Children of prisoners are some of America's most at-risk kids. Will you help give them hope for a brighter future?
The second time her mother was incarcerated, Tatianna was still a little girl, her feet dangling as she sat in the courtroom. She didn't really understand what was happening, but she still remembers how devastated she felt, hearing the judge sentence her mother to "one hundred and something months." She could hardly wrap her mind around a number that big, but she knew it was a very long time. For the first time, she saw her older brother cry.
As she grew up in the care of her grandmother, Tatianna continued to struggle. She missed her mom but didn't want to see her because the visits were so painful. "You feel like your parent is dead, but they're still alive," she explains. "You can communicate but you can't see and touch them most of the time." It seemed like no one understood, and her despair loomed so large that she took a razor blade into the shower and cut herself.
Unfortunately, Tatianna's story is not unusual.
DOING TIME AS A FAMILY
With the world's largest incarcerated population, the United States is home to approximately 2.7 million children with a mom or dad behind bars. That's 1 in 28—or one student in every classroom.
Children of prisoners are some of America's most at-risk kids. The child of an incarcerated parent serves a sentence, too, at no fault of their own. The parent's sudden departure can lead to separation anxiety, anger, sadness, and feelings of loneliness and abandonment in young children. An older child may exhibit more antisocial behavior, conduct disorders, and signs of depression. Over time, a child's sense of betrayal and loss of trust can also inhibit regular contact and sever the family relationship.
Children of prisoners may be at-risk kids, but there is hope. For Tatianna, that hope arrived when her mom reached out, asking what she wanted to receive for Christmas from Angel Tree®, a program of Prison Fellowship® that makes a way for incarcerated parents to give their children a gift and a personal note at Christmastime.
Tatianna's mom signed her up for Angel Tree in 2014. "I was like, Oh my gosh, we're going to get some presents! If it wasn't for Angel Tree, I don't think I would have ever received anything on Christmas," she remembers. "I looked under the tree, and it put a smile on my face. … Angel Tree helped mend our relationship, because every time she signed us up, she made me know she wasn't just thinking about herself that holiday. She was thinking about us, too. It made me feel loved and cared for."
Tatianna is just one of the hundreds of thousands of kids who receive the gift of Christmas each year through Angel Tree.
HOPE FOR THE HURTING
You might think that Tatianna's moment of joy, and the hundreds of thousands of others like them each year, are why we partner with thousands of churches and community organization to serve Angel Tree families. But that's not the primary motivation. These moments are a reward—but not the reason—for ministering to the families of incarcerated people.
Angel Tree exists because each child of an incarcerated parent is created in the image of God. Jesus sees these children for who they are: loved, valued, and known by their Heavenly Father. It is this love that compels us to serve families like Tatianna's.
"If you're considering partnering with Angel Tree, go for it," says Tatianna, who now is a community college student and has to help young people with a parent behind bars. "Angel Tree is so supportive. They actually care about us. I'm more than different because of Angel Tree. I'm cut from a totally different fabric than what people expect of me. Angel Tree changed me. They gave me hope."
WILL YOU HELP?
Like Tatianna, the children of incarcerated parents are full of potential, but sometimes they need a little support to grow into the people God has made them to be. Local churches, community organizations, and mentoring organizations are ideally positioned to provide the families of incarcerated people the support they need.
Because of their generosity, nearly 300,000 Angel Tree children were assigned to churches and organizations in 2018. Some local churches continue to minister to the prisoner's family throughout the year, by including them in their regular programs for families, and through Angel Tree Sports Clinic™ and Angel Tree Camping®.
Children are at risk when a parent goes to prison, but they are full of potential and precious beyond words. Will you help them realize it? Support Angel Tree today or sign up to volunteer in the future.
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