The United Universalist Church in Surprise is a very warm and open congregation with a strong social conscious. They just spent the month of January focused on the prison issue including the cost and conditions of prison. After they read my book , The Slumber Party From Hell, they honored me by inviting me to speak recently. Besides the sermon, I gave the message to the children. Now that’s a real challenge. How to talk to children about prison? Sesame Street has the answer. http://www.sesamestreet.org/parents/topicsandactivities/toolkits/incarceration
You may not know one in twenty eight children has a parent in prison so I felt this message was important. This is what I said:
“Any one here like Sesame Street? Recently Sesame Street got a new character to go with Cookie Monster, Big Bird and Elmo. That’s pretty exciting for Sesame Street.
And it’s a pretty interesting character. His name is Alex. He has an orange face, green nose and really fantastic blue hair. He also feels sad and lonely and he doesn’t like to talk about why.
Why is Alex sad and lonely? He’s sad because the other muppets want to do something with their dads and he can’t. His Dad isn’t there. When his friends ask where he is, he said he doesn’t want to talk about it. He doesn’t want to talk about it because his dad is in prison.
Then one of the human friends says she understands because when she was little, her father was in prison too. That really surprised him. He was relieved to hear someone else had the same experience. It made him feel less strange and alone.
Prison can be pretty scary to children. Do you think you might know someone who has a parent in prison? I’m asking because 1 in 28 children has a parent in prison. That is a lot. So it’s possible there are some kids in your class who may feel sad because they have a mom or dad in prison. That’s hard. It’s a huge challenge for a kid.
When you have a challenge and feel sad, you might feel like you’re all alone and no one understands. That’s hard too.
So what can you do? Can you do anything? Yes, you can. You can be sympathetic. It’s a pretty big word but I’m sure you understand it. If you see someone feeling sad and lonely, you can be sympathetic. You can understand. You can be nice to them. Don’t tease them. Don’t be mean. Be nice.
At Gina’s Team, we have an important message, so important we put it on a bracelet.
Been there. Done that. Now how can I help? Helping others is really an important message and that’s what Jesus was talking about in the reading today (Matt 25: 34-40). I’m going to give each of you a bracelet to remind you that YOU can help. Not just about the prison thing but about anything. YOU can help by being kind to people who are sad and feel lonely.
I promise, it won’t only make them feel better; it will make you feel better too.”
Remember that startling statistic? One in 28 children has a parent in prison. That is so huge that Sesame Street felt it was important to add Alex to this characters. However, it’s still controversial so Alex is not on the actual show; he is on the website at the link I’ve provided above. On that site, there are games and stories for children, for the parent who is free and for care-givers like grandparents. Perhaps you are one of those parents or children. If so, you aren’t on an easy journey. I personally know many of the women who are serving time. They miss their children dreadfully. If you are amongst that group of children or care-givers, I urge you to visit the website where I hope you will find some support there.