It’s not unusual to find a mom or dad with several children whose spouse is serving time in prison. As a result, the family’s utilities may be disconnected, they also not be able to pay rent, or even get the food they need.

2.7 Million Children with a Parent in Jail

Fact: There are currently 2.7 million children in the United States with at least one parent in prison and hundreds of thousands of moms (or dads) attempting to raise those children under very difficult circumstances.

And, it’s not just parents who are raising these children. It may be a retiree who is getting money from the government and trying to stretch their social security income.  It might also be the family’s oldest child raising the younger child. I could also be a teenager who is working while attending high school. Or, it maybe someone from the local church doing the work of the Lord. The one thing that these benevolent caregivers have in common is that  they are raising the child of an incarcerated parent who can not do it themselves.

Long Sentence Spell Suffering for Families

A sentence of five years or longer is not only devastating for someone who has been convicted of a crime, but equally overwhelming for the family. The family may face any number of bad situations:  hunger, homelessness, and poor medical care. All this may be happening to them while others are busy celebrating Christmas or Hanukah and giving and getting nice presents, new clothes, and delicious family meals.

But that’s not all. An incarcerated parent’s crime itself can weigh heavy on the little ones. They can find themselves ostracized and unwelcome — even by members of the church they belong to.

A Skyrocketing Incarcerated Population

In the past few decades, the number of families struggling to cope with someone who is incarcerated has risen dramatically.  And the good cheer that others feel, may only serve to remind that of their social isolation and unmet physical needs. Malls are full of shoppers and lights glisten in the center of towns. But for families of the incarcerated, there is no good cheer, but only heartache, confusion, and isolation.

Hope For Families of the Incarcerated

Reaching out to the family of an incarcerated parent is a great way to spread the spirit of the holidays. Sharing love and compassion beyond your immediate family and close friends is part of the true spirt of Christmas and Hanukah.  Delivering gifts to prisoners’ children through activities such as the Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program can help. Many other organizations do great work as well — all rely on the time and generosity of volunteers (like you).

If you happen to know a prisoner’s family personally, let them know you care and that they are welcome at your church or temple’s worship services. Offer to watch an incarcerated parent’s child so that their caregiver can run holiday errands. Buy them a tank of gas, a basket of food, or take them out for a simple meal. Be kind to those have been marginalized by a family member who is in prison.