Devastated Families: Life Without Incarcerated Parents

How the family of an incarcerated parent had to endure stigma from friends and the community and plunged deeper into financial despair.

| February 2015

  • Children of incarcerated parents are more likely to go to prison than to graduate from high school, and between 30 and 50 percent of children placed in juvenile detention centers have at least one parent who’s been to prison.
    Photo by Fotolia/
  • “Locked Down, Locked Out,” by Maya Schenwar, looks at how prison tears families and communities apart, creating a rippling effect that touches every corner of our society, and looks toward a future beyond imprisonment, relying more on connection rather than isolation.
    Cover courtesy Berrett-Koehler Publishers

Locked Down, Locked Out (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2014), by Maya Schenwar, dismantles the mentality of forcible disconnection that props up the prison-industrial complex. Schenwar demonstrates that isolation does not rehabilitate people, disappearance does not deter harm and prison does not keep the public safe. She then shows us how society can do better. The following excerpt, from Chapter 3, “On the Homefront,” gives us one real-life example of a family dealing with an incarcerated parent serving life in prison.

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I remember Judge McBryde saying “life,” and Mom screaming over and over, “You can’t do that! You’re not God! You can’t take someone’s life.”

—Billy Jackson, son of federal prisoner Joe Jackson

In the classic game Monopoly, the square called “Jail” sits ominously in a corner of the board. It’s a hole into which an unsuspecting player might fall after an unlucky roll of the die, or the drawing of a bad card, or simply stumbling upon a space marked “GO TO JAIL” while ambling along the path to riches or ruin. Once you’ve been “sentenced,” you’ve got just three possible routes out of your lonesome confinement: luck (rolling doubles), privilege (a Get Out of Jail Free card), or money.

But once in a while, players stuck inside the jail square have company. A pale green space clings to its outward-facing perimeter: a kind of dry, liminal moat between Jail and the edge of the board, inscribed with the words, “Just Visiting.” A player who happens upon Jail without being mandated there isn’t punished, but must merely spend a brief turn in the square, then get along on her way to other squares and other ventures, as if it had never happened.

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