I have been an addict for the past seventeen years, which is a shorter time than my children have been alive. I was sent to prison four different times between 1995 and 2000, serving a total of four years. Presently, I am serving a fourteen-year federal sentence on a non-violent drug conspiracy charge. My sentence began October 2004. Looking back, I realize I have served all these years in prison due to my addiction and not having known how to live differently.
Current statistics cite about 92 percent of incarcerated persons are serving time in prison on drug-related charges. Of that population who is female, 75 percent are mothers, who, before they were incarcerated, were their children’s primary caretaker.
Children pay the price for their parents’ crimes. In addition to suffering emotionally from having had their mothers taken from them, children are sometimes separated from all family at the time of their mother’s incarceration, when they are placed into foster care.
After a parent is incarcerated, children may feel victimized and begin to react negatively toward authority. Due to low self-esteem and understandable depression, their grades in school may suffer. Eventually, children may seek acceptance by people in the drug/criminal world because these are the people with whom they are familiar. All of these behaviors separate a child from mainstream society, making them vulnerable to “the system” at an early age. Without intervention, these patterns are difficult to change.
Perhaps to avoid the emotional suffering that has resulted from losing a parent, first, to addiction, then, to the system, our children may engage in negative, hurtful, and even criminal behavior. According to statistics, children of incarcerated parents are 85 percent likely to go to prison as adults.
There is a simple solution that would contribute to alleviating our children’s suffering: Rehabilitate and educate their incarcerated parents. Instead of doling out lengthy sentences to felons, which simply serve to “warehouse” prisoners, while costing taxpayers millions of dollars, it would be more effective to teach prisoners different behaviors while in prison than the destructive lifestyle and behaviors with which they are familiar, and which led them to commit the crimes that led to their imprisonment.
It is expensive to send a person to prison, who, without rehabilitation, is 85 percent likely to return to prison. Money that is spent on “warehousing” a person could be better spent towards rehabilitation and education. It is a fact that it cost the same amount of money to house an intimate annually as it does to send her to Harvard University for one year.
Prisoner rehabilitation would not only save taxpayers money when an incarcerated person, after receiving rehabilitation, would not return to prison, but would benefit prisoners’ children and the adult world to which they will some day belong.
Without rehabilitation, children are torn from their parents and families, and it is certain that a vicious drug/crime cycle will repeat itself.
By Kim Mikesell
Please donate to this amazing organization, Women and Prison, that helps women in the prison system tell their stories.