We pay a high price when our loved ones are entangled in a punitive justice system that often leads to incarceration. The Sentence Unseen bears witness to the impacts of the US criminal justice system when family members are taken away from our community. The exhibit sheds light on the collateral consequences of arrest and incarceration on children, youth, families, and communities while celebrating the heart and resiliency of those impacted. The exhibit was on display at Alcatraz National Park summer 2015 and is exhibited at the African American Museum & Library Nov 5 — Jan 25, 2015.

Portraits of Resilience: Youth with Incarcerated Parents

Arvaughn Williams is a junior at City Arts and Technology High School. He has been a Youth Advocate in Project WHAT! since June of 2013. In the future Arvaughn wants to be famous. He wants the platform and the stage to show the world who he really is.
Kmani Baxter has been a Youth Advocate with Project WHAT! since June 2013. He just graduated from Lincoln Continuation School and would like to be a film director in the future.
Ameerah Tubby has been a Youth Advocate with Project WHAT! since June 2012. Her two main goals for the future are to continue to be a great mom to her son, and to become an esthetician.

The concept of this photographic project was to put a face to and give voice to youth impacted by parental incarceration. These ten extraordinary young people represent the estimated 2.7 million children of incarcerated parents in this country and the 10 million children who have experienced parental incarceration in their lives. They represent 11.4 % of African American, 3.5% Hispanic, and 1.8% of white children with an incarcerated parent. They remind us of the collateral consequence of the unprecedented mass incarceration- the stigmatization, the institutional obstacles that make connection to their incarcerated parent so hard or impossible, and their resilience against tremendous odds.

Jada Layne has been a Youth Advocate with Project WHAT! since June 2013. She is a junior at Pittsburg High School. She would like to go to college and own her own business. Jada wants to do something to change the world in a positive way.
Jazree “Jaz” Ridley has been a Youth Advocate in Project WHAT! since the summer of 2013. She will be attending Howard University in the fall. Jaz’s goals are to get her PhD in history and then become a college professor. Once she is stable she wants to be married and have children with her partner.
Xitlally Lupian is a Youth Advocate with Project WHAT! and attends Met West high school. In Xitlally’s future, she is going to be an actor and/or a director, and aspires to be on Broadway.
Michael Cortez graduated from Jesse M. Bethel High School in 2015 and is a Project WHAT! alumnus from the 2012 cohort. In the future, he would like to expand his mind through his personal interests and college, traveling the world, and staying productive in his life.
Desirae Sotto is an alumnus of Project WHAT! from the 2013 cohort. She attends UC Irvine where she studies criminology and sociology. Her future goals are to continue on with school to get her masters degree. She would love to have a governmental position focusing on criminal justice, and would also like to work with youth through a non-profit, like Project WHAT!.
Daniel Zechao Yan is a Project WHAT! Alumnus from the 2014 cohort. Daniel has a passion for soccer, and currently attends the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania, and plans on getting a degree in sports management.
It has been sheer joy to photograph and collaborate with these young people. Each one of their voices is strong and clear. Their commitment to making their own way in the world is equal to their wholehearted commitment to working to impact the systems that have most affected their lives in order to improve the lives of countless others experiencing parental incarceration.
— Ruth Morgan, Executive Director & Photographer
Jakeala Foster has been a Youth Advocate in Project WHAT! since the summer of 2014. She is a junior at Aspire Golden State College Preparatory School. She is the type of person who just lives in the moment. “I don’t want to set any type of goal or plan for my life. I just hope however my life turns out it’ll involve the people I love.”Led by youth who have had a parent incarcerated, Project WHAT! raises awareness about children with incarcerated parents with the long-term goal of improving services and policies that affect these children. WHAT! stands for We’re Here And Talking, which is exactly what the team is doing. Over 7 million children have a parent on parole, probation, or incarcerated. The program employs young people who have experienced parental incarceration as the primary curriculum content developers and facilitators for trainings.

Watch Me Grow: Project WHAT! Growth Charts

In our team, we (Akyah, Ayanni, Cheyenne, Jana, Jazree Leila, Tailani, and Valerie) creatively mapped our lives by taking the idea of growth charts and flipping it on its head; getting taller is not the only way that we grow. Mapping moments we felt the absence or presence of our incarcerated parents, these growth charts speak to the far reaching effects of having a parent in prison or in jail.
Each of us worked on a personal timeline; we chose the most impactful moments in our lives thus far and have paired them with photographs of artifacts that represent the significance of the events.Through the imagery of journals, debate trophies, handwritten birthday cards from incarcerated parents and more, our artifacts intimately express the ways objects act as place holders when our parents were not able to be present.

Love, Dad: Letters from Inside

“Most incarcerated men are fathers. In order to stay involved in their children’s lives, incarcerated dads must overcome barriers of time and distance separating them from their families. They must find a way to express remorse for the crimes that detracted them from being responsible fathers, and let their kids know they love them.”
— Jo Bauen, Parenting-Inside Out Teacher
These letters are written by men in Solano Prison and their children. The men are currently enrolled in Community Works’ Parenting Inside-Out course that teaches empathy, communication, child development, and problem solving skills.

Restorative Community Conferencing

In 2012, Community Works West formed a relationship with the Alameda County Juvenile District Attorney to address the disproportionate contact of youth of color with law enforcement and the criminal justice system in Alameda County. This gave birth to the Restorative Community Conferencing (RCC) program. The RCC program diverts pre-adjudicated youth from misdemeanor and felony-level charges in Alameda County.

Using a restorative justice process, our program engages victims, families, and community members in a dialogue with the youth responsible, to give a voice to those who have been harmed, address the impact and root causes of the wrongdoing, and design a plan for the youth to right his/her wrongs. The program has since achieved incredible success with only 10% of participant reoffended within six months of program completion.

Restorative justice puts the focus on the people who were involved and affected by harm. In order to right the balance, restorative justice gives voice to the person harmed and allows them the opportunity to share the pain they have endured and what they need to move forward. It requires those responsible for the harm to be held accountable, to address the root causes of their behavior, and to repair the harm they have caused. The restorative approach shifts the decision-making power away from an agency and instead gives those directly impacted the power to decide what they need from the person responsible in order to start healing.

This collage is made up of apology letters that have been written by youth in the Restorative Community Conferencing program. These letters, which each youth is required to read aloud during conference, encourage them to take full responsibility and ownership of their actions, explore the reasoning behind their decisions, and express remorse and empathy to those they have harmed.

Please take the opportunity to listen to some responsible youth reading their apology letters.

Restorative Arts: Visual Art Pieces

Restorative justice, an approach that has gained traction in recent years as an alternative to incarceration, operates under the maxim, “If crime is a wound, then justice should be healing.” All the work in The Sentence Unseen is part of the healing and restoration that incarcerated men and women, children, and victims/survivors experience as they work through a restorative justice process.

Forgiveness Healing Cloak: Made by men in RSVP (Resolve to Stop the Violence Project) at San Bruno Jail in 2008. The cloak is adorned with painted charms and amulets containing individual wishes, prayers, and inspirational words. The tassels serve to cleanse the space allowing forgiveness and healing.
Enfolding Families: Created over the course of a year with over 100 participants in county jails through facilitated workshops exploring family legacy and the impact of incarceration. Final installation pieces were created by Restorative Justice facilitator Dee Morizono and artist Lilli Lanier to reflect the intricacies of family relationships challenged by incarceration.
Through Restorative Justice talking circles, participants address issues such as violence, addiction, racism, oppression, the justice system, and the impact of incarceration.
Still A Flower: Created by women whose lives and families have been disrupted by incarceration. The quilt was made with old jail t-shirts and hand-stitched. It reflects the tradition of turning old, worn clothes into artwork that tells the story of family and community.

Restorative Justice Expressive Arts combines the principles and practices of restorative justice with creative expression to facilitate healing in individuals who have suffered harm, trauma, violence and loss.

The process is grounded in the principles of restorative justice:

  • Identify harm, both the harm done and harm experienced,
  • Acknowledge the needs and outcomes that have arisen from that harm, particularly the relationships that have been impacted,
  • Repair the harm within a supportive community of stakeholders.
Survivor Healing Cloak: Created by women survivors of violence in the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department Survivor Restoration Program. Individual pieces were woven from various recycled and found textiles.
Community Crazy Quilt: Created by community members who participated in a Restorative Justice and Expressive Arts workshop exploring community building and principles of restorative justice. The pieces were assembled into a community quilt reflecting the tradition of community quilt making as a tradition throughout time and cultures.

“Combining RJ practices with expressive arts enables people and communities to heal from harm in a creative and dynamic way. The resulting work becomes a powerful external expression of our collective human potential for transformation and healing.”

— Dee Morizono, artist & restorative justice facilitator

Inside Out Masks: Created by members of RSVP (Resolve to Stop the Violence Project) in San Bruno Jail, these masks depict the maker’s composed persona on the outside and their “hidden,” authentic self on the inside.
We Are All Alone Together: Participants created collaged silhouettes that referenced their journey of learning from their inherited legacies and personal journeys. The pieces were assembled into a large floor cloth with each piece connecting to another by “veins” of red string symbolizing interconnectivity and community.
Transformation Masks: Men in RSVP (Resolve to Stop the Violence Project) in San Bruno Jail constructed transformation masks where they explored and defined the differences between the compositional self that perpetrates violence and the authentic self that has the capacity for restorative healing.
The Smallest Light Shines in the Darkest Place: This is a collection of six stories written by members of a Restorative Justice writing group in San Bruno Jail. The stories were inspired by a simple question posted in circle; “When was it not safe to be yourself?”
“Central to the restorative justice process is the talking circle where participants can tell their stories in a safe community united by shared values and concerns. The RJ Expressive Arts circles become a place of support and inspiration where thoughts and emotions that arise from the circle experience are expressed through hands-on art projects. Art making can provide a space for expressing difficult emotions and give individuals a renewed sense of agency, discovery and hope.”
— Dee Morizono, Restorative Arts Facilitator & Artist

Listen to five incarcerated men read their accordian book story: “When Was It Not Safe to Be Me?”

“I Am Not My Parent’s Mistake”

The following are a series of stories from youth with incarcerated parents.

Jazree’s Court: Growing Up with an Incarcerated Father

The Sentence Unseen is produced by nonprofit Community Works and reveals the organization’s mission to restore communities, build alternatives to incarceration, and ultimately reconcile the fractured legacies of children who have a parent in prison. In conjunction with the launch of this exhibit on Alcatraz, Project WHAT! youth have developed policy recommendations that were formally unveiled summer 2015 at City Hall in a public hearing to address the needs of young people with incarcerated parents.

For more information: www.communityworkswest.org

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