A prison is certainly not an ideal environment for a child. We would prefer our children to be in pleasant, cheerful, healthy surroundings like their own warm, comfortable home, a colorfully-decorated classroom, the playground, the beach, or an amusement park, certainly not a prison.
We would prefer that the adults our children meet be upright citizens and good role models, not criminals who have been locked up for robbery, murder, child molestation, and other nefarious deeds. Is there any possible cause that would justify taking a young, child into a prison? In my opinion, yes there is.
One of a child’s basic rights is to know its parents. Most adopted children, when they become adults, cannot find peace until they search out their natural parents. They want to know their roots. They may not be happy with what they find; they may not choose to form lasting relationships with their birth parents, but there is a definite need to know the family history and to experience a face-to-face meeting, before they can let the matter rest.
Unfortunately, some children have a parent in prison. If this is the case and the parent expresses a desire to see the child, at least one visit to the prison should be arranged.
The child should be carefully prepared beforehand. The preparatory talk, delivered by the other parent or a trusted caregiver, might go something like this:
“When you do something wrong, Johnny, you are sometimes sent to your room. You need to learn a lesson, so you can do better the next time.
The same thing happens to grown-ups when they do something very wrong. They are sent to a place called prison and they have to stay there until they have learned a lesson.
Your dad (or mom) did something wrong and is now in prison learning a lesson. He misses you and wants to see you. Would you like to go and visit him?”
The child will probably ask what the parent did wrong. He should be told the truth with any gory details being omitted. “He took some money that didn’t belong to him”. It is better to hear about it from a loving family member than from possibly nasty kids on the playground or in the neighborhood.
If the child expresses a desire to go and see the imprisoned parent, an afternoon visit should be arranged, and prison staff informed ahead of time. They will probably take every precaution to ensure that the child’s visit is pleasant and satisfying for all parties concerned. The little one could bring along a favorite book or toy to show the inmate, to give them a topic of conversation, and overcome any initial awkwardness at the meeting.
Prison visits should not be frequent. It is not desireable that the child develop a fixed mental image of his parent in prison. However, phone calls can be arranged in between times, so the two can stay in contact, if the child wishes to, and it is not considered harmful to his emotional wellbeing.
In time, the parent will have paid his debt to society and will be released. Parental visiting rights may be restored. He may even be judged responsible enough to have the child with him for extended periods of time. It will be much easier for the child if his relationship with the absent parent has been maintained all along.
A peripheral benfit will have been gained from the child’s early experience with the prison system: he will realize how painful it is when one parent is confined and not allowed to be with the family constantly, especially on special occasions like Christmas, birthdays, and Halloween. In all likelihood, he will be determined never to expose his own children to this hardship in the years to come.