Children of the Incarcerated

Personal Writings Wade's World

New Orleans       I looked at the book, Advice to 9th Graders, and shook my head.   I was going to have to pass on this one.  It was way outside my lane.  It was about advice to 9th graders from older teens who were looking back to their bridge from middle school to high school.   The advice was in the form of stories, art, and poetry.  “I don’t think so” was the only thought in my head.

For a second, before tossing the book on the floor near my table and writing the book’s PR man, I was curious why no author or editor was listed on the cover or the title page.  Instead, there was a paragraph about a Portland, Oregon nonprofit called The Pathfinder Network.  I hit the website and found that almost all of their work was with the children and families of people impacted by the justice system and incarceration, and that was more interesting to me.  Mi companera has gone to several events organized by the former Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman and his staff that brought incarcerated women together with their children in a dinner and program.  She had been tremendously moved by the experience, so I wrote the pitchman and said, “here’s the deal, I’m not really interested in the book, but would like to talk to someone from Pathfinder and hear what they have going on.”

On Wade’s World, I talked to Amy Friedman, who was the unacknowledged editor of the book, as she had been annually for some years.   Friedman shared an interesting backstory as well.  She had been the co-founder of the POPS Club, which stands for Pain of the Prison System in Venice, California, the beach town with a breeze from the Pacific, in Los Angeles.  She had been married to a prisoner, so she and her child lived these situations, and were not observers.  The clubs were school-based in and around LA, and chapters largely spread by word of mouth.  There’s an annual meeting in Albuquerque of a bunch of groups around the country who do similar work.  She met and bonded with the head of the PATHfinder Network, where PATH stands for Paving a Trail of Hope.  Boy, am I a sucker for great acronyms!  Anyway, one thing let to another, and they merged the two organizations and their clubs over the last year.

The clubs offer food which is a magnet for teens and anyone is welcome, so there’s no stigma about your family or parents, but it allows them to sort out their feelings, find support, and process their situation.  Friedman told a story about two young women who were best friends who came to the meetings together in one of the chapters for a full year.  In the no-pressure, no-shame environment, they thrived.  In the last meeting of the year, the friend who had been there to support the other, surprised everyone, including her best friend, by finally saying she also had a parent in prison.

The book is a collection of advice in different forms that older teens are handing down to 9th graders, because that was a prompt that resonated with so many of them from their own experience in the transition to high school, given their situation.  I can’t recommend the book, because I didn’t read it, but from the stories Friedman shared, I can say that these organizations and their work are worth a hard look, because they’re filling an important need.  The book might be worth a read for young people in similar situations, and these groups are worth supporting for people who understand the pain for the families and children of the incarcerated, who serve their own kind of time, innocent, but often presumed guilty by association.