Friday, November 7, 2008

Hidden Population/Innocent Victims of Social Stigma and Neglect

Imagine you are a child. You wake up one morning to find that your father (or perhaps it's your mother) is gone and won't be coming back. Dead? No, worse. He (or she) is in jail...going to prison. But you are not allowed to talk about it. "Don't tell anyone. They'll hate you if you do."

But kids in school find out. They whisper about you. They point fingers. They stop talking when you enter the room. They don't include you in their games. Teachers don't know what to do with you when your grades start slipping. Society as a whole has abandoned you. The stigma you must live with is only a fraction of the negative affects of parental incarceration on children, the innocent victims.

Why Punish the Children? is the title of two different studies, one from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency and the other by The Children's Defense Fund. It is indeed the children who suffer the most when a parent is sent to prison. Statistics gathered in October 2001 shows over 721,500 parents of an estimated 1,324,900 minor children were confined to prisons. When we realize that the prison population grows each year, that number is much larger today. By 2007 the number had grown by a million to an estimated 2.3 million children with a parent in prison in the United States.

What happens to these kids? Who provides for them and how? Unfortunately, little is done to assure that they are given consistent nurturing care. The result? Innocent children suffer extreme traumatic stress. Many will develop criminal tendencies and eventually end up in prison themselves. "NCCD studies found that children of incarcerated parents did not thrive.... but experienced severe problems in school and showed signs of serious mental health and behavioral problems." This link will lead you to many articles that explore the plight of children of prisoners.

Jan Walker, who spent 18 years as an educator in both men's and women's prisons, has a deep concern for the children of prisoners. She developed a curriculum for prisoners called, Parenting from a Distance which provides parenting skills to unite families and gives incarcerated parents the tools to help alleviate some of the trauma their imprisonment has caused. She also wrote a book for the children, An Inmate's Daughter, to let these 2.3 million or more children know that they are not alone and to teach them that they matter; to help them overcome the stigma and the feelings of guilt that they usually feel; to emulate the protagonist in exploring her own feelings and developing self-respect.

As important as this book is, we have run into a wall when it comes to getting it into the hands of these typically impoverished and forgotten children. Society prefers to ignore their existence. Classroom teachers are overburdened and underfunded, limiting time and resources for struggling and often difficult children. Government agencies have ignored them.

If you know of anyone who might benefit from a book like this, please tell them about it. Have them give us a call (866-685-3545) and we'll make the book available at a price they can afford.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Releasing Suppressed Emotions/Healing with True Fiction

Perhaps it's because of a childhood experience that I empathize with a child separated from his or her parents—and why I write and publish books that express the trauma such children experience. It is my hope in publishing these books that readers will understand and accept their own feelings and know they are not alone. Too often, kids think that their feelings are wrong and that they are somehow to blame for the situation that has left them bereft. From the feedback I have received from kids reading these books, I know my hopes are realized. The books touch a sympathetic chord in the reader. The trouble is, these books are not popular with the adults who supply books to their children. They worry that True Fiction books will make kids sad—and that being sad is a bad thing. The truth is that tears are not only healing, but necessary in resolving emotional pain. If you wish to know how this process works see the "path of tears" to "emotional healing" at

Books based on real emotion brought on by situations real kids face, which I call "True Fiction" are designed to help kids break through the blocks that keep painful emotions inside. When I was growing up, emotional blocks were put in place by the grown ups in my life who were given these messages when they were kids: Crying is for sissies, don't get mad, don't scream, and for heaven's sake, don't cry! Though it may not be as commonplace today, I think these messages are still being instilled in some kids.

I was nine years old when I got my first "job." I was thrilled and very proud of my prowess. I got to ride for neighbors, keeping tabs on a herd of dairy cows during the day, so that they could graze the grass growing along the quiet country road that ran by their house. After milking in the morning, Frank would let his cows out. An hour or two later, I'd saddle up one of his horses and ride out to see that they hadn't strayed too far. If they had gone more than 4 or 5 miles from home, I'd get them headed the other direction. I'd get on the horse and go check on them every hour or two.

Even though we lived only five miles from my employer, arrangements had been made for me to stay overnight. That way, no one had to drive over to pick me up and then take me back every day. It made sense, and I was fine with the arrangement—at first. There was one place along the country road that I could look across the river and the railroad tracks to see my home in the distance. As I sat on my horse and looked longingly at home, I wondered what my parents and siblings were doing and whether they missed me, I was overcome with homesickness. I wanted to be with my family. Each day, the sadness grew as I sat on Frank's horse and stared homeward. By the time I'd been away about two weeks, I felt I couldn't stand it anymore. The grief of missing my family overwhelmed me. That night, when the boss's wife, Lois, as was her habit, came into the bedroom I shared with their four-year-old son, to check on us, I produced an audible sob, rather than pretending to be asleep as I usually did. She asked what was wrong, and I told her. She phoned my parents who were already in bed, sleeping. "Tell her to go to sleep. We'll come get her tomorrow." Oh how I wish I'd been satisfied with that, but I thought I'd die of grief if I didn't go home that night. My employer and his wife bundled up their sleeping son, started up their old pickup truck which had no headlights. Lois held a flash light out the window as Frank drove. They saw me to the door where we woke my tired parent's again. The reunion was not the glad welcoming I had envisioned. Mom and Dad were embarrassed and outraged at the trouble I had caused the kind neighbors. I'll never forget the concern in my little sister's voice when she asked, "What's wrong with Janet? Is she sick?" and the scorn and disgust in Mom's when she replied. "No. She's just homesick" and ordered me to bed.

That incident further reinforced what I'd already been taught. Only sissies cry, and selfish feelings are not acceptable, so keep them hidden if you have them at all. What I learned later in life, however, is that emotions suppressed in childhood affected every aspect of my life as an adult. Years of therapy have helped me know intellectually, that permission to feel and express emotion is healing. How I wish every parent would encourage their children's expression of what is going on inside them and let them know something I didn't learn until I took child development in college: that it is okay to cry.

As I said in the beginning of this blog entry, the books I write and publish have a mission. Their purpose is to allow the reader to feel what is inside them by portraying the same feelings through true-to-life characters and events. Tears are healing. Unless children can confront his true feelings they will remain suppressed, and suppressed feelings are the source of inner pain, self abnegation, and a lack of self-esteem that keeps them from realizing their full potential.

The Miranda and Starlight series, through engaging characters, portrays the feelings of loneliness and abandonment of a young girl whose mother has left her to live with grandparents and go to a school where she feels unaccepted.

Through Danny's Dragon, kids relate to the loss of a parent who has died. They experience Danny's feelings as he deals with the denial, guilt, isolation, and anguish that are the natural stages of grief. Kids who have suffered the loss of a parent, close friend or even a pet are comforted to know they are not alone, their feelings are natural, and the loss is not their fault. Kids who haven't yet experienced the death of a loved one are better able to sympathize with those who have and better prepared for it when it does happen. Kids who are holding feelings of loss and grief inside will find a way to let the healing tears flow when they read this book.

Kyleah's Tree and Kendall's Storm (coming next year) bring to life the feelings and hardships associated with separation not only from parents, but from a twin or close sibling. Vicariously, kids who are orphaned or separated from loved ones for any reason will be able to experience and understand their own feelings. Tears will flow, but there will also be joy and satisfaction in the adventures and triumphs of the wisdom and growth they see in Miranda, Danny, Kyleah and Kendall.

Jenna MacDonald, An Inmate's Daughter, and her brother suffer not only the loss of a parent, but also the stigma that hounds them wherever they go, forcing them to keep a guilty secret and feel shame that is not rightfully theirs. With millions of children in the same boat, this book should be flying off the shelves and into the hands of kids who could find comfort in knowing they are not alone and that there is hope for them. Most of these millions, statistics say, will follow their parent's footsteps and become incarcerated themselves later in life. Why? Because no one takes gives them a chance. Intervention, it is shown, can make all the difference. Books like An Inmate's Daughter go a long way in helping. Every school and library should have one. Every child who has a parent in prison should read it. Every child who knows a child with a parent in prison should read it to understand and empathize with those who do.

Children who have read these books report that they love them because they can relate to the characters. They want to read more like them. Adults who think they are protecting their children by only getting them books that help them escape reality may be depriving them of books that will change their lives by evoking healing tears.

If you know of children who could benefit from True Fiction stories like those mentioned here, let them or their parents know about them—or better yet, give them one for Christmas. They may be found in book stores,, or from the publisher. (click here to order.)