*75% of incarcerated women are mothers. *
*From 1991-2007, the number of incarcerated mothers increased by 122%, compared to a rise of 76% for incarcerated fathers. **
* On any given day, over 1.5 million children in this country-- approximately 2% of the minor children-- have a parent serving a sentence in a state or federal prison. *
*In 2007, 1.7 million minor children had a parent in prison, an 82% increase since 1991. **
*In addition to lowering the likelihood of recidivism among incarcerated parents, there is evidence that maintaining contact with one’s incarcerated parent improves a child’s emotional response to the incarceration and supports parent-child attachment. *
*Children of incarcerated mothers are more likely to “age out” of the foster care system; less likely to reunify with their parents, get adopted, enter into subsidized guardianship, go into independent living or leave through some other means. **
*Children of Incarcerated Parents Fact Sheet: The Annie E. Casey Foundation
***Incarcerated Parents and Their Children: Trends 1991-2007. The Sentencing Project.
About the Project
I am an artist based in Brooklyn. In my work, I’ve been really lucky to witness the transformative effect that art can have on an individual and on a community, especially when that individual and community have the chance to utilize art as a platform for expression- for expression of something essential, something they wish to communicate about themselves, about their experience.
I’ve planned a project here in New York City. I’ll be working with two populations; incarcerated mothers at Rikers Island and the children of incarcerated mothers in East Harlem. I’ll workshop with each group separately, the workshops resulting in imagery and messages that each group wants to communicate with the other. Most simply, it’ll be an image that answers this question of What is something you, as mothers, would like to tell your children- about yourselves, your relationship, your past, your hopes for the future. Maybe something that you find difficult to say to them in person when they come for a visit. We‘ll put this message into an image and send it to the children on the outside who will paint it as a large-scale outdoor mural in their community of East Harlem. For the children, similarly they’ll be creating an image that addresses the question What are some things that you want to say or show your mother that you don’t get to because she’s in jail? What are feelings you want her to know that you have? What are some things she needs to know about you that she may be missing out on because she isn’t here? The children will develop a mural image that the mothers will then paint inside of Rikers.
My hope is that by sending these images back and forth, an unusual dialogue will happen. A dialogue not only between mothers and children, but also with the greater communities that exist both inside of the jail where one mural will be painted and in the neighborhood where the other mural will be painted.
The idea is that this experience will not only be empowering, it will also help these mothers heal from some of the guilt and pain they feel from being separated from their children- encouraging them to do everything in their power to manifest changes that will positively impact their families. I also hope that while the youth work in the community, we will be able to address the stigma that children often carry when they have an incarcerated parent.
In 2009, I did a project at a women’s prison in Chiapas, Mexico. I worked with about 40 women and their children, under 4 years old, who lived with them. There were so many things that struck me during that week, about the lives of these women. But what affected me most about that project were the conversations I had with them about their children on the outside- the children who were too old to join them in the prison and were in the Mexican foster care system, staying with family, or, as one woman described her 11 year old son, just living by himself. The complexity of feelings the women described about their relationships with their estranged children moved something inside of me.
And when I finished the project, I just left. That’s what happens. You leave, they hug you and then they just stay. And you have no idea what will become of them, their children inside of the prison, the 11 year old son living on his own. You leave and they stay. So, I still don’t know what will become of them, but at least we can do this.
There is something that happens when you paint a wall- when you create the imagery that surrounds you and the images are of you, your people, your community, your family, your mother or your child. There is something that happens to both the people who paint it and the people who see it happen- something I’m not sure I could measure. But what I do know, from doing this for awhile, is that this identification, this creation, this visual dialogue can change the way people feel. About themselves, about their families, about their community- about their place in the world. And what I believe is that people are motivated by feelings. People are motivated by love, and that is really the founding principle of this project.
I hope you can support it. I hope you can help make this happen. Most simply, It can only happen with your support. Please donate and please distribute this message to everyone you know.
Additional Photo Credits:Queens, NY mural collaboration with Brazilian graffiti artist, Ise
www.calebneelon.com (Waltham, MA mural image)
- (40 days)