Saturday, September 09, 2006

Dear Mom, How Are You Doing in Jail?

That was how "Lamar" in my class started a letter. He had asked me if he could write a letter because he was done with his work early (he's ALWAYS done with his work early and always understands it - I need to think of some seriously challenging research projects for this child). It's so matter-of-fact for most of these kids - many, many of them have had or currently have a parent in jail. If not a parent, they're almost guaranteed to have had an older brother, cousin, or uncle in jail. Dads are more likely than moms to be incarcerated, but I'm meeting more and more kids who have moms in jail. (or prison - they just call any kind of incarcerated "being in jail").

I am not sure why it is - part of it (I think) is the epidemic of being fatherless. There are some incredible mothers out there raising sons by themselves, but somehow, when the sons have no father figure, they often get lost. Daughters too - I see girls (starting in kindergarten!) trying to win male attention by being cute, flirtatious, acting helpless... And I see how their value and worth seems to come from that male attention.

The other thing that is obvious in both boys and girls is the anger they feel at being abandoned. I've had kids tell me that "dads [or moms] shouldn't leave their kids to be in jail." Or that "they supposed to be there for kids." One kid, whose dad is in jail for attempted murder of his cousin, told me that he was so mad that his father would be gone until he (the kid) was 18, that "if he ever gets out, I'ma kill him myself." And if you could have seen the look on his face, you would believe him.

How's that for an endless cycle?

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