Volunteers from Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership met Rachel in the Frederick Detention Center. (To protect the privacy of the women who shared their stories, we are using only their first names.)
A mother who had never been jailed before and was experiencing sadness and depression, Rachel said, “Nothing can adequately prepare you for jail. You lose all sense of self control. You are told what to do and when to do it. You lose privacy as well as self respect and integrity.”
After Rachel began attending COIPP’s Parenting From Afar classes while in the Detention Center, she made this observation:
"The class gives inmates the opportunity to discuss feelings and emotions, and [it] gives us tools to help us build strong, supportive family bonds despite our class setting being in a 'jail.' We even get postcards that are pre-stamped at the end of each class to send to our kids that don’t have the dreaded “you are receiving communication from the FCADC” stamp on it. I don’t want my kids to be reminded that I am not there by every contact [I make]."
When released from jail, Rachel attended Coffee With COIPP weekly sessions for those recently released from jail or in drug rehab, working to reconnect with the children in their lives. She and one of her children attended COIPP-sponsored classes with community partner, the Delaplaine Center, and participated in many other COIPP activities. Rachel also received gift cards when she needed help for her children.
Now meet Shannon. She is a young mom who, like Rachel, spent time in jail. Because of her situation, her daughter was living with relatives. Shannon first experienced COIPP when she started coming to Coffee With COIPP classes. She was granted a COIPP scholarship at Frederick Community College, was mentored by a COIPP volunteer, and received gift cards for school supplies and resources to help her with reconnecting with her child. “The motivation that you ladies give to other women and men is amazing and made me want more for myself," Shannon said.
Imagine that you come home from school and the house is filled with police. Your mother is crying, your father is missing, and life is in turmoil. Eventually your father appears, but is suicidal. At some point he goes to prison. Your mom enters into a deep depression, finds work, but ends every day staring out the window. The family car is repossessed, and the family is under constant stress. You visit your dad monthly, but it takes hours to get to his jail. When he eventually comes home, he cannot get a job and his spirit takes years to mend. This episode becomes a family secret, something to never share with anyone. The founder and Executive Director of COIPP, Shari Ostrow Scher, knows this because she is the child in this story. Her later career in the public schools working with young children and teachers helped her realize how many other children struggled like she did. She pulled on her own first-hand knowledge and that of these families and what they go through and founded Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership.
Children who have a mother or father in jail often suffer academically, socially and emotionally. Last year, COIPP served over 700 children through direct services to them and their parents and caregivers. The organization offered children’s activities, parenting classes for men and women in jail, weekly Coffee With COIPP classes, sharing fairs held at the Detention Center where families received basic resources for themselves and their children, scholarships at Frederick Community College for those impacted by incarceration, and more.
In Maryland, there are over 90,000 children with an incarcerated parent. In Frederick, on an average day, there are more than 300 adults in the Frederick County Adult Detention Center. COIPP is critical to serving this otherwise unserved population. COIPP representatives speak about this need in the Frederick community and across the state and nation. In 2017, Ms. Ostrow Scher spoke in New Zealand at the first international conference on this topic, and this August she and COIPP’s co-president spoke at the second international conference in England.
Remember Rachel? She became a COIPP supporter, and even wrote a letter to the Baltimore Ravens about COIPP’s work, resulting in a $1,000 award to COIPP from the Ravens organization. Rachel recently asked that people honor her birthday by donating to COIPP. And Shannon is now working and has regained custody of her daughter. As Shannon wrote, “I'm doing what I want to do for work and I have my baby back. So now I am working on going back to school and saving for a house, and setting more goals.”
COIPP offers a unique free service in Frederick County. The Unity Campaign and the community financially assisted the organization through donations of over $20,000 in 2018. Since COIPP receives all funding through grants, donations and fundraising, the help of Frederick’s residents is needed to continue to support these services. Together we can make a difference! For more information, visit COIPP at www.coipp.org.