You gotta take a little in order to give a lot…

Dealing with the prison system day in and day out is much like running a marathon: it is dysfunctional and therefore breeds in illogical thought, it can mess with your mind, and can house a lot of pain. This is why it is not surprising that part of my daily job comprises of taking a lot of angry calls. My favorite calls consist of ones where someone will call me up and just start screaming at me before even exploring what may have happened to cause their upset. The calls that take the cake are the ones where someone will be fuming mad at me for something someone else did. (I actually got one of these yesterday). It went a little something like this:
Me: Hello, it’s Maria.
Person: HI.
Me: How are you today?
Person: (in fury) I’ve been better. Let me ask you a question…why did Person X do Thing Y?
Me: I am not Person X, but it seems that every step was taken on our part in order to prevent Person X from doing Thing Y, such as…. so it seems that Person X had to do Thing Y as a last resort.
Person: Well, this is not appropriate and I’m upset at you because of it.

Welcome to my world. In any other job, this would make me and anyone else reconsider why it is worth it. However, I know that the system itself changes the mindset of those who are in it. Just take Zimbardo’s 1971 Stanford prison experiment in which students on summer break played roles as guards or prisoners in a mock prison in the basement of a building on the university’s campus in Northern California. The pretend guards grew so sadistic and the prisoners so cowed that the experiment was halted prematurely out of concern for the students. “The Stanford prison experiment shows the power of institutions to change behavior. We took good apples and put them in a bad situation,” Zimbardo commented.

Because of this, I am going to give Person a break because it seems that working for the system has changed Person in ways beyond Person’s awareness and control. However, every time I get a call like this, it centers me more and I can’t help but think of the children that this is affecting. I have often heard and read that many people (especially those who work within the prison walls) see the children as an extension of the parents’ mistakes. One of our toughest critics a retired prison guard who now has his own blog describes Get On The Bus as “a tour for youth to see which prison they will want to end up in in the future.” These words do not surprise me; however, they do in fact sadden me. Are we as a society ready to just give up on our future generation?

In the U.S., we already incarcerated more people than any other nation on the planet. A recent study done this year found that 1 in 33 people in the U.S. are in prison. To put this into perspective, in a grade school classroom that is 1 or 2 children per class and by the time these children turn 18 at the rate we are going it will probably be 4 or 5. Scary, huh? I can’t tell you how many times I go out and do a presentation about Get On The Bus to a church, school, company and people come up to me and say my (brother, cousin, mother, father, uncle, you name it) was in prison and I’ve never told anyone. I was afraid of what people would think of me.

Knowing this, imagine what the kids are thinking. Kids are already being teased for wearing the wrong clothes or buying the wrong backpack, but having a parent incarcerated, whew. On top of that, the children do not have access to talk with their parents and the prison system makes visiting in a comfortable atmosphere virtually impossible.

This is why Get On The Bus is so necessary. It is the only time all year that most of the children get to see their parents. The visit is centered for the children. The kids are treated like VIPs all day and they get to participate in fun activities with their parents, they get all kinds of goodies like coloring books and crayons and other things to do on the way up to the trip, special meals for the day, a photo with their parent for them to keep, a teddy bear and a letter from their parent and stationary and stamps so they can keep in touch throughout the year. This is what your donations will go to support. Thank you for making a difference in the life of a child who needs it.


  1. Mario Rocha

    Not only is this well written, it is remarkably honest and true. Good job, Maria, for posting this article and keeping "The Bus" on the road to prison.

    Reading about these children brings tears to my eyes. It does not surprise me to hear how certain prison officials would describe them. Unfortunately, not only are we dealing with their ignorant and partial mentalities, but a general sense of apathy on the part of so many people who will never understand nor care for the plight of these children.

    I can go on for days about the injustices people face that sometimes lead them to prison, through their own actions or the actions of zealous prosecutors and law enforcement. But I know very little about what it means to be the child of a person in prison. I only know what it feels like to be the child in prison.

    Thank you for enlightening me with your words and inspiring me to continue my work as a prison abolitionist through your example.

    Much love to your whole organization and the entire Get On The Bus network. If there is anything I can do to help, please contact me.

    Respectfully yours for the cause of Justice,

    -mario rocha

  2. Maria Costanzo Palmer

    Thanks Mario for your comment and for sharing a little piece of yourself on this blog. I am moved everyday by the stories of people just like yourself. There are so many ways that you can help. We always need volunteers!!! Just let me know what you would like to do and I will get you connected.

  3. Alva Gerrish

    I like this post, enjoyed this one thanks for posting .


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