Disrupted Childhoods: Children of Women in Prison

Disrupted Childhoods: Children of Women in Prison

Disrupted Childhoods: Children of Women in Prison

Disrupted Childhoods: Children of Women in Prison


Millions of children in the United States have a parent who is incarcerated and a growing number of these nurturers are mothers. Disrupted Childhoods explores the issues that arise from a mother's confinement and provides first-person accounts of the experiences of children with moms behind bars. Jane A. Siegel offers a perspective that recognizes differences over the long course of a family's interaction with the criminal justice system.

Presenting an unparalleled view into the children's lives both before and after their mothers are imprisoned, this book reveals the many challenges they face from the moment such a critical caregiver is arrested to the time she returns home from prison. Based on interviews with nearly seventy youngsters and their mothers conducted at different points of their parent's involvement in the process, the rich qualitative data of Disrupted Childhoods vividly reveals the lived experiences of prisoners' children, telling their stories in their own words. Siegel places the mother's incarceration in context with other aspects of the youths' experiences, including their family life and social worlds, and provides a unique opportunity to hear the voices of a group that has been largely silent until now.


“Although you’re far, you’re always near.
You’ll always be my mommy dear.
For what you did will never change.
There is no reason to be ashamed.
The love for you is in my heart
although we’re very far apart.
My love for you is very clear.
I’ll see you soon my mommy dear.”

Valencia was eleven years old when she wrote this poem to her mother, who was locked in a prison some three hundred miles away. After her mother was incarcerated, Valencia and her older sister went to live with her grandparents in a public housing project in another state. There they joined their teenaged brother, who had been raised by their grandparents and had never lived with Valencia and her mother. Valencia’s new family also included her grandparents’ infant great-grandson, who had been living with them since his birth. Her grandparents, living on a fixed income supplemented by food stamps, struggled to make ends meet, especially with Valencia, her sister, and the baby now in the household.

Valencia yearned to see her mother, but a six-hundred-mile roundtrip that would require a hotel stay was simply out of the question for the family. They could not afford the risk that their old, less than reliable car would survive the trip. If it broke down, they would not be able to repair it and they certainly could not afford to buy another one. And so Valencia and her mother remained exiled from each other. Three years would pass before Valencia would see her mother again, and many other poems would flow from her pen during those years, all expressing her longing to be with her mother.

Maintaining her connection with her mother while separated by hundreds of miles was just one of the issues Valencia would face during her mother’s . . .

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