In my previous blog we noted that more than 1.7 million children have parents who are incarcerated—about 2.3 percent of all children and youth under 18 years of age.
Most Americans do not think about those serving prison sentences. Even fewer think about the innocent children who miss the presence and nurturing care of their incarcerated parents. These innocent victims of crime suffer feelings of abandonment, loneliness, and shame. Having a mom or dad in prison is an awful secret not shared with others. These kids are overwhelmed with sadness and confusion.
I volunteer with Prison Fellowship and help facilitate a “Reentry Preparation” group that meets weekly in a state prison. The main regret and concern of the 15 men in the group who are parents of one or more children is how they have hurt them, are not present as a dad, and the year(s) they will miss as their kids grow up. Kids with a mom or dad in prison face numerous challenges.
When Michelle’s mom was sent to prison she had to take care of her three younger siblings, making sure there was food on the table, and keeping the house in order. “I was really mad at her,” Michelle recalls. “We felt abandoned.” She had to drop out of school to help provide for them. Life was a struggle. But then one Christmas things turned around. Her mom signed up Michelle and her siblings for Angel Tree. They received gifts of clothes and toys. Angel Tree was a connection to their mom and made a difference in their lives—like a part of her was there at home with them.
Bobby was just 7 when his dad was sent to prison. Visiting him was impossible due to the distance of the prison hours away. Five times Christmas came and went. No gifts from dad. But then five years later when Bobby was 12 he received a gift from his father: a brand-new basketball. He proudly put it up on the shelf beside his trophies, only occasionally playing with it on the courts. Whenever he looks up and sees his gift ball he thinks of his dad, knowing his dad thought about him and had the gift delivered through Angel Tree.
When Anne’s dad entered prison she started hanging out with the wrong crowd. She was angry, felt an emptiness, and began breaking the law on a path like her father had done. “I felt mixed up—terrified that my friends may find out about my dad in prison, but yet acting rebellious and bad,” says Anne. Her mom and family struggled that year, but when she got a gift from her dad through Angel Tree her life turned around. And the next summer it got even better when she was invited to attend Angel Tree camp. Anne is thankful for the difference the Angel Tree program has made in her life.
Prison Fellowship believes that a restorative approach to prisoners, former prisoners, and all those affected by crime and incarceration can make communities safer and healthier. The ministry is founded on the conviction that all people are created in God’s image and that no life is beyond God’s reach. The program aims to offer hope, healing, and a new life purpose for those caught up in crime, and the innocent family members who are negatively affected.
“Angel Tree” is a program of Prison Fellowship Ministry that reaches out to the children of prisoners and their families. The program shares God’s love by helping to meet some of the emotional and spiritual needs of the families of prisoners. Thousands of churches and community organizations have committed to serve more than 285,000 Angel Tree kids this year, and the program is inviting more churches and organizations to get involved in this worthy effort. Angel Tree is one effort to remember and support the innocent children of parents who are incarcerated—and restore and strengthen relationships between parents in prison and their children.
More information is available online for those interested in becoming involved in this worthy ministry of volunteer service.