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Helping families break the cycle of imprisonmentBy Mary Kolesnikova ’06
Seven out of 10 children with incarcerated parents end up in the prison system themselves, according to the Department of Justice. In California, nearly one in 10 children will have a parent in custody during childhood.
It’s a vicious cycle, and Kate Trevelyan-Hall ’06, who writes grants and raises funds for the nonprofit Friends Outside in Santa Clara County, sees the effects of incarceration on inmates’ children every day.
“If you’re a 10-year-old kid and you’re dealing with the fact that your dad disappeared overnight, and you can’t talk about it because of the stigma, it becomes a behavioral thing,” she explains. “Your grades start slipping, you get into drugs. Cries for help when you’re a kid can escalate to severe charges when you’re older.”
Trevelyan-Hall started volunteering at Friends Outside after discussing prison topics for her senior anthropology thesis at SCU with Professor George Westermark. “He told me to look at the families. It is a forgotten population,” she says. “You see crime on the news and you think, ‘Good, lock them up!’ But you do not think about the families of that person. I never had, and it was an eye-opener.”
You’ve got a friend: from left, Executive Director Dave Gonzales, Steps Ahead program home visitors Leticia Padilla and Rita Duarte, and Kate Trevelyan-Hall.
Friends Outside was founded in 1955 in Santa Clara County by Rosemary Goodenough, who was concerned about what happened to families when a family member was incarcerated. Now the organization has eight branches statewide helping those left behind by incarceration.
David Gonzales, who serves as executive director of the organization’s Santa Clara County office, says one of the most important programs now is Steps Ahead. It serves the caregivers of children whose parents are in prison by giving them in-home lessons on parenting and child development.
“We are trying to intervene in this cycle of poor parenting and help these parents find new perspectives,” Gonzales says. “Working with the children to provide them a loving, nourishing family environment, where they don’t follow a parent into jail, is one of our best outcomes.”
One client, who we’ll call Sabrina, shared her experience through the staff at Friends Outside. “I was incarcerated and had lost custody of my 1-year-old daughter. I had been in and out of jail for years… it was the only life I knew,” she says. “When I got out, I started to work with the Steps Ahead program. I got help on how to be a better parent.” The payoff? Five months ago, Sabrina was able to get her daughter back.
Breaking the cycle was not easy for Sabrina. She had to move away from her hometown, where many of her friends were still mired in gangs and drugs. “It was hard, but I had to give my daughter the life she deserves and the opportunities I never had.”
Writer Mary Kolesnikova’s work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere. She also works as a tutor at 826 Valencia in San Francisco.