Novelist Speaks Out for Incarcerated Parent’s Children

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Over 2 million children have parents in prison and jail. Novel gives awareness to teens that they are not alone.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics show that most prisoners are parents (79% of women and two-thirds of men) making the criminal justice system an important contributor to the lives of their families. Most state law offers very little direction on what parenting skills should be provided to these parents.

However, the states that have mandates to provide prison education have had considerable impact. “During the 18 years I taught incarcerated parents, wrote curriculum and text books, and worked with women and men to remain involved in positive ways with their children, I invested energy above and beyond my contract-responsibilities out of concern for my students’ children. They are innocent victims of their parents’ choices. The children broke no laws, yet they are often abused or shunned in their communities, schools, and sometimes in their own extended families,” explains Jan Walker, prison parent/family educator and author of recently published book “An Inmate’s Daughter.” (ISBN 0971416192, Raven Publishing, March 2006)

“An Inmate’s Daughter” is a fictional account of the reality faced by over two million children with a parent in prison or jail. The children need to know their parents’ choices are not their fault, their parents still love them (this is questioned in cases of child abuse; therefore, individual situations must be considered), and they can make healthier choices themselves. The children need permission to love the adults who are caring form them, to talk about their worries and concerns, to go on with their lives while their parents are away, and to find strength to ignore meanness in others. They need teachers in their schools who help all the students understand some of the realities of incarceration.

In “An Inmate’s Daughter” the protagonist, Jenna MacDonald and her mother and younger brother, have moved into Jenna’s grandparents home in Tacoma, WA, to be near McNeil Island Corrections Center, the prison where her father was transferred to. Jenna is the new girl in a middle grade school, and wants to get into the “in group,” a multi-racial group of girls.

The girls are curious about her heritage (she’s part Native American Indian) and the reason she lives with her grandparents. They follow her home from school and peek in her bedroom window. She dubs them The Snoops.

Jenna’s mother enforces a “Don’t Tell” rule about prison. Jenna loves her dad and would like to talk about him and his artistic talent. Keeping a secret is difficult in the best of circumstances. It gets even harder when Jenna calls attention to herself and the family when they are visiting McNeil Island. A small child trips and falls into Puget Sound and Jenna jumps in, an automatic reaction, to rescue her.

Secrets are destructive to all. When incarcerated parents keep the truth of prison from their children, they close all doors to communication. When children are forced to keep a secret, it festers inside. “When children are not told the truth, they make up stories that they believe are the truth and substitute them. I use that analogy in ‘An Inmate’s Daughter’ with Zeke, Jenna’s younger brother, picking up on a comment from Grandpa who says, “Peel off the scab, let out the pus,” and Zeke answers, “Pussss. Oooooze,” in typical 9 year old fashion,” clarifies Walker.

Jan Walker lives in Gig Harbor, WA, where she is dedicated to fostering literacy and writing craft for youth and adults. “An Inmate’s Daughter” may be purchased through, or any online or local bookstore.


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Irene Watson