Yasmine Arrington grew up like most of the other children in her neighborhood, but there was one part of her life that she kept mostly locked away, one that she says caused her lots of pain, embarrassment and financial struggles.
For most of her life, her father was locked away in a Georgia prison while she lived in D.C. And later, after her mother died, she and her brothers ended up being raised by their grandmother.
Arrington, 22, is a part of a growing demographic, children whose parents are behind bars. Approximately 2.7 million children in the United States have a parent who is incarcerated, according to experts..
Local residents, City Councilmember LaRuby May (D-Ward 8), community organizations and others gathered recently in southeast Washington to discuss the phenomenon at a forum sponsored by the Strengthening Families and Communities Coalition. The event, titled “Improving the Lives of Children of Incarcerated Parents,” was held on Sept. 14 at the R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center.
The panel was made up of Arrington, Harold Dean Trulear, an associate professor at Howard University School of Divinity; Cedrick Hendricks, acting deputy director of Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency; Christophe Beard, the management/program analyst at the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education; Alan Inman, president of Global Peace Foundation-USA, Stuart Anderson founder and director of Family & Friends of Incarcerated People; Carole Fennelly, founder of Hope House DC, a nonprofit dedicated to helping men in prison stay in touch with their children; the Rev. Dr. Kendrick E. Curry, pastor of Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church, and K. Ivy Hylton, president and CEO of Youth and Families in Crisis.
Hendricks explained how it can often be difficult for incarcerated parents to stay in touch with their children.
“The fact that they’re as far away as California or West Virginia or Florida or Michigan makes it difficult for the families to stay in touch with their loved ones,” he said.
“If you’re in Victorville in California, you’re not getting any visits,” Hendricks continued. “If you’re in Michigan, that’s a 10-hour drive. So, that has some impact on the ability of incarcerated persons to stay in touch with their children.”
Hendricks explained how in a Hazelton penitentiary survey of 66 women, it was shown that usually when a parent is incarcerated, the child can end up in foster care, living independently or more often with relatives, usually the maternal grandmother.
This is something to which Arrington, also a panelist, said she can attest.
“I missed a lot of time growing up,” she said. “I missed having that father-daughter relationship. “When schools would have father daughter dances and girl scouts would have father daughter events I didn’t have my father there to participate.”
“Fortunately, I still had a lot of other people — mentors and family and church family– that would speak positive to me: ‘You’re intelligent, beautiful. You’re going to make it and go far.’ So, I have a pretty good positive self-esteem,” Arrington continued.
Arrington said her father is currently out of prison and has been able to obtain construction work through a federal agency. She said the two have been able to establish a positive relationship.
Perry J. Moon, executive director of the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative, said the subject is important, particularly to residents of southeast D.C. “We see firsthand the impact that incarceration of parents causes young people: the trauma, the impact on their education and violence in the community,” he said.
May told the audience that she introduced a bill to the District’s City Council in July that she said will help those children as well. The bill requires the mayor to identify children of incarcerated parents in the District and do a full assessment on them.
“Once we find out what their profile is, then we look internally in the District and across the country for the best practices on how it is we serve the children that we identified,” May said.