Children of the Incarcerated – Parent’s Perspective

I recently attended the 5th Annual Seedling Foundation Mentor Appreciation Lunch.

The Seedling Foundation is an Austin non-profit that runs a school-based mentoring program for children who are suffering from grief or loss. Most of our kids have a parent who is in prison. This afternoon was the end of the year celebration to thank all the mentors for participating, as well as to award $5,000.00 scholarships to three 8th grade students entering high school.

There were two highlights of the program. The first was hearing from Lloyd, a 3rd grader, whose mentor just happens to be the chief legal counsel for the Austin Independent School District. Lloyd, of course, has absolutely no idea who Mel Waxler is other than “this silly guy who plays computer games with me.” Hearing his description of Mr. Waxler was wonderfully innocent for a child who has little innocence left given his parents’ situation. For me, it was also a reminder that as important as I often think I am in my nice suit and fancy briefcase, a kiddo sees right through that and only cares about whether you’re any good at Bloons Tower Defense III. (Seriously. What else is there in life?)

The keynote speaker, Nancy Hardin, has three children in our program. Wonderfully articulate, Nancy explained how she dropped out of high school when she was pregnant at age 16. Although she was in Honors classes, she felt the stigma was too much and decided that being a mother was more important than all else. And throughout her presentation, there was little doubt: she is a tireless advocate for her children, she is smart as a whip and simply lacks a degree to prove it, and she is the first to say she made a number of choices that she regrets and wishes she could do differently.

One of those choices was her choice of husband, although she would never say anything bad about him in front of her kids because he is still perfect in their eyes. She talked about how this dynamic in itself is difficult, let alone the pain she sees with her three kids who don’t understand why they can’t be with their daddy. She gave the room full of mentors some stern instructions: don’t ever talk bad about the incarcerated parent, even if the child expresses frustration or disappointment; don’t say you’re going to see your mentee and then fail to show up; and don’t ever, ever for one second think that you’re not making a tremendous difference in a child’s life. She spent most of her time explaining how much her children talk about their mentors and how they are part of their lives – and their family.

Crime creates an involuntary relationship between people. It also creates involuntary severances of those relationships, too.

Hats off to the hundreds of mentors who believe It Takes A Village and who serve as wonderful role models in our community.

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