Prison Is a Member of Their Family - 1/12/03

Smartmarriages ® cmfce at
Mon Jan 13 17:29:01 EST 2003

subject: Prison Is a Member of Their Family - 1/12/03

from: Smart Marriages®

To read this powerful article and see the cover photo, go to:

Toney discovers the stablizing power of marriage from inside prison.  It's
an amazing saga.  We'll feature a workshop at the Reno Smart Marriages
conference on: 

> Marriage & Relationship Skills: Doing Time
> Jo Anne Eason &  Ron Grant, MDiv
> Explore the use of the PREP program with a prison population that combines
> classes inside and faith-based partnerships and follow-up after release.

The New York Times Magazine

January 12, 2003

Prison Is a Member of Their Family


Since Nina was born, Lolli has been dressing her for prison. Nina wore new
baby clothes for visits to her 16-year-old father, Toney, in a juvenile
detention facility not too far from their Bronx neighborhood. As Nina grew,
Lolli dressed her daughter for the rarer afternoons in faraway New York
State maximum-security visiting rooms. The gaps between visits gave Lolli
time to save and shop for the brand-new outfits on layaway. In the inner
city, being ''dressed'' has always been important: it means you are provided
for, a part of bigger things. Sloppiness and stains were physical evidence
of failure, of poverty winning its battle against you. The night before
visits, Lolli would spend hours doing Nina's hair in her father's favorite
style -- Shirley Temple curls. Nina groaned and grimaced. Lolli tugged and
yanked. Nina winced whenever Lolli cleaned her ears (Toney sometimes
checked). In prison, as on the street, a well-dressed family enhanced
Toney's stature. Interactions were public, and appearances mattered.

On a cold morning early last month, Nina, who is now 12, stood on her stoop,
dressed, waiting to visit her father. She was glad about going to see him,
eager to go anywhere, to get away from her boring block in an upstate New
York town and the chaos of her house. She has been an upstate girl for more
than seven years, but like her mom, she still rocks a city style. Nina's
thick, dyed blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she flashed a new
pair of silver-and-pink Nikes. She was wearing a dark blue velvet sweatsuit
Lolli bought for the day. The sweatsuit came from a corner store, whose
Bronx-born proprietor imports the New York City ghetto style upstate.

As long as Nina could remember, the prison system held uncles and cousins
and grandfathers and always her father. Nina, like Toney and Lolli, was
raised in the inner city; for all three, prison further demarcated the
already insular social geography. Along with the baby showers of teenagers,
they attended prisoners' going-away and coming-home parties. Drug dealing
and arrests were common on the afternoons Nina spent playing on the sidewalk
as she and her parents hung out with their friends. People would be hauled
away, while others would unexpectedly reappear, angrier or subdued.
Corrections officers escorted one handcuffed cousin to Nina's
great-grandmother's funeral; her favorite uncle had to be unshackled in
order to approach his dying grandmother's hospital bedside. The prison
system was part of the texture of family life.

Since 1974, the year Toney was born, the incarceration rate for young men in
America has quadrupled. In his Bronx neighborhood, as in the poorest
communities around the country, prison is now a well-established rite of
passage. A 2000 study by the U.S. Department of Justice found that about
half of the nation's inmates are parents of children under 18. The study
also found that almost 1.5 million children had a parent in prison, an
increase of more than 500,000 children since 1991.

Many inmates lose touch with their families -- more than half of all fathers
in state prison report having no personal visits with their children. But
the family that maintains a significant connection must arrange and
rearrange their relationships -- their lives -- around prison. ......

This piece is too long to reproduce here, but is well worth your time.

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