What’s it like to have a parent in prison? Embarrassing, lonely, disappointing, frustrating, saddening…who can know but the children who are thrust into a world where the likes of hugs, family dinners and conversations on the way to school are enshrouded by the stupendous walls of incarceration.
The most recent episode of CBBC’s “My Life” documentary series, which profiles the highs and lows of children around the world – told from each child’s unique perspective, tells the story of Tala and Flynn, both of whom have fathers in prison. “My Life: Missing Dad” (aired on January 15, 5.30pm) is an empathetic, raw and sensitively-produced exposé on the lives of a two children coping with what is essentially the loss of their dads.
Flynn was 4-years-old when his dad went to prison. He loves playing football and sorely misses the fact that his dad can’t be at his matches. Flynn reveals, “The worst thing about dad being in prison is dad not being there to cheer me on…it’s really not the same without dad. We did everything together. We were really close.”
Flynn speaks of his relationship with his father in the past tense: “Me and dad had a really good relationship; when he went to prison that kind of broke.” So does Tala: “We were best friends.”
Flynn’s teenage sister Maisie knows the exact number of days since her dad’s arrest (2295 days), which, for her, is “when everything went downhill at school.” Maisie got “depressed and anxious…and went from being the happy, popular girl to being the girl who just sat there…and did nothing.”
Maisie and Flynn’s father’s prison sentence is 24 years, of which he’ll likely serve 12 years before being let out. Flynn will be 16 when his dad comes out of prison.
When Tala’s dad comes out of prison, she’ll be 14-years-old. She only gets to visit her dad for two hours every few weeks, which involves waiting outside for ages, being searched (checked for drugs that could be concealed in clothing pockets and hair); she’s not allowed to take anything inside. Tala describes walking down a corridor to a visiting hall where hugs are allowed but only upon arrival, after which a table separates Tala and her dad, who will sit in a big yellow chair; he’s not allowed to get up. The guards watch. There is no privacy. Tala is not allowed to be alone with her dad. “It’s like he is not allowed to be my daddy,” says Tala.
Like Tala, Flynn is accustomed to a couple of hours every few weeks with his dad; sitting across a table – not being able to hug or goof around like fathers and sons do in homes all over the UK. Flynn describes the nervousness and excitement he feels on one ‘family visiting day,’ which allows dads to spend time with their children for a full six hours. He says, “Today was the first hot meal we shared with dad in seven-and-a-bit years…it felt quite strange because I don’t really have the memory of eating with dad. Today we got to have a group hug, like the old days.”
Perhaps the most poignant message in the show, other than the clear sense of loss felt by the children, is the instinctive love they have for their fathers; a love that transcends crime…drugs, tax-fraud – whatever it may be. Tala and Flynn understand, in simple terms, why their dads are in prison but that does not mitigate the emotional turmoil that comes with not being able to share life with their fathers. “I felt like my heart had shattered into a thousand pieces,” is how Tala describes the moment her dad left for prison.
According to the documentary, 250,000 children have a parent in prison.
Kids Matter cares about these 250,000 children and their families. We have launched a prisoner programme that aims to give inmates the tools to be better parents because whilst Flynn and Tala’s dads are clearly invested in communicating with and loving their children – as much as they can within the circumstances; not all dads are equipped to be effective fathers, in life never mind from a prison cell. In “Missing Dad”, Flynn says of his family, “we are fine; we’re always alright…the best thing about my family is; we’re positive, we’re all really loving…and supportive of one another.” Not all children with a parent or parents in prison are so lucky. Research highlights the importance of strengthening family relations both for reducing recidivism rates but also preventing conduct disorders in children and adolescents. We want to help! And we know that Kids Matter works.
If you would like to find out more about Kids Matter’s Prison Programme, we would love to chat! Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And DO catch up on “My Life: Missing Dad” available on BBC Iplayer.