As I was re-reading the Dear Friends anthology, from POPS The Club members, I re-discovered a poem that blew me away. In the poem below, Mia Anju Violet Fox-Pitts, expresses their fury and disappointment at the world. They point their righteous anger at the systems that shackle their community to poverty, incarceration, and suffering. The relentlessness of the prose, and clarity of emotion are familiar and stunning. Any person, young or older, who knows the pain of growing up with an incarcerated parent, recognizes these feelings and how painful it can be to feel like you're the only one who has them.
When I read an anthology like this (Note: the only other anthologies I've ever read about or including the children of the incarcerated, have also been from POPS The Club. If you know of any others, I'd love to hear about them!) I can't help but think of how many stories there must be out there, how many must be missing, because it seems we only very recently remembered they exist. When a child is raised to feel shame about something they have not done, and had no control over, they are typically quiet about that same. Whether they've been encouraged to be silent or not, the natural inclination is to not offer information that may make your friends and acquaintances self-reject from your presence. It only has to happen once to feel like it will happen every time. What a terrible weight for someone to carry. Especially when they feel alone, and unable to express how they suffer under the mass of heavy shame.
There are plenty of stories about the sadness that spreads through a family and community when a vital member is incarcerated, but I'm so glad to see more anger. I believe that anger, real anger, includes the perception of having been wronged. I want the children of incarcerated parents to be angry in the right direction. I've seen what happens to the people who can't allow themselves to recognize the ways they've been forced to carry what does not belong to them. I've seen what happens when they think they can save their image of themselves, by refusing to place the anger where it belongs, and turning it inward. We lose people that way. A lot of people. I've lost people that way. But I have so much hope for the future, that some day, we will have better tools and examples to help them save themselves. I can't promise or predict that it will turn out that way. But I can hope, and do my part to see us through.
Read the poem below, then stick with me for a few more thoughts on the matter, and more to read.
If you're wondering to yourself, "okay so what can I do to help?", first of all, THANK YOU. Thank you for being here, thank you for reading this newsletter, and thank you for being willing to try when so many can't, won't, or don't for various reasons. Second, I have good news. It doesn't have to be everything. In fact, it can't be everything. No matter how much pressure you to feel to show up for the kids, for the parents, for the incarcerated, and even for me, it's important to know that you can not and will not fix it all yourself. None of us can. And believing we can is frustrating to the point of ensuring burnout and long-term apathy. The next decision you personally make will not be the one the decides the outcome of this particular endeavor. But you CAN help. Our children and communities need us to be okay with helping even when we're not saving.
Youth.Gov is a website that sounds fake, but is actually extremely useful to us in this case. I've searched all over the internet, but have never found a greater concentration of accurate and helpful information for people looking to support the children of the incarcerated. If you click here, you can learn about how to start safe conversations around the trauma of incarceration on a family and community. Here, you can learn about services and programs available to those effected, and even more tools, guides, and resources here. It's just a starting point, but in most cases, that's all we need. Somewhere to begin, as we choose to move forward in a new way.
It's going to be looking a little different around here in the new year, (how is it already a few weeks from 2022? Don't answer that. I don't want to know, as we make a few adjustments to the schedule and how we share here. When we started the newsletter, it was an experiment to see if we could find a way to talk to everyday folks who were curious about he effects of incarceration on families, and as we learn to do that, there will be small changes here and there to make sure we've kept our focus on that goal. We'll keep showing up if you will.
As we approach the holiday season, which can be an especially difficult time for families with incarcerated members, consider how you can show up for these families. Maybe you wish I'd just added a link to somewhere you could donate, or to something you can buy to do this work, but I'm asking you to think instead about what would be most meaningful to you. Then do it. It's important that you know how to seek these moments for yourself. Then, you'll remember to do them even when we're not reminding you. At some point, especially in adulthood, we are charged with the responsibility to teach ourselves how to show up and be the people we want to be in the world. This might be a great opportunity to show yourself who are. Here, that means practicing helping instead of saving. That's what we're trying to do. If it's not working yet, give a little time. It will.
How are you helping this season?