I never watch the Miss America Pageant. Ever. I always feel like there is no reason to. But when I saw the updates from the news last night about 2012 Miss America 23-year-old Laura Kaeppeler, I clicked the link.
She chose children of incarcerated parents as her platform. While others were choosing “The nutritional value of milk” she picked that, because she was one. Her father served an eighteen month sentence in federal prison. Like me.
Society is quick to want convicts to rot in prison and burn in hell. I mean, I used to have the same outlook, until I became a convict. Not every person in prison is a cold blooded killer with no remorse or no heart. Not every person in prison is defined by what they did, it is not who they are.
I learned while I was in there, there were grandma’s, bankers, librarians, cashiers, nurses, and people you would see in your every day Pleasantville sort of town, maybe just slightly more tattooed. They just made mistakes. People do make mistakes.
I was an incarcerated parent. I knew that I was not defined by my crime, that what defined me was the four beautiful individuals who will carry my DNA on when I am gone. And they were waiting to see me again, just as I was counting the minutes too. If I didn’t have them, I don’t know if I would have been able to keep my head and spirit intact.
There are over 2 million people incarcerated in America. Over half of those are parents. Their children are being raised by either family members-if they are lucky, or in the foster care system, or in juvenile detention centers themselves. The chances of a child of an incarcerated parent even making it are slim. The chances of a child of an incarcerated parent growing up to commit a crime and become a prisoner themselves are some ridiculous stats like 1 in 3 to 1 in 10, depending upon race.
That statistic seems really unlikely, at first. But in a prison for profit society it is true. I did follow in my father’s footsteps there. For at one time, I was also the child of an incarcerated parent.
The statistics also show how most of the children of incarcerated parents are also most likely to drop out, experiment with drugs and alcohol, have anger issues, or prone to teen pregnancy. I am lucky my sons have a good father who stepped in when they really needed him and my daughter was with my mother. I did not lose my children, I lost precious time that I can’t ever make up for, but I can make it better.
I applaud Miss America for taking up this cause. For being real with her platform and for wanting a mentor program for these children. They are the forgotten children of America that society isn’t there for. What a great platform to bring awareness to.
And what she says, “It doesn’t have to define you.”
No, it doesn’t. I pray everyday that my sons will receive the Gates Millennium Scholarships they applied for.
*The prison population of 2 million, only includes those already in the prison system. This does not include those who are in jail serving long jail sentences, awaiting trial, or in transit to prison.