Why Get On The Bus?
So, we’ve all heard of take your child to work day, but the concept of taking a child to prison for a day may be a little foreign to most. As I go out and speak on behalf of the organization, I am often times presented with questions that ask just this. Why is Get On The Bus a good thing? The women in prison don’t deserve it. What if it is harmful for the children to see their parents? What if the parents don’t really want to see the children? All of these are good and valid questions and many of you (even those of you who are my close friends and family) may have been wondering this. The point of this blog entry is to address the voices of challenge.
First, let’s learn a little about our Get On The Bus process. Our process starts with the parents. Why? Because we want the parents to initiate contact with the children. This way no participating child will be unsure if their parent wants to see them or not. After the parents sign up the children, they are screened by each individual prison. In order to be eligible for a visit, they can not have any visiting restrictions against minors. This includes any crimes of child endangerment, neglect and abuse with their own children or other children. Get On The Bus receives only those approved applications. After we get them, our volunteers call each family and explain the program to them. If a family says that they don’t want to go for whatever reason, no means no and the parent and the children do not participate in Get On The Bus. We only take those families who would like to go.
Now let’s talk about the children. I know that some of you can be thinking may the caregivers think this is a good thing, but how can this be a good thing for the children? Research (Poehlmann 2005, Gauch 2003, Bernstein 2003) has proven that children who visit their incarcerated parents are better emotionally adjusted, have higher IQ scores, lower rates of delinquency and have more confidence. Most importantly these children tend to break the cycle of intergenerational incarceration. In my opinion, this is Get On The Bus’s biggest strength. Through bringing the children to see their parents, they are not ending up in the place where most children who have a parent in prison do…prison.
Lastly, let’s talk about the moms. Thanks to popularized media shows like Prison Break or MSNBC’s Lock Up, we all have an image of who people in prison are. Media portrays them as unhuman, the derelicts of society that wear stripes and spend their time wasting away tax payer money and violently fighting with one another. They don’t care about anyone but themselves and they are dangers to society. For many of the women in our prisons, this is the farthest thing from the truth. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 86% of the women incarcerated are serving nonviolent offenses. Over 80% of these women were victim to sexual or physcial abuse as a child. For many of these women, drugs and alcohol were their way of coping with abuse and now the reason why they are spending their days locked up.
According to a survey last year where we sampled the women who participated in Get On The Bus, the women who participated in our program wrote and talked to their children an average of 3-4 times per month, but when asked how often the children visited many said once a year for Get On The Bus. When we asked what their biggest barrier in seeing their children was finances (as it costs an average of 500-700 dollars for a family of four to visit a woman at Chowchilla for the weekend) and distance (as most of the women incarcerated at Chowchilla are 300 miles plus away from their children). For the women who return to society, having family visits is also largely correlated with a successful re-entry and significantly lowered recidivism rates. And this my friends, is why children need to Get On The Bus.
A special note of thanks to Jan Urban for your donation. 🙂