This is one family’s story of healing and hope thanks to the Keeping Families Connected collaboration between The Family Center and the Rutherford County Correctional Work Center (RCCWC).
After raising her own children, Jean Marie never imagined she’d still be parenting once her kids were grown and out of the house. Yet, her oldest son’s experience with childhood trauma set the stage for his own children, Gene and Caroline*, needing stability and love that went beyond the role of her being their “Mia.” She’d observed how her son’s trauma led to his addiction and incarceration. She knew that if she’d learned about what happened to him as a child sooner, connecting him with counseling and resources earlier would have resulted in a different outcome. She did everything she could once she knew, yet the trauma had already laid the path. Jean Marie also saw how her grandchildren’s mother was challenged with addiction as a result of growing up in an abusive family environment. As co-parents, Gene and Caroline’s parents didn’t have the skills that the children needed, so for four years Jean Marie stepped up to provide them with a safe and nurturing home. Yet, something was missing.
Through the RCCWC, Jean Marie became aware of the chance to help her grandchildren re-engage with their dad, and she quickly jumped on the opportunity. She’d always tried to bring the kids to visit their dad, but family connections are tough in a jail setting. The kids had gone several years with no contact… and this was especially hard on Gene as a boy developing into adolescence. Through Keeping Families Connected, Jean Marie and the kids were able to have weekly Zoom sessions through one of our Family Coaches that she says were “life-changing.”
In the beginning there was some awkwardness, but, over time, that changed to excitement. Wednesday afternoon sessions became something everyone looked forward to. Integrating key lessons with fun activities and dedicated “parent/child” time kept both children engaged; everyone learned how to share feelings (even some tough ones); and they gained awareness about one another and from one another. As the sessions progressed, Jean Marie could tell that Gene was opening up more and communicating better in school and at home. Previously he’d kept everything inside and was afraid… spending time and learning from his dad was healing for them both. Jean Marie could also tell the program gave her son motivation to “strive to do and be better” and “to be the dad the children deserve.” When dad finally comes home, the transition will be easier, especially for the children. Ultimately, it gave them all hope for the future.
When children experience loss due to a parent’s incarceration, the stigma and shame can be difficult for the entire family. Parents don’t want their kids to see them as less than who they are. Keeping Families Connected allows them to dress in street clothes while interacting which can create a more normalized environment. The program allows parents a way to talk about their incarceration so their kids can learn how to make different choices. Most importantly, it develops the bond that’s so important in ensuring kids feel connected and cherished. Jean Marie emphasized, “No matter what he’s done, my son is still a human and a dad; the kids deserve a good relationship with their dad.”
Today, Gene (13) and Caroline (7) are close with their dad; Jean Marie feels that her son better understands what his children need from him today… and once he’s released they’re on the road to a brighter future together as a family.
*The names of the children have been changed and faces obscured to protect their privacy