“For me, having a husband that’s incarcerated, it’s like we’re incarcerated too.”
Shamika Wilson is expressing the experience of many who have a family member behind bars. In a short video produced by Al-Jazeera, Wilson and several other people who have had their families separated by incarceration express the challenges—financial, emotional, and even physical—of having a spouse, a sibling, or a parent in prison.
“Financially, as I got older, I could definitely see that it’s a piece missing,” says Kmane Tremaine Baxter, the 18-year-old son of an incarcerated father. “Because it’s two boys and this one mom. Where is the dad? And she has to support us.”
In addition to the costs of raising children, the responsibility of paying for court-related fees and visitation usually falls to the caregiver—an average of $13,600 just for attorney charges, bail, and miscellaneous court fines.
“It’s too expensive,” says Anita Wills, Kmane’s grandmother, referring to the ability to visit her son (Kmane’s father) in prison. “We don’t have a lot of money coming in. You know, my son was almost crying because he said, ‘I never get to see you guys.'” Wills says that a visit in 2013 was the first time Kmane was had seen his father in over a decade.
“It’s a cycle—a neverending cycle,” says Wilson. “My great grandfather was in prison. My grandfather did time. My father’s done time. I have brothers and cousins [who have done time], and it’s just one huge cycle that’s hard for us to get out of.”
There is hope for families torn apart by incarceration. Through Angel Tree, Prison Fellowship seeks to reconnect incarcerated parents to their children, providing gifts for the kids on behalf of their mother or father at Christmas, and other opportunities for growth and development year-round. With the help of local churches, Prison Fellowship provides in-prison ministry and reentry assistance for those men and women as they prepare to return to their families. And, through the work of Justice Fellowship, Prison Fellowship is working to restore prisoners to their families and their communities and bring about true transformation and break the cycle of crime and incarceration.
To learn more about how you can help families break the cycle of incarceration, visit our Volunteer page.