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The Hidden Victims of Incarceration

Our parents, or parent, are the very first people that we will ever know. They are the first people we learn to love as we grow from a newborn into a toddler, and eventually an adult. As a kid, they take us to school and pick us up. They might pack your lunch for you each day. They are there when you wake up from a nightmare and run to them for comfort and familiarity. They make each holiday special and chaperone your school field trips. They help you pick out your prom dress and teach you how to drive. And they are there when you graduate high school, crying in the audience as you walk across the stage.

But for some children, this is simply not the case.


The first time I saw my father arrested firsthand was when I was seven years old. By seven, there were already father-shaped gaps in my memory where my dad was simply gone. Years later, I would understand that he was in jail or prison, but as a young child, I was told lies. It is terrifying to watch someone you love, especially a parent, be forced into cuffs right in front of you.


In the United States, 2.7 million children currently have an incarcerated parent.

The National Institute of Corrections also reports that “Over half of those parents are serving time for non-violent offenses.”

Alarming Statistics:

92% of parents serving prison time are fathers (fatherhood.org).
In 2016, nearly half of people in state and federal prisons were parents of children under the age of 18 (sentencingproject.org).

Between 1980 and 2012, the number of parents in prison grew roughly five times.

How does this affect kids?

The incarceration of one or both parents has been linked to anxiety and depression in children. In one study, it was revealed that children of an incarcerated father, particularly those who witnessed the arrest, developed insecure attachments to their caregivers (NCBI). This anxious attachment may reveal itself through a child acting “clingy” or becoming anxious when separated from the parent. They may also struggle to calm themselves down once the parent returns.

Having a parent jailed or imprisoned also increases a child’s chance of having learning disabilities such as ADHD and developmental delays (prb.org).

A Dangerous Cycle…

Although statistics on the cycle of incarceration vary widely by source, there is no question that children of incarcerated parents face a set of unique challenges. The sudden removal of a parental figure frequently causes behavioral changes in children which has been found to lead to increased school suspensions and expulsions (National Institute of Justice). It has also been found that the incarceration of a parent may lead to increased risk for antisocial behavior and economic hardship for the child and their caregiver.

In 2017, a study found that “Both present and past parental incarceration was significantly associated with use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and prescription drugs, as well as substance abuse and dependence.” Many studies also demonstrate that children who witness a parent misuse drugs and alcohol are more likely to suffer from substance abuse. This puts them at higher risk of running into issues with the criminal justice system as adults.

Emotional Toll

"The incarceration of a parent can be especially scarring because of the shame that often surrounds it. Some children may be sensitive to the stigma of their parent's crime and imprisonment and feel embarrassed or resentful around their peers and other adults." 
- Human Rights Watch article on parental incarceration

This was certainly the case for me. In elementary and early middle school, I frequently found myself lying about my father. It was especially difficult each year when Father’s Day or the daddy-daughter dance would roll around. I would lie to my friends and teachers and explain that my dad simply worked late and couldn’t come to the dance. Or I’d make the Father’s Day card and throw it away when I got home. I was embarrassed and ashamed that my dad was locked up. This is a feeling that many, if not all children of inmates encounter.

The Physical Toll of Separation

Being separated as a child from your parent causes long-term stress to the body. Due to the stress of being separated from their caregiver, a child’s sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive. Studies show that this prolonged stress response negatively changes the structure of the child’s brain. The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University reports that adverse childhood experiences, such as parental separation, increases the likelihood that a child will face physical health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Numerous studies also show that an over-active amygdala (often found in children who are separated from their parents), alters a child’s ability to assess risk and make informed decisions.

How you can support children of incarcerated parents

As someone who has experienced parental incarceration firsthand, here is some of my best advice to caregivers of children who has a parent incarcerated:

  • Help them write and send letters. If the child is very young, have them draw pictures and explain to them how they will send them to their parent.
  • If you are their caregiver, encourage them to talk about their parent and help them find words to describe their feelings.
  • Refrain from criticizing the incarcerated parent, especially in front of the child. Hearing offhand remarks about their parent only causes more confusion and stress for the kid. You can help the child learn from their parent’s situation by explaining the importance of making good decisions. But shaming the parent in front of the child only furthers the shame, embarrassment, and many conflicting emotions the child is already experiencing.
  • If possible, help arrange phone calls. Due to the limited call time, help the child determine what they want to say to their parent BEFORE they call. Help prepare them beforehand so they understand they only have a few minutes to speak to their loved one.
  • Allow the child to celebrate the parent on the parent’s birthday. You can aid them in making birthday cards or even bake a cake to honor the parent. The same can be done for other special events and holidays. Find ways you can allow the child to celebrate and hold space for their parent even when they cannot be together. Holidays and special events can be very painful for kids when their parent is incarcerated.
  • Discuss with the child’s teachers who report cards will be sent to, who will be attending parent-teacher conferences and other school events so they are not in the dark. This will also help the child feel they can be honest with the teacher and ensure there is no confusion in the classroom.

Written by Tiffany Leveille

Edited by Miriam Itzkowitz

Original Graphics by Tiffany Leveille


Sources

https://www.prisonfellowship.org/resources/support-friends-family-of-prisoners/coping-incarceration-loved-one/raising-children-with-a-parent-in-prison/

https://www.fatherhood.gov/for-programs/incarcerated-and-reentering-fathers#:~:text=The%20number%20of%20fathers%20in,prisons%2C%2092%20percent%20are%20fathers.

https://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/6148/#:~:text=Welfare’s%20CW360%C2%B0.-,In%20the%20United%20States%20mothers%20and%20fathers%20go%20to%20prison,Health%20Measurement%20Initiative%2C%202016).

https://www.prb.org/resources/parents-imprisonment-linked-to-childrens-health-behavioral-problems/#:~:text=In%20particular%2C%20children%20with%20an,ADD%2FADHD%2C%20and%20anxiety.

https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/toxic-stress/

https://www.srcd.org/briefs-fact-sheets/the-science-is-clear

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How the Ocean Set Fire

As we scan through our social media feeds, it is clear that environmental issues are becoming an inevitable crisis. Every day, our environment faces many problems, many of which appear to be posing more risk over time, bringing us closer to a real emergency. As the current generation, it is becoming increasingly vital to promote awareness of these issues and reduce their negative impacts.

If you are caught up on what’s been happening around the world, you would know that on Friday, July 2nd, the ocean was literally “ablaze” in the Gulf of Mexico. A gas leak broke out from an underwater pipeline, managed by Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned petroleum company, causing a ring of fire to churn on the ocean’s surface at 5:15 am local time. This pipeline connects to a platform at Pemex’s flagship, Ku Maloob Zaap oil development, which is the country’s most important. Images of the bright orange flames, resembling molten lava, quickly filled up all social media feeds, along with pictures of ships trying to put out the fire with water and nitrogen. People also called out its resemblance to the Eye of Sauron, known from the ever so popular The Lord of the Rings. Dubbed as the “Eye of Fire” due to its circular shape, the fire took more than a whopping five hours to put out, finally ending at 10:30 am local time.

Pemex has stated that there was “no oil spill and the immediate action taken to control the surface fire avoided environmental damage.” Having said so, the company is investigating the cause of this leak. This incident comes as an inevitability, resulting from relying on underwater fossil fuel pipelines inherently, jeopardizing ocean life and everything else that depends on it.

Why are pipelines present underwater in the first place?

Natural gas and crude oil can be found in deposits under the sea bed, and because the fossil fuel deposits can be found offshore, deep under the ocean floor, there are offshore drilling rigs. Pipelines funnel fossil fuels from drilling platforms to onshore facilities on land, where the crude material is refined and shipped. This industrial exploitation began in 1897, but in the 21st century, drilling has moved further into the ocean, threatening different kinds of marine wildlife. The drilling discharges affect ocean biodiversity, and the pipelines pose a threat to the survival of coral reefs. 

This “Eye of Fire” has gained local and international criticism. Greenpeace Mexico, a branch of the non-governmental environmental organization with offices in over 55 countries, accused Pemex of causing “ecocide” in the Gulf of Mexico, citing the toxic properties and climate impact of methane gas. It blamed the rupture on aging, poorly maintained infrastructure and raised concerns about the harm leaked methane could have caused to marine life.

Can we ethically claim this incident as a freak accident?

There is no possibility that this type of incident cannot occur again. Gas leaks are something that has happened innumerable times in the past. Especially if you take the case of Pemex, this isn’t the only accident. They have a long history of terrible and deadly accidents. Greta Thunberg wrote on her Twitter, “Meanwhile, the people in power call themselves ‘climate leaders’ as they open up new oilfields, pipelines, and coal power plants – granting new oil licenses exploring future oil drilling sites. This is the world they are leaving for us.” Voices of discontent and negative comments come from supporters of a tightening global effort to save the environment. While community action alone couldn’t have stopped the fire in the Gulf of Mexico, this should be a sign for our governments and authority bodies to be working alongside our communities, not against them. 

Pemex said the fire took more than five hours to extinguish. Angel Carrizales – the head of Mexico’s oil safety regulator ASEA – wrote on Twitter that the incident “did not generate any spill.” However, he did not explain what was burning on the water’s surface.

There is reason to be fearful of such events since we are not sure as to what the company was trying to do, the unmistakable sign that, as humans, we do not care enough about our planet. We have to understand that the disaster is not natural; a corporation and its greed caused it. 

As Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez called it, ‘the eye of fire’ wasn’t the first time the ocean was on fire, and it most certainly will not be the last. Oil and gas leaks have occurred numerous times in the past 50 years, often related to oil tankers catching on fire and releasing crude oil into the ocean. Perhaps the most famous oil spill also happened in the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater crisis in 2010, after an explosion on British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oil drill.

Corporations are significant entities globally, and we have to acknowledge their enormous impact (negative and positive) on all our lives. The concerns of overly corporate-led globalization and its contribution to environmental issues increase, especially since the climate crisis has received much more media coverage. There are countless examples where corporate involvement in various issues could contribute to environmental problems. Therefore, we must hold corporations accountable for the problems caused by them. 

Unfettered capitalism is an issue that has been long affecting the lives of everyone on this planet. The world’s top firms cause approximately two trillion in environmental damages, according to a census done in 2010. These companies estimate that around one-third of their profits would be lost if they were made to pay for the damages they have caused. This is a significant reason why companies are not made to pay reparations.

What we can do as Gen Z :

We were made to believe that recycling a little and not using plastic straws can save the world. Even though that is a part of cleaning up the planet, it plays a minimal role if you compare it to the damage giant corporations have caused in the name of profit. As the future generation, we have to take charge of the movement.

Multiple organizations are taking a step to raise awareness about climate issues. The Sunrise Movement, Earth Guardians, and Zero Hour are examples of organizations of young people taking a stand for the better. Many Gen Z organizations all over the world are taking action. This goes beyond posting about it on social media. For example, The Green New Deal proposal would play a significant role in reducing the effects of climate change. Many politicians have been trying to push it ahead and need support, which Gen Z can provide. 

Raising awareness and self-educating is one of the first steps we can take as the youth of today. From protests and petitions to putting pressure on the government to take action, Gen Z is ready to fight for their planet’s future. Gen Z has the power to change the fate of our dying planet, and we must take it. If you wish to take action now, some links to websites to visit and petitions to sign are given below:

https://act.nrdc.org/sign/global-climate-action-190906

https://www.sunrisemovement.org

https://www.wwf.org.uk/fight-climate-change

https://instagram.com/ourrevolution?utm_medium=copy_link

This article was written by Rakshitha Raghunandan and Akanksha Pai

Edited by Amirah Khan

Graphics by Rachel

Sources:

https://www.inverse.com/science/ocean-on-fire-pipeline-burst

https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/fire-offshore-pemex-platform-gulf-mexico-under-control-2021-07-02/

https://www.climatechangenews.com/2021/07/07/ocean-fire-exposes-weak-regulation-mexicos-oil-gas-sector/

https://newrepublic.com/article/162909/gulf-pemex-fire-pipeline-community-action

https://screenrant.com/lord-rings-sauron-eye-reason/

https://www.rechargenews.com/transition/greenpeace-slams-mexican-climate-climb-down-under-amlo/2-1-565866

https://futurism.com/oil-company-ocean-fire-history-death-accidents

https://www.ucsusa.org/take-action/climate-accountability

https://www.google.co.in/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/jul/10/100-fossil-fuel-companies-investors-responsible-71-global-emissions-cdp-study-climate-change

https://www.globalwitness.org/en/blog/on-the-climate-crisis-more-of-the-same-wont-work-we-need-a-revolution/

https://www.globalissues.org/article/55/corporations-and-the-environment

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The Danger and Prevalence of Gay Conversion Therapy

Trigger Warning: The following article details gay conversion therapy and may not be suitable for all audiences.

The History of Gay Conversion Therapy

The first documented case of gay conversion therapy, sometimes called “reparative therapy” was in 1899 when a German psychiatrist used electroshock therapy coupled with hypnosis to turn a gay man straight. He believed that through this method he could make gay men have a life-long desire for women. What he didn’t know at the time is that he would cause the first wave in a series of dangerous attempts to change gay men and women into heterosexuals.

Conversion Therapy Today

Today, gay conversion therapy comes in many forms and is approached in numerous different ways, but at the core of gay conversion is the belief that one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression can effectively be changed. Despite popular belief, religious institutions are not the only ones who believe in conversion therapies. According to the Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Mental Health, 3% of youth who underwent conversion therapy received therapy through a healthcare professional, while 5% found help outside of a religious leader.

Conversion therapy methods range from talk-sessions which may contribute homosexuality to a disease or the result of childhood abuse, to aversive conditioning. Aversive conditioning is when an unpleasant stimulus (such as electric shock or physical abuse) is used as punishment to stop undesirable behavior, in this case, homosexuality. There are many other forms of conversion therapies which you can learn more about here.

Source: thetrevorproject.org

What You Need To Know

Since 1973, the American Psychological Association has NOT classified homosexuality as a mental disorder. This declassification has been supported by all other major health professional organizations. The APA has also stated that because homosexuality is not a mental disorder, it cannot be cured nor does it need to be (APA.org).

“No credible evidence exists that any mental health intervention can reliably and safely change sexual orientation; nor, from a mental health perspective does sexual orientation need to be changed.” – The American Psychiatric Association

Infographic by Rakshitha Raghunandan

What can we do to help protect members of the LGBTQ+ and transgender communities?

  1. Educate yourself on LGBTQ+ and transgender vocabulary, issues faced by survivors of conversion therapy, and ways you can aid in putting an end to conversion therapy. Below you can find some resources to get you started on your learning.
  2. Speak up about this issue in your everyday conversations and on social media if you can. Be sure to have all the facts of conversion therapy’s ineffectiveness and dangerous impacts. Ensure you are well researched so you do not contribute to the spread of false information.
  3. Join the Trevor Project’s “50 Bills 50 States” campaign which is the largest campaign in the world which aims to protect LGBTQ+ youth from the dangers of conversion therapy. They work with you to connect with LGBTQ+ equality groups in your area and help you contact state legislators to pass bills that will protect LGBTQ+ youth from conversion therapy. Join here.

Resources to Check Out:

50 Bills 50 States Campaign

2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health

Guide on How to Cover Conversion Therapy in the Media

The Human Rights Committee’s Glossary of LGBTQ+ Terms

U.S. Map of Conversion Therapy Laws

Sources Used in This Article:

https://www.hrc.org/resources/the-lies-and-dangers-of-reparative-therapy

https://www.glaad.org/conversiontherapy?response_type=embed

https://www.thetrevorproject.org/survey-2020/?section=Suicide-Mental-Health

https://www.lgbtmap.org/equality-maps/conversion_therapy

https://www.bbc.com/news/explainers-56496423

https://www.apa.org/about/policy/sexual-orientation

https://www.glaad.org/conversiontherapy

https://www.dropbox.com/s/nw2rfw8g9b81330/Conversion%20therapy%20media%20guide%20final.pdf?dl=0

This article was written and researched by Tiffany Leveille

Graphics made by Rakshitha Raghunandan

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Alone in ‘the Hole’

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, people worldwide have been left with no choice but to take refuge in their homes and self-isolate. For some, this meant months of online school or teleworking- detached from friends, teachers, and co-workers. For others, quarantine meant months without seeing their families. Across the globe, physically isolated from each other, many teens and adults have experienced increased feelings of anxiety and depression. One thing is sure: the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the dangerous impacts of isolation. It has shown us how quickly the world becomes dark when we’re separated from all sources of light: friends, family, and significant others. Separated from the world that sits directly outside your door, depression, and anxiety can easily creep in.  

This is the harsh reality that those living in solitary confinement must face every day.   

If it was hard for you to sit in your house, where you most likely had access to a television, phones, a kitchen, a comfortable bed, and even a backyard, imagine the struggle of sitting inside a box for twenty-two to twenty-four hours a day. You can’t see the people in the box next to you or touch them. The only person you may notice is the prison guard delivering your meals. You may not see the sun for days, potentially longer. Rats, mice, and other varmints crawl across the floor and sometimes over your own body when you sleep. This is life for an estimated 80,000 men, women, and children living in the American prison system. 

The History of Solitary Confinement in America

Solitary confinement in the United States was introduced in the late 1700s by the Quakers as an attempt to improve prison conditions. They inaugurated this experiment in hopes that it would increase the rate of successful rehabilitations. They thought that confining a person in solitude would allow them to break free from the evil environmental influences that caused them to commit their crimes. Of course, this was not the case, and instead, it introduced solitary confinement to a country that would later hold the most inmates in solitary confinement in the world.

Graphics by Rachel H.

The Health Impacts of Solitary Confinement 

Research regarding the long-term health effects of solitary confinement is still ongoing, but numerous studies have found that solitary confinement causes psychological distress.

Mental Health Impacts:

  • Anxiety and depression  
  • Panic attacks  
  • Hypersensitivity to light and sounds 
  • Increased rates of self-harm and suicide  

Physical Health Impacts:  

  • Fatigue  
  • Insomnia 
  • Muscle and joint pain due to inactivity 
  • Vitamin D deficiency due to lack of sunlight 

So, does solitary confinement prevent recidivism?  

If solitary confinement has such drastic adverse health and psychological impacts, is it at least successful? Success is often measured by the former convict’s ability to find and keep a job and not commit the same (or any offense) again. But data from numerous sources illuminate the alarming truth: 

A majority of those released from solitary confinement are reincarcerated.  

According to a PBS article from 2017, 61% of solitary confinement inmates were rearrested, compared to 49% of general population inmates who were rearrested.

A more recent study conducted in 2019 found a shockingly similar result. Of the 229,274 people released from incarceration in North Carolina between 2000 to 2015, those who were placed in solitary confinement were more likely to die within the first year of release from an opioid overdose, suicide, or homicide death. The study concluded that “Restrictive housing is associated with a higher likelihood of reincarceration and all-cause mortality, including deaths related to opioid overdose, suicide, and homicide.” 

These statistics illustrate the ineffectiveness of solitary confinement. The same program that supporters claim “scare” inmates into reform increases their risk of becoming reincarcerated.  

Building solitary confinement units is also two to three times more expensive than building conventional prison cells.  

Why is this?  

Being rereleased into the world comes with many challenges for those who have lived in solitary confinement for years. Some offenders released from solitary have stated they could not recognize people’s faces, while others were frightened by humans. The truth is, solitary confinement makes living anywhere else nearly impossible. After living in a box for years where sunlight, fresh air, and human interaction are nonexistent, convicts lose all ability to function in any other environment.  

Alternatives to Solitary Confinement 

Twenty-nine states have now introduced laws to ban or restrict solitary confinement, while some have reformed the “prison segregation” system. In 2007, in Parchman, Mississippi, state officials reformed their system to allow inmates outside their units a couple of hours a day. Inmates, through rehabilitation programs, were allowed to work their way up to greater privileges, such as using the basketball courts installed for this reform program. The result: out of more than a thousand inmates in solitary units, only 300 remained after the reform. Eventually, so many inmates were removed from solitary confinement units that Unit 32 was officially closed in 2010. This saved the state of Mississippi more than five million dollars.  

Illinois, Maine, and Colorado have also taken action to acquire successful solitary confinement reform. What these states prove is that safety does not have to be compromised in order to reform solitary confinement practices in America and that there are safer, cheaper, more effective alternatives to solitary confinement.

Read more about solitary confinement from Solitary Watch and the ACLU, or check out our sources below and let us know what you think about solitary confinement by filling out the poll below.

Written and researched by Tiffany Leveille

Edited by Amirah Khan


Sources:

Alone, in ‘the hole’

Association of Restrictive Housing During Incarceration With Mortality After Release

Does Solitary Confinement Make Inmates More Likely to Reoffend?

EFFECTS OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT ON THE WELL BEING OF PRISONS INMATES

END THE OVERUSE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT              

How the US Became the World Leader in Solitary Confinement

Prisons Rethink Isolation, Saving Money, Lives and Sanity

STOP SOLITARY – RECENT STATE REFORMS TO LIMIT THE USE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

The Effects of Solitary Confinement on the Brain

The risks of social isolation

What are the effects of solitary confinement on health?