Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services

CNE Article 

Youth Experiences of Parent Incarceration: Doing Time From Both Sides

Marcianna Nosek, PhD, MPH, CNM, CNL; Jessica Arteaga Stillman, MPH; Zachary Whelan, BA


In 2015–2016, an estimated 6 million children in the United States had at least one parent incarcerated. Children of incarcerated parents experience physical, mental, social, and economic consequences, including migraines, asthma, depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, school dropout, and homelessness. The purpose of the current phenomenological study was to gain an in-depth understanding of the experiences of youth who have or have had an incarcerated parent. Narratives were gathered from a sample of 15 individuals ages 13 to 19 attending a 1-year long workshop entitled Peace Makers. The rich text revealed shared experiences of disrupted homes, unfulfilled visits and promises, and social isolation captured by the following themes: At Home No More; “To Feel HerKiss Her Cheek”; “Waiting at the Door”; and “Trapped in an Isolation Box.” Care providers must develop an empathic understanding of affected youth to facilitate healing, restore dignity, and advocate for their rights. [Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, 57(6), 22–29.]


In 2015–2016, an estimated 6 million children in the United States had at least one parent incarcerated. Children of incarcerated parents experience physical, mental, social, and economic consequences, including migraines, asthma, depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, school dropout, and homelessness. The purpose of the current phenomenological study was to gain an in-depth understanding of the experiences of youth who have or have had an incarcerated parent. Narratives were gathered from a sample of 15 individuals ages 13 to 19 attending a 1-year long workshop entitled Peace Makers. The rich text revealed shared experiences of disrupted homes, unfulfilled visits and promises, and social isolation captured by the following themes: At Home No More; “To Feel HerKiss Her Cheek”; “Waiting at the Door”; and “Trapped in an Isolation Box.” Care providers must develop an empathic understanding of affected youth to facilitate healing, restore dignity, and advocate for their rights. [Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, 57(6), 22–29.]

In December 2015, an estimated 1,526,800 individuals were incarcerated in state and federal prisons in the United States (Carson & Anderson, 2016). Nationally, female prisoners accounted for more than 7% of the total prison population, comprising 111,495 inmates at year-end (Carson & Anderson, 2016). Historically, children of imprisoned parents have rarely been considered in the discussion of incarceration; however, focus on their concerns has been increasing. In 2015–2016, an estimated 6 million children (8% of all total) in the United States had at least one parent incarcerated in either jail or prison at some point in their lifetime, a number potentially underestimated (The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2017). In a special study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2007 involving interviews of prisoners, researchers found that more than one half of state and federal inmates (52% and 63%, respectively) reported having an estimated 1,706,600 minor children (Glaze & Maruschak, 2010). Most incarcerated parents are fathers; however, with the increase of female prisoners, more children are experiencing their mothers in prison. This absence leads to even more hardship for a child, as most often mothers are the primary caregiver in a child's life (Murphey & Cooper, 2015).

Imprisonment not only poses unique challenges to the immediate and extended family but also to specific communities, as ethnic minority populations are more likely to be affected. Compared to White children, Black and Latino children are more than seven and two times likely, respectively, to have a parent incarcerated (The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2016). In addition, being poor, living in a rural area, or having a parent with a high school education or less increases the risk of having an incarcerated parent (Murphey & Cooper, 2015).

A child with an incarcerated parent experiences a range of physical and mental childhood issues such as migraines, asthma, depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and an increased risk of poor physical and mental health and economic hardship later in life (Morsey & Rothstein, 2016; Murray, Farrington, & Sekol, 2012; Pew Charitable Trusts, 2010). A parent's incarceration may also contribute to delinquent behaviors, substance use, homelessness, and increased problems in school, including dropout (Morsey & Rothstein, 2016; Murray et al., 2012). The confounding effects of poverty and exposure to difficult home situations (e.g., crime, domestic violence, substance use) prior to a parent's incarceration have made it challenging for researchers to determine specific effects of incarceration on youth. However, Murphey and Cooper (2015) found added risk with a parent's incarceration even after controlling for other adverse childhood events (ACEs). On average, an additional 1.2, 1.4, and 1.7 more ACEs were found in children younger than 6, 6 to 11, and 12 to 17 years old, respectively, among those who had experienced parental incarceration when compared to children who had not experienced this situation (Murphey & Cooper, 2015).

A child's situation before and after a parent's incarceration (e.g., the quality of parental contact before incarceration, treatment under surrogate caregivers, challenging visiting experiences) account for some of the variation in the experience of trauma (Arditti, 2012). Regarding contact between a child and an incarcerated parent, Glaze and Maruschak (2010) reported that 70% of incarcerated parents had regular mail contact, 53% had spoken over the phone, and 42% had a visit since admission. In-person visits are often stressful, brief, and conducted through glass barriers (Arditti & Few, 2008). Unfortunately, parent–child relationships are not only strained while the parent is imprisoned, but also after release, and due to high rates of recidivism and divorce among prisoners, challenges are often ongoing and spread over long periods of time (Pew Charitable Trusts, 2010).

Incarceration of a parent may also lead to stigmatization in children, which results in silencing and decreased likelihood in seeking counseling services (Dallaire, Ciccone, & Wilson, 2010). Teachers, counselors, and school nurses are often unaware of children's experiences of parental incarceration or uncertain how to approach the situation if the status is known. In a blinded control study, Dallaire et al. (2010) discovered that teachers were more likely to believe a child was incompetent if a parent, and in particular a mother, was incarcerated.

The effects of parent incarceration on children have been examined via various lenses. Yocum and Nath (2011) used grounded theory to analyze mothers' and children's experiences of spouses/fathers' re-entry to society and found desire for fathers to be involved with their children, albeit mixed with a lack of confidence in their ability to meet expectations. A mixed method study of an extended visit program with incarcerated mothers reported that most children and mothers were “extremely satisfied” with extended visits and caregivers shared that the program “…[helped] children know mom is in [their] life” (Schubert, Duininck, & Shlafer, 2016, p. 224). Nesmith and Ruhland (2008) conducted a qualitative study aimed to gain children's perspectives on their parents' current incarceration. The responses yielded five predominant themes ranging from social challenges to resiliency. The researchers added valuable understanding of youths' experiences of parents' incarceration; however, the analysis lacked an existential philosophical interpretation that the current study aimed to capture. Therefore, the purpose of the current phenomenological study was to gain an in-depth, existential understanding of the lived experiences of youth who currently have (or have had in the past) a parent who is (or was) incarcerated and to convey the findings not simply as descriptive structures but to elicit an empathic, embodied understanding of the phenomenon under inquiry (Galvin & Todres, 2013).


Study Design

The current study used an interpretive phenomenological design (Benner, 1994; Heidegger, 1962). Interpretive methods to conduct phenomenological research were introduced by continental philosopher, Martin Heidegger (1962), who stressed that the ontological existence of the social, cultural, and historical backdrop of humans is integral to “Being” and cannot be stripped away from experience. Narrative text, the data of qualitative research, captures this rich context of individuals' lives as well as what is important to the person as a self-interpretive being who experiences the phenomenon in question (Heidegger, 1962). The telling of the story itself is an attempt for one to make sense of one's experience and is an ethical method to give voice to those who may not necessarily be heard (Lawler, 2002). Interpretive phenomenologists ascribe to the idea that “interpretation involves the interpreter and the interpreted in a dialogical relationship” (Benner, 1994, p. 71). The researcher enters the hermeneutic circle by reflecting on his/her previous “forestructure” of understanding of the phenomenon while creating new understanding informed by participants' experiences (Benner, 1994; Heidegger, 1962).

Sample Recruitment

The current study comprised a convenience sample of youth attending an ongoing workshop entitled Peace Makers, which spans over 1 school year. Peace Makers is run by the nonprofit organization, Project Avary, a year-round program in Northern California addressing the needs of children of incarcerated parents (Project Avary, n.d.). Project Avary intervenes in the lives of children ages 8 to 11 and makes a long-term 10-year commitment to each child. Enrichment outings, a residential summer learning camp, mentoring, case management, family camp, and caregiver support groups offer a comprehensive program that creates community, provides healing, and builds critical life and resiliency skills (Project Avary, n.d.). The Peace Maker project aims to empower teens through self-understanding of the emotional impact of parental incarceration, writing of personal narratives, and leadership activities, such as civic participation geared toward effecting change in the criminal justice system.

Data Collection

During the Peace Maker workshops, youth participated in exercises aimed to elicit healing through the sharing of their experiences of their parents' incarceration. Various methods were used such as the writing of their story using a sheet of paper with prompt questions and assistance provided by writing coaches (Table 1). In addition, a former incarcerated adult facilitated an exercise titled Sitting in the Fire, which intended to demonstrate how early traumatic experiences may manifest in a thread of consequences throughout one's life (Table 2). Youth were guided to recall an incident in their lives and to include their age at the time, the players involved, and their emotional and physical reactions to the incident. Both activities—the writing of their story and sitting in the fire—afforded rich descriptive narratives of youths' experiences of having an incarcerated parent and were the narrative sources for the current analysis.

Prompts for Telling of Your Story Written Exercise

Table 1:

Prompts for Telling of Your Story Written Exercise

Prompts for Sitting in the Fire Exercise

Table 2:

Prompts for Sitting in the Fire Exercise


Analysis of text began with the typing and retranscription of youths' written stories and the completed Sitting-in-the-Fire sheets by the co-principal investigator (J.A.S.). Narratives were read slowly and methodically, reflecting a “sensitive interpretation” while notes were made regarding the salient meanings that surfaced within and across narratives (Benner, 1994; van Manen, 1990; van Manen, 2006, p. 719). Reading each participant's stories while taking notes and re-reading again after completing all participants' narratives allowed for a circular interpretation reflective of Heidegger's hermeneutic method (Benner, 1994). These new interpretations and rich descriptions of participants' narratives were written under thematic headings, weaving together structural and textual meanings (van Manen, 1990). Most theme titles were words or phrases written by youth. All members of the research team read the texts and gave input on the interpretation and identification of themes.

Protection of Human Subjects

Prior approval from the University of San Francisco Institutional Review Board was acquired. In addition to the routine consent obtained for participating in Peace Makers, parents of minor youths completed written informed consents for their children to participate in the study, and youth completed written assents. Consents in Spanish were used as needed, and pseudonyms were used to maintain confidentiality. Data were held secure in a computer under locked password.



The sample included 15 youth ages 13 to 18, of whom six were boys. Many had participated in Peace Makers at least once before, and all participants had been participating in Project Avary's other activities, with some for as long as 9 years.

Thematic Analyses

Multiple readings of the text revealed shared experiences captured by the following themes: At Home No More; “To Feel HerKiss Her Cheek”; “Waiting at the Door”; and “Trapped in an Isolation Box.”

At Home No More. What was once familiar in youths' lives soon resulted in a traumatic disruption of any previous sense of at home—at home in the familiar world of a parent present, and at home in the actual physical space, as many were placed in new living arrangements with aunts, uncles, grandparents, or foster families. The starting point of many youths' stories was an entwined child–parent coexistence that often ended abruptly. Robert, 15, tells of the moment of this rupture: “I was 10 years old when my father was arrested. The day he was taken away, I remember in the morning my dad and I had a great time. Then later that day he was being handcuffed and taken away.” Tension can be sensed in the opposing realities in those few words. In the morning—close, familiar, joyful, and secure; in the afternoon—separation and uncertainty. The image of handcuffs that remained in Robert's mind elicits a sense of powerlessness.

From this departure, many youths' stories demonstrated accounts of moving; longing; waiting; visiting; fighting; and being judged, bullied, and stripped of dignity, as if they were also imprisoned by their own parents' imprisonment, parent and child alike “doing time.” Some participants told of an eventual reunification with their parents; most, however, are still seeking other ways to restore what was permanently lost.

“To Feel HerTo Kiss Her Cheek.” Many youth shared experiences around visiting their incarcerated parents. They either longed to visit them but could not or had frustrating, incomplete, tense, or disrupted interactions when they were able to visit. Some recalled the frightening unfamiliarity of the surroundings, as Maria, 14, described: “In first or second grade, I went to go visit my dad in jail. We waited for hours to go visit. I was standoffish when I met him. He kind of scared me. The other people on the other side of the glass were scary.” Instead of the closeness that comes from the comfort of a familiar parent, Maria's father had become the other person on the other side of the glass, a foreign entity dressed in strange clothing among other similar strangers.

Although some participants had been able to visit their parents, many shared a deep sadness for not having had that opportunity. And for those who could visit, the glaring presence of the glass wall separating them from their parents prevented the tactile fulfillment of touch they craved. Policies are slow to change but are beginning to take into consideration the needs of families, as one boy, Eric, 14, shared about visiting his father: “Eventually, I went more and more and got used to it. I was part of a program with his social worker, where I got to touch him and play games and stuff.” Apart from Eric's excitement to be granted the childhood pleasure of playing games with his father, he exalts his chance to engage in physical contact with him. This was not the experience for many others.

Omar, now 15, reflected on his mother's incarceration when he was 3, stating he “knew what was going on” and spoke of how initially he was not allowed to see her. Eventually he was allowed but relayed: “…they made sure I couldn't touch her or give her a kiss on the cheek. I could talk to her but couldn't touch her.” Omar distinguishes between talking and touching, knowing that exchanging words can never replace what is achieved through a loving touch or kiss between a young child and his mother.

Marcus, 16, demonstrated the validating dynamic of touch. He wrote of his longing to visit his incarcerated mother when he was 4 years old: “[I] visited mom at jail and couldn't show affection without phone attached to wall, talking behind glass. [I felt] sad that I couldn't feel my mom and I missed her so much.” Unlike the others who spoke more of touching their loved ones, Marcus captures a nuance between touching and feeling.

“Waiting at the Door.” Incarceration is not one moment in time, even if it is a one-time imprisonment. And for some, incarceration happened over and over due to the high rates of recidivism. Moreover, a parent being out of jail does not necessarily mean he or she is in the child's life. Participants spoke of a waiting for or a promise of either a visit, return, or birthday card or gift, something they could grasp of that former relationship. Many spoke of, or indicated, a promise to be cared for, loved, kept safe; to share special occasions; or to have received something that would extend to them a feeling of connection with their generally absent parent. Lisa, now 19, wrote about how she never spent a birthday or holiday with her dad as he was “in and out and missing” most of her life. She also shared: “…When I was 7 or 8, I realized all the things he was doing and I was confused about why he wasn't there and didn't keep promises.” Anthony, 16, also spoke of his father's unkept promises:

My dad has never really been there for me my entire life…. He's never called me or sent me a birthday card on my birthday. [One] Christmas…when I was 5 years old, people were saying he's going to show up. He doesn't. No explanation.

There is a harsh temporality of Anthony's repetitive experiences of his father never really being there for him, which fades into the past as he grasps for understanding and there is none.

Marcus, 14, shared similar stories of unkept promises. His father's incarceration was reported more as “not having any positive role model” as opposed to his mom, who was, in his words, “a different story.” He continued:

With her it was more about my lack of trust with her from all those failed promises and lies that kept me waiting at the door for her arrival only to fall asleep disappointed…. As a child, there were parental activities that included parents. I would try my hardest to get hold of my mom in order to participate. Of course, she would promise to show up, only to keep me waiting, waiting, and waiting until I would fall asleep. This grew into a strong mistrust. To this day I feel like nothing is written in stone and can always switch up on you.

Marcus was bound by the timelessness of that waiting as if having been trapped by the vacant and unfulfilled promises. He described one incident but inferred the unceasing repetitiveness of it. Even though he was let down repeatedly, he remained by the door, uncertain whether it would be opened by a fulfilled promise or closed yet again. The only reprieve from this uncertainty was to surrender and recoil into the unconscious of sleep, defeated.

“Trapped in an Isolation Box.” From an early age, participants' identities were wounded by others' rejections and emblazoned by social and cultural standards that precluded a shared common bond. The inability for others to open up to youths' painful experiences resulted in harsh judgments, not for something the youth did or did not do, but for the mere status of their imprisoned or absent parent. Some experienced this as blatant rejection and ridicule and some through the fear of vulnerability, so they kept their story in silence, such as Maria, 14: “My auntie doesn't like to talk about my mom's incarceration. She asked me to keep it a secret.” Or Selone, 13: “I needed to hide that my dad was incarcerated. I went to school with White people and thought they wouldn't understand.” Their experiences were more of an internalized shame and fear of what may happen if others knew, but for others it resulted in more of an actualized pushing away, isolating themselves from others, or even a sense of blame.

Sarah, 19, shared what her grandmother would say to her: “‘Your mom doesn't care about you, cause if she did, she wouldn't have gotten into trouble.’” Sarah is blamed for her mother's incarceration and told she is unloved. Outer voice becomes inner voice feeding self-doubt. Sarah continued: “When I was in third grade, at school, teacher told me I'm going to turn out like my dad. [I felt] a little bit of fear because I thought to myself what if she is right and I'm wrong?” This fear of “turning out” like their parents was common among participants and often reinforced by family members, teachers, and peers.

Youths' self-dignity was challenged, and they sought hard to restore it. Omar, 16, was hopeful, yet still uncertain of this restoration. He wrote a rap song about this:

Teacher and principals, always labeling me as my father. Asking me, if I was gonna follow in the footsteps and turn out to be like him. As I'm looking into the mirror, I see a young man that looks like his old man. I wonder, is my teachers right or will I prove them wrong? Will I end up behind bars like my dad, or will I follow my path and be the man that I want to be for my family?

This rap captures the struggle of a young man who is caught between the inner conviction to be his own person, and others' assumptions of the person he will become. There is a determination to succeed, yet he knows it is an upward battle full of uncertainty.

Eric, now 14, also wrote about how it feels to be judged by others, and, like Omar, of a will to defeat, however lonely the journey may be. He shared:

Some people think because my dad is in prison I will end up in the same place. No matter how hard I try I will always have a bullseye on my back. It makes me feel like I'm paralyzed to make my own mark. It's like being trapped in an isolation box…I started closing out people. [I thought] no one likes me, and people were thinking of me as a mess up. [I did] anything to prove everybody wrong.

Eric's desperation is felt in these powerful images. He is unable to escape others' gazes and prejudgments; yet outside perceptions of him were not what he saw or believed of himself. This disconnect drew him into a safe, melancholic space where he alone could find comfort in his solace. He was driven, however, that his future, against the backdrop of his father's past and the prophesy of others, was to be different.


The narratives above describe youths' experiences of their parents' incarceration in a tangible evocative manner and portray the contextual threads of hardship in their lives. Their words demonstrated their lived experiences of being torn from the familiarity of home life before a parent's imprisonment, the ongoing struggles to maintain a sense of closeness through strained visiting restrictions, prevailing absence even after release, and the tireless efforts to be their own persons while being boxed in and stigmatized by their parents' aberrance. Discussion of each theme follows.


Being separated from a parent, whether a mother or father, causes a cascade of consequences due to the nature of the primal relationship between a parent and child. When examined through a humanistic, existentialist lens, this primary relationship carries much weight. Simms (2014) wrote of what may occur when a child is separated from her mother (intimate-other/caregiver): “The unresponsive or absent adult threaten an infant's [child's] self-worth and identity as well as his or her openness and capacity to perceive and venture in the human world with confidence and curiosity” (p. 86). Youth in the current study described their early separation from their parents, whether mothers or fathers, and the resultant struggles with identity may have precluded their own transcendence into a flourishing and confident human open to the unfolding world. This was evident in the stories of isolation.

When considering the transcendent power of touch, Merleau-Ponty (1968) speaks of an ambiguity of the body when two hands are touching, one that is at once sentient (active—the touching body) and sensible (passive—the touched body), and that these are essentially inseparable, intertwined phenomena. When Omar used the word “feel,” he captured the chiasmic (intersubjective) entwinement as touching (sentient) and feeling (sensible), craving to feel that interconnected aliveness of his mother. Citing Krueger (1989), Maclaren (2014) posited: “Touch can draw one into parts of one's body, transforming them into active, charged incarnations of oneself rather than obscure, alien zones of non-being” (p. 99). Devoid of being able to touch/feel a parent, these youth were likely yearning for this affirmation in their world laden with doubt, confusion, and uncertainty.

Previous research supports the findings in the current study regarding hardship caused by restrictive visiting privileges that can leave children overwhelmed and retraumatized (Arditti & Few, 2008; Shlafer & Poehlmannb, 2010), and some institutions have piloted enhanced visiting programs that increase the time together as well as remove barriers to physical contact (Schubert et al., 2016). However, institutions are slow to adopt innovative and compassionate measures despite efforts to effect change in policies that harm the parent/child relationship.


As a child establishes his/her first relationship with an intimate other such as a parent, an ambiguous and underlying promise to be cared for exists. Arendt (2002) saw a promise as an anchor upon which to hold. Because all promises have the potential to be broken at any time, Arendt (2002) believed that forgiveness is essential. The repetitive nature reflected in the words “would keep me waiting” could indicate cycles of implicit forgiveness, which may be necessary to open up again and again to the possibility of a future “kept” promise. Johnson and Easterling (2015) reported that many of their participants also spoke of un-kept promises. One participant shared a reluctance to believe her father's promises to spend more time with her while at the same time, “[wishing] they could be real” (p. 73). This wishing kept her open to a future of a possible kept promise, a similar hope found in youth of the current study.


During the crucial time when youths' developmental task is to create close and affirming relationships with peers, youths in the current study experienced judgment and isolation. Experiences of secrecy, isolation, and stigma are commonly reported (Arditti, 2012; Dawson, Jackson, & Nyamathi, 2012; Nesmith & Ruhland, 2008; Shlafer & Poehlmannb, 2010). Almost feudal, these children carry the shameful burden of their parents' deeds. Goffman (1963) described a stigmatized identity as lodged in the discrepancy between normative social expectations and actual identity, where these expectations cannot be met and the individual is “reduced in our minds from a whole and usual person to a tainted and discredited one” (p. 3). However, what is reaffirming in the youths' narratives is the will to regain dignity and carve their own paths. Galvin and Todres (2014) wrote: “Dignity is the affirmation of something valuable in oneself or another as an inheritor of Being” (p. 411). Youths described a rupture of their dignity when important others—friends, family, and teachers—devalued them simply for being children of incarcerated parents. Although their resistance to this devaluation is palpable, their vulnerability is equally as salient as portrayed in Omar's questioning in the mirror, or Eric feeling targeted as a bullseye.

What is of grave concern regarding a life lived outside of others is that life can become a bodily comportment to the world, what Merleau-Ponty (1968) calls the “habit-body” (p. 82). This isolation may become a youth's historically significant narrative as he or she moves forward into future interactions with the world. Being with others is experienced as fun, interactive, coexisting, and self-affirming for many youth untainted by this hardship; however, for many youth in the current study, it remains an isolating, closed, suspicious experience. The risk is what may evolve from this lack of shared purpose with close others, as resiliency is believed to be built on the foundation of friendship with mentors and peers (Laakso & Nygaard, 2012).

Nursing Implications and Future Directions

Nurses working with youth in the community will inevitably be confronted by issues that surface in those whose parents have been or are currently incarcerated, and nurses should work toward promoting and developing programs that foster youths' mental and emotional well-being. Although some states, such as California, have passed prison reform legislation (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, n.d.) that may lead to earlier release of thousands of prisoners, with the current White House administration continuing the privatization of prisons (Wheeler, 2017), it is unlikely that this social problem will subside. Nurses can advocate for cities and counties to adopt bill of rights that protect children of incarcerated individuals (San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership, n.d.). Moreover, nurses, along with teachers, social workers, and school counselors, need to not only be made aware of the depth and breadth of issues these youths experience daily, but also to develop the empathy to care for them sensitively and effectively.


Youths of incarcerated parents struggle with the trauma of not only losing a parent, but also the ongoing temporal, spatial, and relational challenges of loss of home, unfulfilled contact, unkept promises, and the stigma and isolation that accompany the social aberrance of incarceration. The stories revealed herein portray human suffering in a tangible, empathic, and existential manner that reaches into the meaningful core of youths' shared experiences while allowing for the contextual nuances of their situated lives to come alive.


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Prompts for Telling of Your Story Written Exercise

PromptExample Given
1. Explain your story as if you were making a movie.None
2. Introduce yourself: In your introduction include when you became a child of incarcerated parents.My name is Jessica. I was 9 years old when both my parents were sent to prison.
3. What happened?At the age of 9 years old, I was sent to live with my grandmothers. I moved from Lake County to South San Francisco.
4. Describe how you felt when you found out that your parent was incarcerated.I felt like I was the only kid in my school who had parents in prison.
5. How has having a loved one in prison or jail impacted you? Which Right did you not receive? Look at your Sitting in the Fire worksheet.None

Prompts for Sitting in the Fire Exercise

1. Describe the event.When? Where? What happened?
2. Describe emotional feelings.I felt…
3. Describe physical signs.My body…
4. Describe mental signs.I thought…
5. Actions.Because I never received this Right, I did…

Dr. Nosek is Associate Professor, School of Nursing and Health Professions, University of San Francisco, San Francisco; Ms. Stillman is Intervention Manager, Verity Sonoma County Rape Crisis, Trauma & Healing Center, Santa Rosa; and Mr. Whelan is Executive Director, Project Avary, San Rafael, California.

The authors have disclosed no potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.

The authors acknowledge the University of San Francisco School of Nursing and Health Professions Faculty Development Funds and the youth who shared their heartfelt stories of their parents' incarceration.

Address correspondence to Marcianna Nosek, PhD, MPH, CNM, CNL, Associate Professor, School of Nursing and Health Professions, University of San Francisco, 2130 Fulton Street, San Francisco, CA 94117; e-mail:

Received: September 09, 2018
Accepted: October 15, 2018
Posted Online: January 03, 2019


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