2.7 million children in America have a parent in prison.
We learn about a young boy named Wyatt, whose life was greatly impacted through Angel Tree. Jennifer recalls the transformation:
“Both of his parents are incarcerated. He’s a teenager and at the church that he was assigned to, the coordinator happened to be a teacher in the local school system and when they saw Wyatt’s name they knew him. They reached out to him gently and they started to bring him to their youth group. He got involved in the life of the church; they took him to summer camp, they took him on a group with the other students to look at a Christian college in Oklahoma. They have just really wrapped themselves around Wyatt.”
“I got to meet him last year and he is just such a sharp young man. You can just see the hope that he has in his eyes because of the love that he has experienced, and because of the knowledge that his parents do remember him and care about him.”
Sadly, many children who have a parent in prison don’t share this same experience. Children with a parent, or parents, in prison are at high risk for continuing the vicious cycle of incarceration:
“It can happen but it’s not a given. Of course because of the hope of the gospel we know that that’s not necessarily the destiny, but it certainly is true that the Angel Tree kids that we serve are at very, very high risk. Having a parent in prison is a high risk factor.”
In addition to the generational risk factor, Jennifer shares a few more examples of struggles that children with incarcerated parents may face throughout their lifetime.
“Most of the families that we work with also struggle with economic problems, not all of them are financially disadvantaged, but most of them I would say are. They live with a lot of transients; they live with a lot of shame and it’s very hard for families sometimes to get the support they need in a community to make the changes that would that would keep them on the right track.”
As a child, how do you tell somebody ‘My dad’s in jail?’
Jennifer reminds us that it may be difficult for kids to open up about their struggles, so we need to be proactive about reaching out to them.
“If your dad is gone because he’s deployed in the military, folks are behind you and they understand that and they care. If your dad is gone because he’s passed away or even if it’s just been a divorce, communities are much more understanding…it very hard for kids to reach out and ask for the help that they need because they’re embarrassed and they’re not sure what reactions they are going to get.”
You can bless and encourage children this Christmas through Angel Tree.
$73 will help reach 5 children with a Christmas gift, the Gospel, and a message of love from their incarcerated parent. Learn more here.