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Jul 202013

The children of offenders who are in prison bear the shame of “where’s your daddy?” That is a fact, and there is an outcry from many  people that “non violent drug offenders” should not be  incarcerated because it “separates the families” of these children, leaving their mothers to raise the children alone.

One such moving article, written by the child of an incarcerated seller of drugs is the following:


She states:

My father immigrated to the United States from Jamaica in the 1970s. I was four years old when my dad went away, and my younger brother was two years old. He was convicted for trafficking in cocaine and sentenced to 15 years in prison.At the beginning of his absence, we maintained contact through letters, although I was not aware of where he was. Every time I wrote my father, I’d carefully write his department identification number, thinking that it was a code for an apartment complex mailbox, until my mom informed me that my dad was in prison.I began to cry, but even then I remember questioning my tears; what does it mean to be in prison? For any parent, breaking the news to a child that their father is in prison is difficult. At that age, I didn’t know what it meant; I just knew I wouldn’t be seeing any more of my dad. My father left my mom alone to raise seven children, which added a financial strain to the emotional distress. Upon his early release, he was deported back to Jamaica where he lives today.

I definitely understand this child’s feelings of being separated from her father, and the shame she must have felt when people asked about her dad’s whereabouts and what he did for a living. The question this raises for me, though, is if her father was engaged in selling cocaine as a way of “making a living” and contributing to the family financial coffers, what kind of father was he in the first place? Was he a positive role model for his children? Was his involvement in “non violent” crime beneficial to his children in any way? Was his presence in the family before his arrest positive on any level, even though he was not convicted for a “violent” crime? I think  most of us know that the drug business is quite a violent way to make a living, even for low level dealers.

Is the “system” at fault for the separation of families because it arrests and incarcerates drug sellers or drug users, and separates them from their children? Or are the offenders who are selling and using drugs responsible for the separation from  their families? Do responsible and nurturing parents sell drugs knowing that this may separate them from their families and have a very negative impact on their  spouses and children?

While I deplore that there are over two million children who have one or both parents incarcerated in the US today, and that there is a higher level of black and Latino families for whom this is true than for white families, I don’t think that the system can be “blamed” for this. Drug use and sales are very high in our society today, and apparently more so in the black and Latino communities than in the Caucasian communities.

When I was a “kid” there was a possibility that a person could go to prison for up to fifty years for possession of a single marijuana joint. Now, marijuana in small amounts is semi-legal in some areas, yet growing it is still a long prison sentence except in areas where it has been semi-legalized for “medical purposes.” Society’s thinking concerning drugs, from the days of alcohol prohibition to today’s liquor stores on every street corner, to today’s laws concerning the possession and production of methamphetamine in home “labs” changes.

Drug use is thought of differently in different places and different eras, from a moral failing, to a disease state, yet, we know that the use of mind altering substances, from alcohol to methamphetamine is counter productive to being a successful member of society, and not just because it is illegal.

While I do not believe that a “little recreational use” of marijuana is equal to the damage done by the frequent use of methamphetamine or crack, or that the occasional consumption of a beer is equal to the damage done by the person who drinks a fifth of liquor per day, I do realize that anything that alters our consciousness can have very negative consequences.

I am also aware that prohibition of desired substances, be it alcohol, or methamphetamine is extremely difficult. The craving for these mind altering substances seems to be bred into our genetic make up, though in some people more than in others.

So, how do we stop the damage? Do we legalize all substances and  tax and “control” them to some extent so that there is little or no “underground economy” in making and selling the substances, much as we have with alcohol? In taking the ‘Profit” out of producing and selling alcohol  illicitly there are no longer  thousands of “bootleggers” making and selling illegal and in some cases very dangerous alcohol. They were put out of business by legalization and lower priced booze being available. Yet, not without a price, since a person who consumes all the alcohol they want is still not a productive member of society, and people who have been raised by or married to an alcoholic can testify that there is definitely a price to be paid from  having a family member drink “to excess.”

What if we made all drugs of all kinds legal and emptied the prisons of people who in the past were arrested for selling or making drugs? Would there be no price to society? Would children like the author of this article be better off or worse off with her father (and/or mother) just “using” instead of going to prison for selling or making such drugs? With the money society saved by not incarcerating these people would that money used to provide treatment for users be better spent?

Right now it is illegal for anyone under 21 (in most places, some 18) to buy or consume alcohol, or cigarettes, but we all know that with alcohol freely available that some kids start drinking in grade school, and many kids under 18 smoke cigarettes and even marijuana. So laws to keep kids from smoking and drinking are pretty close to futile as well, because even if substances are illegal, or illegal for some age groups, it is still going to be obtained and used by those who want it.

I wish I knew the answer to drug use in our society, drugs of all kinds, legal and illegal. I don’t claim to. I do know, however, that prohibition of drug use is a miserable failure in our country today. I also know that use of drugs by parents makes them poor parents and poor role models as well.

It is a fact, when parents go to prison, children suffer…but are the suffering because the parent went to prison, or because the parent put themselves in such a position to do illegal and/or immoral things that resulted in them going to prison in the first place? Were these people “good parents” before they went to prison? Are the kids better off without that parent in their lives on a day to day basis? Even if their crime was “non violent drug offenses?” My personal opinion is that parents who willfully and knowingly engage in illegal activities of any kind are not putting their children first, and when we have children, we take on the responsibility to put the needs of those young children first in our lives, and that means not engaging in behavior that will separate us from them.

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  15 Responses to “Children of offenders”

  1. Joyce,
    there are no easy answers, but I think prison is best reserved for the type of person that abuses other people, rather than someone who abuses themselves with drugs.

  2. I’m not talking about the “users” but about those who SELL drugs, as this woman’s father did. I do think that USERS need treatment not prison, but at the same time I don’t think that even USERS are the kind of people that make stellar parents either.

    In my part of the country people “cook meth” in their homes and the fumes consume their children who are playing in the next room. Even houses which have been used as meth labs are TOXIC. In fact, there is a web site where you can check on a home before you buy or rent it to find out if a meth lab has ever been busted there. I found it when some folks made the news who had bought a house and started getting sick after they moved in, and it turned out, according to the article that they had bought a former meth lab and that even the wood in the house was toxic as it had absorbed the fumes from the chemicals.

    People who manufacture and/or sell the drugs I think do deserve to be in prison…and I don’t think those people contribute to the health or welfare of their children. I don’t think that alcoholics make good parents either…but prohibition of alcohol in the early decades of the last century didn’t work either…it gave rise to bootleggers, some of whom made alcohol using metals that leached into the alcohol, causing blindness, dementia, and other horrible things, up to and including death of the consumer.

    I wish I knew how to stop the craving of people for the drugs, without that there would be no profit in it…without profit, there would be no manufacture or sale, Even with good counseling program, there is only a 36% success in people who “want” to stop using drugs. I’m not sure what the rate is on alcoholics.

    But if we limit prison to ONLY those people who are physically violent….what about the Bernie Madoffs of this world who scam thousands of people out of their life savings? Isn’t that a form of “violence?” What about people who steal your car or break into your home when you are not there and take your things? Is that violence?

  3. Joyce, thank you for posting this article – it is a discussion that really NEEDS to take place among everyone in our society.

    I feel badly for any child who has a parent in prison. It’s not so much that they are separated from a parent – this happens EVERY day when people divorce and children are required to choose a side, or a parent is chosen for them by the Court. What is so damaging for these children is, as you pointed out, the SHAME that their parent is a convicted criminal.

    Drugs. Illegal. Prescribed. I have very strong personal beliefs about this that could be viewed as callous and even radical, perhaps. I don’t believe that marijuana, in any capacity, should be “illegal” with greater possible sentences than someone who who is convicted of vehicular homicide while driving drunk. Prohibition of alcohol was an absolute blunder that resulted in the construction of huge Organized Crime syndicates that are pervasive, today. The “War On Drugs” is a money-based edict that I do not believe can ever be “won.” So, why is marijuana still illegal in most States? It’s NOT sensible.

    Hemp has many uses, aside from getting high. It is a fantastic fiber that can be woven into fabric or twisted into some of the natural fiber rope on the planet. There are medicinal uses for hemp oil (in conjunction with other natural elements). It has been used as a medicinal herb for thousands of years – just as tobacco once was.

    Cocaine is another refinement of a naturally occurring plant that can have devastating effects on the users. Same with heroin. These plants, in their purest and unrefined forms, are not dangerous and were used for specific purposes. But, does this make the people who refine them into illegal drugs “bad” people? Well, let’s examine that: refinement takes place in secret. People literally risk their lives in the refinement processes – in cocaine production, those who are packaging the powder are required to do so in the nude so that they cannot smuggle even small amounts out of the warehouse. People who are transporting cocaine are risking long prison terms if they’re caught. It’s a culture of SECRETS, and secrets can (and, DO) kill.

    The only people who get obscenely wealthy in the drug trades are the kingpins. Many illegal drug syndicates actually FUND terrorist organizations and illegal weapons trades. And, anyone who is involved in a successful illegal drug ring that wants to “get out” of the whole sordid business usually isn’t successful unless they leave in a body bag, and this includes the well-armed and guarded kingpins.

    This is turning into a rant, so I’m almost apologetic, but not just yet…..LOL!!!!

    Someone smoking a joint is not a threat to me. Drop tons of marijuana on the Middle East nations along with tons and tons of Doritos, Pepsi, and copies of “Mystery Science Theatre: 3000,” and people will be too relaxed to give two shiats about their petty differences!

    I fear the manufacture and distribution of refined products like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines. These drugs cause people to do very stupid things. I also fear PRESCRIBED medications – one friend of mine was involved with a man who will take ANY prescribed drug and even stole prescribed medications from her. There are people out there who are using, abusing, and addicted to medications that are legally obtained by prescriptions. The exspath’s own half-sister is addicted to opiates, Xanax, and any post-surgical pain medication that she can get her hands on. She “Doctor Shops” to keep a steady supply of prescribed drugs in her system.

    This is always a sticky topic to me because there truly is no simple answer to this, as Skylar pointed out. On the one hand, keeping everything ILLEGAL makes it a product for illegal manufacturing and distribution. On the OTHER hand, legalizing all of it could solve the National Debt in excess of multi-trillions of dollars (yes, TRILLIONS) via taxes, alone, but create other “monsters” in the process.

    The original topic was about children of offenders, and I can only sympathize with the shame that they must feel as the result of their parents’ choices. No simple answer to that, either, other than to STOP making family contact with convicted criminals a moral obligation by “the systems.”

    Rant done……….. 😀

  4. Truthy, I am in total agreement with you as “radical” as you are….BTW I am well aware of the benefits of the HEMP PLANT…and the kind that is grown for food and fiber doesn’t make you “high” at all even if you eat it or smoke it, but the government is so afraid of it, because by LOOKS ALONE you can’t tell the two plants apart that people will grow huge fields of it. LOL

    My point about offenders in prison because of THEM violating the law is NOT THE SYSTEM’S fault, the parent CHOSE to violate a law knowing in their hearts that it was ILLEGAL, and KNOWING the consequences to them selves AND to their children if they got caught.

    When “the system” makes a law and we CHOOSE to violate it, either for financial gain, or for conscience sakes, then we must ACCEPT the consequences for doing so…but the kids didn’t have that choice, and the parents who made the choice to violate the law (just or unjust law) the PARENTS are the ones who have put the shame on the kids, not the “system.”

    This whole conversation is not about whether the laws about drug prohibition are right or wrong….it is NOT ONLY drug dealing that puts parents in prison. VIOLATING THE LAW does.

    Look at Bernie Madoff’s son who killed himself. He was an ADULT, he was ASHAMED of his father’s crime, he killed himself as a result.

    We cannot change the fact that OTHERS make decisions that impact on US as their children, young children, or older children, but the SHAME is not ours….Charity Lee is working with kids through her foundation that have parents in prison, and I think this is a GOOD thing. I think children who have a parent in prison need support, so that THEY don’t feel the shame of the parent’s law breaking and incarceration. Those children are the INNOCENT VICTIMS of their parent’s bad choices to break the law (whatever the law is) and my opinion is that any parent who makes the choice to break the law in a way that will get them incarcerated DOES NOT HAVE THE BEST INTERESTS OF THEIR KIDS AT HEART. Young kids don’t understand that LOVE IS AN ACTION VERB, not a “squishy feeling” and I would never have done anything that would have resulted in my incarceration and being taken away from my kids, for that reason alone, if no other.

  5. Joyce, I agree – if it’s illegal, then I don’t do it. My personal feelings about whether it SHOULD be illegal, or not, has nothing to do with whether it is, or isn’t! LOLOLOL!!!!

    Absolutely, it is a choice to break the law – very, VERY few people suffer from such a mental illness that they “cannot help themselves.” Most people who break the law do it as a result of personal choices. Gang members who decide that shooting a random person that they do not know in a drive-by shooting as a form of “initiation” are CHOOSING to perpetrate a crime. That’s it, and that’s all.

    Children do, indeed, need support if they have a parent in prison. But, they shouldn’t be required to accept their parents’ choices that landed them in a penitentiary. You’re absolutely right – the kids are innocent of their parents’ choices, and I agree that any parent who makes the choice to violate the law and place the safety and welfare of their children at risk DOES NOT CARE about those children, regardless of how much they moan and wail about what will happen to their children when they’re being fingerprinted! Should’ve thought about that BEFORE making a stupid choice, right?!

  6. I agree, and I do believe that people who willingly engage in illegal activities that could put them in prison…drug dealing, robbery, assault etc., are not your stellar parent to start with.

    As a kid and young adult I drank alcohol to excess at times, and I smoked my share of weed, but once I decided to have children, all of this stopped cold because I wanted to be a good parent.

  7. I just ran across this article, complete with terrible photographs of children removed from met labs in their homes. The chemicals these young children are exposed to are absolutely TOXIC. This is a must read article for anyone who thinks drugs are a “non violent” crime and that only the person who takes them is harming himself alone. These people need to have their “parental rights” voided forever.

    The innocent ‘meth heads’: How more and more children are becoming victims of deadly drug as number of ‘shake and bake’ at-home labs skyrocket

    In some states, 90 per cent of home lab busts sick children are taken away
    Number of domestic meth labs more than doubled in 2010 to 15,000 after an all-time low of about 7,000 in 2007
    Ingredients easily available in hardware stores and pharmacies


    These “non violent drug crimes” ARE violent and ARE abusive to these poor children. They may have given birth to or sired these innocents but in my opinion they are NOT LOVING PARENTS or they would not do this.

  8. My children’s father has committed crimes, landing him in jail. He knowingly did what was wrong and he has no remorse over the things that he’s done. My children have suffered, I have suffered. When talking to the spath, he is clueless, unable to comprehend how his actions affect, impact others. He has a reprobate mind. We will live with the things that he has done. Possibly, all of us are wiser human beings because we now know (for a fact) that there are people among us who choose to do evil – they lack a conscience. Fortunately, my children are not sociopaths, each one having a conscience, empathy, etc. As long as I’m alive, I will fight for them, doing my best to parent them so that they don’t end up like their father.

  9. Dear Blue, it is unfortunate but not only the children of offenders are traumatized, but everyone associated with them are…though your ex husband’s family may be the exception since they seem to be as disordered as he is.

    The families of the two murderers in this particular case were held up to national scorn, not just local scorn for a crime too heinous to even contemplate and with the release of the HBO movie about the crime coming soon I can only imagine that the scabs of their wounds will be torn open again on this 6th anniversary of the crime.

    Your children are fortunate to have a loving and nurturing parent, unfortunately, too many times the other parent isn’t much better than the offender.

    Of course there are levels of “crime” with some worse than others, but they ALL hurt the children, especially the little ones who are not old enough to comprehend what has happened to daddy/mommy. Even if those parents were abusive to the children, the kids are still attached to them. You and every mother’/father who is trying to raise the children of these offenders is in my prayers. God bless.

  10. Joyce,

    Knowing D.’s background, I would think that his siblings are scarred, resembling each other, because they were raised by the same set of parents. My guess is that you’re right – they’re disordered, some more so than others (is my guess).

  11. Bluejay, it’s good to “see” you, and I’m so sorry that your children have suffered because of their sperm donor’s choices.

    As Joyce pointed out, EVERYONE associated with the offender suffers – from children to religious groups that have rallied to “support” the wayward individual. Once a criminal, ALWAYS a criminal, in the “Book Of Truthspeak.”

    Prayers, hugs, and encouragement to you, Bluejay.

  12. Thank you, Truthspeak.

  13. Truthy, to quote from the “Book of Truthspeak” (smile) I would only make one change to your quote of “once a criminal always a criminal” to say “ALMOST ALWAYS a criminal,” There are exceptions of those who commit some act that lands them in prison but they do “learn their lesson.” And, unfortunately, there ARE those who are convicted, even sent to death row, who are INNOCENT of the crime. Texas has released at this writing about 150, that ONE HUNDRED FIFTY innocent men off DEATH ROW. Now we are not speaking here of getting them off on a technicality here, but actual PROOF OF INNOCENCE.

    Yet,. many of these men were law breakers prior to being wrongly convicted, but not all. One of my son Patrick has a buddy who is on the fast track to be released for the murder he was convicted for….but let me tell you, he is no prince charming. Since the Houston innocence project has taken on his case and is getting the DNA processed, I truly believe there is a good chance he did not do the murder. YET, if this man gets out, I fear he will be the one Patrick sends after me. From what I know of his past, I would judge him to be a career criminal CAPABLE of murder.

    Both of his parents were guilty of cooking meth, and even his attorney went to federal prison for hiding him out (and other crimes) by sending him to South America for a year and a half after it was known he was wanted for questioning in the murder investigation.

    In the majority of cases were an innocent person is convicted, it is because they have the criminal background to be considered one of the “usual suspects” and/or are unable to secure a private attorney. That doesn’t mean it is right to put someone in prison for a crime they did not commit, or worse, to execute them for such a crime. Which is why I have become an advocate of doing away with the death penalty and replacing it with life without parole, and/or the “three strikes” laws. That, and how UNEVENLY the death penalty is imposed. If anyone DESERVED to die for their crime, it is my son Patrick.

    Currently in Arkansas they are talking about a 3-strikes law because a career criminal was let out of prison on parole when he had multiple outstanding warrants on other crimes and within DAYS he murdered an 18 year old kid. The entire state, including the Governor is up in arms about the carpy parole system that we have and the lack of communication between agencies.

  14. Joyce, you’re 100% spot-on about some people being absolutely innocent of the crimes for which they’ve been convicted. Too many variables come into play during trials: political aspirations, voter appeal, etc.

    Parole is one of those “good ideas gone bad,” in many cases. Parole Boards just want to get through the list of hopefuls and get home to their families, golf clubs, and happy hours. The Board members DO NOT KNOW the people who are pleading for parole – they only have a very brief time to hear the applicant and the opposition, and they make their decision almost instantly with very little else in the way of “evidence” of a WHO that convict really is.

    I don’t know what the “answer” to any of this is. But, I know that people who are the “collateral damage” of convicted criminals suffer more than the convicts EVER will. They are wrongly saddled with the guilt and shame of the actions of the criminal and then they are chastised if they choose to cut the criminal out of their lives for being insensitive to a “family” member. They are in a no-win situation.


  15. The link to the article I posted above about the children who are living in meth labs in their homes is appalling to me….these parents in my opinion DESERVE life sentences whether their crime is considered “violent” or not….they have exposed their children to TOXIC chemicals…and while the college kid who gets caught selling a small amount of Marijuana is not in the same class with them, at the same time, where do you draw the line?

    Many times kids get nabbed for selling some dope to support their own habits. In some places there are “drug courts” to deal with these individuals and give them a “second” chance to get sober, get a job and be productive and clean—or go to prison. Many people take advantage of this, but unfortunately not the majority.

    The son of a man I know got nabbed for drugs and did a 6 month stent in rehab that was court ordered. When he got out, his parents furnished him a place to live, a vehicle, and he got a job, but not long afterwards, he was found to be faking his urine drug test by carrying in clean urine.

    I know some people who left their 2 yr old with a “friend” while they went out to buy drugs, and while they were gone, the “friend” used a catheter to obtain clean uriine from the child to use to fake their own drug test the next day. I can’t even imagine the pain and fear that the child experienced. Funny thing though, the kid’s maternal grandmother was furious the state took the child away from her parents.

    Sometimes I think I have seen the most sooopid people in the world, then I realize there are others dumber.

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