When a parent winds up behind bars, the children suffer the stigma of that incarceration. That was the message from Project Avary attending San Quentin’s 2nd Annual “March for the Next Generation.”
The Sept. 8 march brought together prisoners and young adults, who have been affected by having an incarcerated parent. Project Avary (Alternative Ventures for At-risk Youths) teamed up with San Quentin’s Kid CAT (Creating Awareness Together) youth offender program in organizing the march.
“Growing up, the family tells you not to talk about your parent being in prison. You are taught to hide your emotions,” said Eric Erhart, Project Avary alumnus and program coordinator. “Project Avary let me get things off my chest. They made me realize it was OK to express my emotions.”
Project Avary board members, friends, families and San Quentin volunteers also participated in the march.
“I came to meet the incarcerated parents on a personal level and not just the labels,” said Dawn Grzena, Avary board member. “We are all in this for the kids. The kids are the future, but they get dumped on and become that invisible group. They are good kids. They deserve a chance.”
The march fundraising effort collected more than a $1,000 in donations from within the prison.
This was in addition to the $9,000 in outside donations.
Project Avary provides youngsters between the ages of 8 and 11 a long-term 10-year commitment to support them in their lives. The youth participate in annual camping trips and weekly activities.
“I was five years old when my parents broke the news that my father was in prison,” said Monica Garcia, daughter of Nicholas Garcia, who paroled from San Quentin. “I thought if people thought my father was bad—then I’m bad.
“Project Avary is where kids can be kids with people they can relate to. I was still a daughter of an incarcerated parent until two years ago,” added Monica. (Her father spent 40 years in prison before his parole.) “Give your kids the power not to be incarcerated by your incarceration,” she said.
The march included more than a walk. It featured speakers, spoken-word recitals and musical acts. Program coordinator Erhart and Avary participant Allison, 18, read poems reflecting their thoughts and feelings about dealing with a jailed parent.
“Moving from house to house because there is no father to support our family/ having dinner without him/celebrating birthdays without him/him not being there to watch us graduate/there is all this stuff that was not easy for me as a child of an incarcerated parent,” read Allison to the large crowd.
“At Project Avary you have something [more] in common with the kids than you have at school,” said Allison. “There you don’t face the judgment. You get to open up and see that people care. There we formed a family.”
Erhart performed his poem “Incarcerated” with passion and drama.
“I have been incarcerated internally/ immensely infected by society incompetence to identify the issue/ the nation has negated my need for nourishment/ denying me — necessary nurturing by imprisoning my nurturer,” read Erhart. “Remember the reality is those reprimanded are not only the rule breakers/but the respective relatives whose lives are now regulated.”
Prisoners Jason Jones and Eric (Maserati-E) Abercrombie performed “Statistics” a hip-hop song about the increasing incarceration numbers. “We got to bring the numbers down,” yelled Jones.
Kid CAT member Nahzee Flowers spoke about having both his parents incarcerated, which sent him through the child-care system.
“I was adopted into a good home,” said Flowers. “But I still felt like if my parents didn’t love me, I couldn’t be loved. Then I gravitated toward the streets.”
Avary’s Dr. Mimi Pepitone, added “I had a nephew murdered as a teenager. We were so busy going to work and school that we weren’t paying attention to the kids around us. We started investigating and found that most kids had incarcerated parents. They didn’t feel love, and they didn’t see a future.
“So what we do is bring them a future within our program,” said Pepitone.
The event concluded with words of bonding, shared among the crowd.
The attendees formed a large circle around the yard, held hands, and on the count of three they lifted their hands in the air, and, in unison, yelled “Family!”