Eastern Mennonite University

Summer 2007

Children of Prisoners Need to Be Heard

Sasha, the girl on the cover of this magazine, is one of 2,400,000 children in the United States who have a mother or father in prison.

“These children have committed no crime, but the price they are forced to pay is steep,” writes journalist Nell Bernstein in All Alone in the World (2005). “They forfeit, too, much of what matters to them: their homes, their safety, their public status and private self-image, their primary source of comfort and affection. Their lives are profoundly affected. The harm children experience is sometimes referred to as one of the collateral consequences of America’s policy of mass incarceration.”

Howard Zehr, co-director of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, and Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, director of Mennonite Central Committee’s office on crime and justice, are documenting some of these children’s stories in their “When a Parent is in Prison” project.

Sasha’s story: “I was three when he got locked up. I have some memories – like we were at the circus and we were riding on an elephant. It had to be a dream.

“When he was in prison I had this grudge against him for not being there for me. When I finally got a chance to talk to him, and he let me know what really happened, I’m like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that.’ I had jumped to so many conclusions. I had a new-found respect for him, and I realized he really did love me.

“Sometimes now I dream about a situation that has happened to me – I know he wasn’t there, but he’ll be there this time. He’ll be talking to me, like my conscience. He’ll be the person that takes the mask off everything and tells me how it really is.’’

Sasha’s father was on death row, until his conviction was overturned. Five years after he was released, he died of untreated hepatitis.

By Howard Zehr, Co-Director of CJP

Back to table of contents