Locked Apart Permanently: Children and Incarcerated Parents

Gabriela Bulisova & Mark Isaac

Kiya, a young woman in Philadelphia, was separated from her family and thrust into the foster care system when her father was sent to prison.

Kiya, a young woman in Philadelphia, was separated from her family and thrust into the foster care system when her father was sent to prison.

As many of you know, we’ve spent years working on the crisis of mass incarceration in the United States, including a special focus on the plight of children whose parents are incarcerated. There are millions of children in the United States whose parents are in prison, and they are often the innocent victims of a criminal justice system that does not take their welfare into account when assigning lengthy sentences far away from the family home.

Now, a new study by the Marshall Project, the non-profit news platform devoted to criminal justice reform issues, finds that children are often permanently separated from their parents when they are behind bars. In fact, the study finds that parents behind bars are more likely to lose their parental rights than those who physically or sexually assault their children. The specific law that unintentionally encouraged this outcome was unfortunately supported by top Democrats. You can read this important reporting here.

The two of us have often said that the criminal justice crisis in the United States is like an onion. Every time you peel back a layer, there’s another one underneath, usually more rotten than the one before. This reporting unfortunately confirms our adage.

For a glimpse at our work on the impact of incarceration on families — and especially children — please visit some of these portfolios and short films:

Ukraine Sketchbook: Photo Workshop in Antonivka

by Gabriela Bulisova and Mark Isaac

Since we’ve been in Ukraine, we’ve met some incredibly warm and giving people, who have been kind enough to let us into their lives. One of those individuals is Dmytro Say, who is involved in so many projects locally that it’s impossible to know when he sleeps.

One of Dmytro’s most important efforts is on behalf of an orphanage in a small village north of Mykolaiv called Antonivka. Dmytro taught there for several years and now he returns to assist them with a variety of programs. He asked us to come with him to the orphanage and conduct a photo workshop for the kids there, who range in age from about 5 to 16.

Dmytro used an older car for the drive, which he warned is on one of the worst roads in Ukraine. After some truly outsized bumps along the way, we arrived in Antonivka and were warmly welcomed by the staff, who took us on a tour of the facility, which includes a museum of Antonivka’s history, first as a place dominated by a wealthy landowner, then as a very productive collective farm, and now as a place where many have volunteered to fight in the East.

But the most important part of the visit was the kids, of course. We met them first in a classroom, offering some pointers on photo taking strategies that would move them beyond the selfie. Then we all walked out on the steppe, known for its constantly blowing winds, sharing cell phones to take some experimental portraits and landscapes. When we were safely back in the classroom, we downloaded the photos, projected them on a wall, and discussed the results. The kids participated enthusiastically, showing a surprisingly advanced intuitive command of composition.

We don’t know if any of them will go on to become professional photographers, but we do know that Dmytro has forged a wonderful bond with some very loving and talented young people, and we were glad to become a small part of their lives.