Part 3: Normalizing the Trauma and Dehumanizing Kids
Our Family Reunification Project and the “Every Child Has a Story” documentary heads out this weekend to Chihuahua state. The goal is to help families who cannot afford to visit their children in prison get transportation to the facilities. We are documenting the stories and taking photographs of the whole project to unveil at our Annual Celebration in October in Minnesota.
Just through setting up this project we have become more aware of how important family visits are for children in prison. Parents and family members in disbelief when we tell them that we are picking them up to visit their son in prison. But on the other hand, it has also become clear how dehumanized these teens are treated. It seems obvious when you state it plainly – children need to have contact with their parents.
But within the system it is not so obvious. Parents are often viewed as part of the problem. And if parents don’t visit, the they must not care enough. “This isn’t a day care” the prison director often tells me. Having spent a fair amount of time there, I agree, it is not a day care. But I don’t think anybody is confused on that point. But parents and children are systematically separated. Visiting days are only once every other week If parents are “caught” with contraband during visiting days – they forgot to empty their pockets of cash or bring in a pen – one visit day is suspended. Come back in a month. If the teen misbehaves, one common punishment is suspending one visiting day – no visits for a month then. One mother was all set to come to visiting day with us tomorrow, but then the facility told us that her son had misbehaved and his punishment is no visitations. It was a terribly sad phone call to make telling the mother she could not visit.
When teens in detention are separated from their parents for weeks or months at a time they suffer tremendously. Visiting day is one of the only things these children look forward to during the week. Depression deepens. And behavior worsens. One study in the United States found that kids in detention without visits from family have twice as many behavior incidents. So, perversely, punishing bad behavior by taking away visitation actually makes behavior worse.
Over the next week we will be compiling the stories, viewing the photographs and preparing the exhibit. We are incredibly excited to learn more about these children and their families. Their stories will be heartbreaking but must be told. Thank you for being a part of this important project.