- she got up and played with the guitar and said "You can put me back in momma's bed" and she's dying.
Oh my goodness.
And I didn't have a record and they have a plan that you can get out and after six months after being on parole your record is expunged and I did that and my parole officer was so happy and they told us to ask if we wanted to do anything and I did and she's like "okay you can do that" so I was expunged and that law isn't in place anymore and since the 80's I'm not in the system and I can work.
You don't have to check the box.
And check the box when you apply for a job. Let me ask you this your son ended up incarcerated. What was he incarcerated for?
He was incarcerated for murder and it was like some kids in a drive-by and the boy said this was the drug house when really it was his grandmother's house and a bullet went through the wall and headboard and killed her, but nobody really is incarcerated but him because he won't say who was with him (INAUDIBLE) how he do and he there and he got 50 years, and two kids and two different moms. I took the 14 -- the little boy that I raised his mother was like 14 -- 15 when he was born so I took both of them and she left him so I had him since he is two weeks old and now I am happy to say UCA has him.
Going back to your son do you believe your time dealing with drugs and incarcerated contributed to the lifestyle he chose?
No I don't think it really did. I think he just -- he was the only boy in our family with six girls and he just got caught up with the wrong group and he went through, but he never told anybody else. He just took it because it was his car.
Well, we have spoken with an advocate. And someone who has been incarcerated as a parent and grandparent taking care of the children. Let's talk to someone whose parent is currently incarcerated and that is Alexis. So Alexis would you share your story with our viewers.
Well, my mother went to prison when I was about four and she went to prison for pretty much being at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people but her charges are robbery and murder. She has a life sentence and it's really been hard but I have wonderful grandparents. If it wasn't for my grandparents I don't know where I would be like honestly. It's been really hard from going to school and telling people -- yeah my mom is in the military because I didn't want to tell people, you know, my mom is in prison, and it took a long time for me -- I mean I was -- she was a part of my life and my grandmother and grandfather made sure that I went to see her. I had phone calls and letters, but as far as just telling other people -- how I am telling you right now it was hard for me to say "Oh my mom is in prison." It took a long time for me to say "My mom is in prison and she has a life sentence." I used to come up with stories and "oh you know -- figure out ways not to tell people that my mom was in prison and I didn't want them to treat me differently and that's what a lot of people don't understand. There are a lot of people and kids and people in prison and you wouldn't know because they don't want be to treated differently or be part of the statistic. Or "You're going to be like your mom or you're going to be like your dad." And was said there are a lot of people -- I'm sorry.
You're fine. You're fine.
There are a lot of people that continue the cycle and I always tell myself I didn't want to be that person that continued the cycle.
Well, you're doing real well with yourself and you're not going to continue the cycle. Why don't we shift this and share with the positive things and share with the viewers what you're doing now.
I go to [INAUDIBLE]. I want to be a oral communications teacher and nutritious teacher and work with middle schoolers because when I was in middle school that's when it was hard for me. I was coming out of a private school going to public school, and it's a big difference, and I had a English teacher and she just made me feel like -- you know, made me feel like I -- at first I [INAUDIBLE] and well no you need to be a teacher and then I got a job at the Boys and Girls Club. Yeah, I need to be a teacher. I know that it's people like me that need somebody to go to and talk to. Going to be a teacher.
What is that teacher's name? Give them a shout out.
Ms. Baker at [INAUDIBLE] school.
Thank you Ms. Baker. You impacted a life. Let's talk about the other side of this and normally when doing the show I like to have both sides represented at the table and in this case we don't. I think we talked about the importance of providing services to young people and families that are incarcerated but I imagine somewhere out there there are people that say "Shouldn't any resource we come up with invested in the families of the victim?" . For example Ms. Olive your son killed a lady. That's a family impacted that is now missing a grandmother so if there are resources available for families shouldn't they go to that woman's family?
I think there are resources out there to help victims' families. As a matter of fact I know there is -- I can't think of the organization now but I had a brother that was killed and burned in his apartment and they helped us to bury him and other stuff and I know there is and I think there somebody something in should be something? Place and when it happens people are not prepared and victims family need counseling just as well as the inmate's family needs counsel because it's a full circle event.
It is a full circle event because like with the children -- like I was four and you know you look at it and they probably had children, or everybody needs somebody to talk to. It's not just about -- okay it's the item or just about the inmate. No, it's not that. It's everybody. Everybody needs somebody to talk to, and if that means you need to go to counseling, church, another person -- I would go and to Arkansas Voices. That was my outlet and call Ms. Dee and summer camp and activities and I knew I wasn't the only person going through what I was going through and feeling what I was feeling and I was around people feeling what I felt going through what I was going through, and like I said I was blessed in a lot of ways and my grandparents take me for my mom and as was said phone calls and expensive and they're expensive and $25 minimum so it's like I'm blessed and then a lot of people don't have that.
And like the young man that was going to be here with us today, Cartie Braggs, he wasn't able to get here. He went to the camp this summer and his first experience with other kids and he just opened up and he want vented it and helped him so much.
And Cartie is 13 years old and his father is incarcerated and he's raising funds.
We have a young man --
I know but we have about four minutes left and I would like to take the time and talk about Arkansas Voices and the other programs and everyone in the audience is aware of the resources and other things that we can do to help these families and let me come back to you Ms. Newell.
Restorative justice comes into place instead of criminal justice and that takes into account the victim, the offender and trying to meet everybody's needs and that includes the children, and we're trying to use restorative justice as the school house to jail house pipeline by dismantling that and have a different way that holds people accountable. One of the things that struck me in prison most of the prisoners didn't have an opportunity to talk about their crime and the victims were saying to me "Do they care? Do they ever think about it or talk about it?" So we need much more focus on bringing victim and offender together to actually talk. We did videos of offenders talking about their crimes so that their victims would know that is happening, but we also have to realize everybody is a victim in all of this. Very few times in the histories of incarcerated individuals they usually have been victimized at times. It affects everybody and I think the challenge that we have now is to -- what you originally said is that we've got to create more caring and considerate communities and we care for each other. We don't demonize each other or these children that have done nothing wrong and we have better ways of responding to injustices that have happened.
I agree with that. We have about a minute and a half. What is that ?
This is exciting and "Sesame Street" and a PBS program and has a muppet named Alex that has a incarcerated dad and it's sad that we incarcerated so many people that we need a muppet and they're in the prisons and they're free and if you want them for your program or Head Start program and geared towards the young children and get in touch and I can send them out. (501)366-3647 and I am on the web. Everything is out in cyberspace. Arkansasvoices.org and we're working hard --
We're about out of time. I hate to cut you off. Alexis, we're about to wrap up. I would like to give you the final thought on this topic.
All I have to say is it's a full circle. Everybody needs somebody and you can say I play victim or they play victim. We're all victims and we got to look at it's the kids. We're the next generation and if we don't have nobody to help us and talk to us to make us successful we can't do it by ourselves.
I think that's a great way to close out the show. Ladies, I want to thank you so much and participating and talking about this very important topic and to our wonderful audience thank you for spending time with us this month. I hope you enjoyed the show as much as we did and with that I will see you next time.AETN > Programs > Minority Matters > Minority Matters September 2013