Student connects with incarcerated father

Anna’s father, an artist, has been in prison for all of Anna’s life. The two keep in touch, and he draws cartoons attached to letters he sends Anna.

Alex Boutrous

Anna’s father, an artist, has been in prison for all of Anna’s life. The two keep in touch, and he draws cartoons attached to letters he sends Anna.

Alex Boutrous, Managing Editor

“I’ve never really known what it’s like to have two parents,” South student Anna (not her real name) explained. About a month before Anna was born, her dad was sent to a prison in eastern Minnesota.

“It hasn’t really affected me a lot because he’s been gone since before I was born,” Anna continued. “My whole life I’ve only had one parent, one person who can take responsibility for me.”

Anna is certainly not alone. According to the Osborne Association, 2.7 million children in the US have a parent in prison. The Osborne Association is an organization that works with individuals who have experienced conflict with the law, “to transform their lives through innovative, effective and replicable programs that serve the community.”

As of September 2012, 59% of parents in state prisons have never had a personal visit with their children while being incarcerated. Anna, however, has had a much different experience. “We would go there like once a week when he was at Stillwater because we were little and stuff… Now… we try to go about once a month.”

Even with the separation, Anna reports feeling closer to her dad than her mom. “[My mom and I] get along fine, but I just don’t tell her a lot of stuff…When I talk to my dad, I just feel like the conversation is more easygoing.”

Though Anna and her dad do not get to spend as much time physically together, they talk on the phone a couple times a week. “He knows stuff that’s happening in my life. When we moved houses we would talk and I would describe the layout of the house and stuff like that. I tell him about all my friends, what I did over the weekend. He gets a good idea of what’s happening.”

“I don’t really write [letters] to him, but he’ll write to us. He’ll send us postcards and stuff like that. Letters,” said Anna. “I went on a trip…for spring break. We took a group photo and so I’ll send him a picture of that.” Her dad is an artist and draws the pictures she sends him. He sends Anna back the drawings and keeps the original photos.

Anna also has an older brother who was two when her father left. “I think it’s harder on him [my brother] just because he was two. He knew him more than I did and they were close. I think it’s hard for him not having [our dad] there, but it’s all I’ve known.”

“It doesn’t ever come up [at home],” Anna said of her father’s absence. “I play volleyball in the fall and in the winter… I just joined theater this year, but I plan to continue.” Anna uses extracurricular activities as outlets to have fun and cope with stress.

“I usually hang out with a friend once a week.” In her words, “It’s not really an issue.”

Even though Anna and her dad get to talk often, “It’s hard not having him there for birthdays and stuff like that.” Since he left before she was born, they have not been able to celebrate milestones together.

“My mom, [being the] working parent [with] two kids to support, it’s definitely the hardest on her,” Anna reflected. “It’s hard to see your mom and your brother struggle because I can’t understand the way that they can.”

Prisons are closed on national holidays, which means Anna and her family are unable to spend holidays together. “Usually we’ll go once between Thanksgiving and Christmas and around Father’s Day. We’ll usually go for his birthday or a birthday.” Anna and her family work around the prison guidelines to enjoy holidays together.

When she and her family go to visit, Anna explained the dress code is very strict. “One time when I was little I was wearing a dress and they wouldn’t let me in. I had to go get part of my brother’s halloween costume [to wear],” she laughed. “You can’t wear sweaters which I think is weird.”

Anna’s dad still has a few years of his sentence left. “Usually every other phone call he’ll ask me if I have a boyfriend, which I do not. I’m a little nervous about that. I guess we’ll just have to see,” she joked about her father’s release.

It will be an adjustment for Anna and her family, learning how to go about life with her father home. Her parents are recently divorced, which will undoubtedly make a difference too.

Most people take spending time with their parents for granted. For Anna, after her dad’s release will be the first time she gets to spend with him outside of prison. “I guess, just being out with him. Going to movies. The little things.”

“[My dad has] always talked about me making him pizza because I work at a pizza place. I guess he’s looking forward to that,” she smiled.