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
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.
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
Watch Me Grow: Project WHAT! Growth Charts
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
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.
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.
Through Restorative Justice talking circles, participants address issues such as violence, addiction, racism, oppression, the justice system, and the impact of incarceration.
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.
“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
“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