International human rights activists have named parental incarceration “the greatest threat to child well-being in the U.S.,” according to The Osborne Association. Today, there are 2.7 million children with a parent behind bars.
Luna Garcia has carried that burden since the day she was born. For the San Francisco teen, the usual joys and pains of the road to her high school graduation were compounded by the struggles of having a father in prison. Where Luna should have had support, she often faced stigmas and shame.
“It becomes something you can use against me,” Luna tells the San Francisco Chronicle. “It starts becoming a label you carry around with you.”
But no one—not even the teacher who said Luna would end up “just like her dad”—could decide Luna’s future for her.
As a sophomore, Luna joined Community Works West’s Project WHAT (PW), an acronym for “We’re Here And Talking.” The program empowers young members to gain work experience, strive toward financial independence, and grow as leaders in the community. It also provides a safe place for them to voice their feelings and begin healing.
“They need someone who is not going to pity them, but demonstrate understanding,” Zoe Wilmott tells the Chronicle. Wilmott grew up visiting her own mother in a federal penitentiary and, until recently, was a director at PW.
In addition to sharing their stories, members of the program are taking action. They recently worked with local law enforcement officials to alter current arrest procedures. Their goal could hit close to home for many in PW: to prevent trauma caused when a child sees a parent handcuffed.
“For me this is my life,” says Luna. “I tell them what I know.”
With a passion for helping others like her, Luna tells the Chronicle she might be a politician one day, or maybe a writer. Creative, artistic, human—these are how the now-high school graduate describes herself.
“I’m way more things than a child of an incarcerated parent,” she says. “It’s not all we have to offer.”
Every prisoner’s child has a story. As Christmas approaches, we have a special opportunity to reach out to them—to remember those who often feel forgotten. Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program enables churches and other organizations to give hope to hurting families this holiday season, just as Christ gave to all of us. To sign up and serve families in your community, click here.