Today starts the Alabama Families of Prisoners Conference in Birmingham. The two-day event was established to help families who are in need of resources and encouragement now that a family member is incarcerated. Mary Kay Beard is coordinating the conference. She says inmate’s families serve time just as surely as the inmates do.
"But no one tells them what the rules are, and I don't mean specific rules but how to walk through this time of incarceration and we want to provide to them resources that will be helpful."
There are two separate conferences at the same time... one for adults and one just for kids ages six through 15. At the adults conference there will be some 16 workshops for adults ranging from family communication to how to handle hyper-active children. Children will get introduced to a nine week curriculum to help them cope with this trying time. Beard says one of the biggest burdens is that so many people treat the families like they are the criminals that went to prison. She says one story of a mother of three whose husband was convicted and sent to prison illustrates this problem.
"They were in a private Christian school and members of that school board which were also members of the church went to her and asked her to leave and move her children elsewhere because too many families didn't want their children to associate with their children."
Beard says lifting the stigma families feel and experience related to their incarcerated loved one is one of the goals of the conference. The conference at McElwain Baptist Church ends Saturday. More information can be found at Alabama-f-p-c-dot-org.
Transcript of Ryan's talk with Ms. Beard...
(Beard): I can just give you a quick illustration when a young woman whose husband was convicted, sent to prison, she had three children and they were in a private Christian school and members of that school board, which were also members of the church, went to her and asked her to leave and move her children elsewhere because too many families didn’t want their children to associate with her children. Well, she and her children hadn’t done anything, so that’s the kind of situation that many of these families deal with.
(Vasquez): As far as numbers go in the state, if you can kind of illustrate how many people are incarcerated and thus in turn how many people, and families included, would be affected by someone being incarcerated. I guess how deep this issue runs?
(Beard): you figure that over 80 percent of the women that are in prison have dependent children and their children, if not in foster care are being cared for by other family members but because of other family members step up they also many times need to have public assistant and so it affects the entire community.
(Vasquez): In this particular instance, as you get closer to the conferences, this weekend, do you see a lot of people signing up, getting the word out?
(Beard): Yes, we have. That was one of the things we are learning. Families of inmates don’t have computers and we have prepared most of our material for them to register online but we also sent postcards to every angel tree family, 2,000 people in this area. Then we also have posters in the prisons, many of the families learned about the conference by the posters in the prison because the inmate told them, mom you got to go to this conference. Well, they would call, they didn’t have access to a computer, so we realized, uh-oh, we made a mistake were going to have to do hand written registrations, which we’ve been doing and then several have said, I can’t send you a check, can I wait till I get there. So, many of them are going to be walk-ins, we have talked to them but they don’t have a checking account for whatever reason, they will come and we will register them right there.
(Vasquez): That will sort of lead me to my last question, which is, were do you go from the conference. Is there a continuing relationship or at least providing of resources for these families to continue on to help them deal with this process?
(Beard): Yes, this is just the first annual conference and we want to be in touch with these people who have attended and ask them, what was helpful, what did you need and how was this helpful to you and what was not helpful to you and ultimately I hope that there will be a resource center where they will have this experience they can share. Wives visiting husbands in prison learn from each other and if one wife comes to our conference and she goes back to the visiting room, she will tell the others and she said you’re going to have to come and I found out this information and here’s the number you can call to get more information and so that will spread and of course we will also continue to have posters for the prison so they can refer for their family members to our resources.