Tapestry of Faith: Families: A Jr. High School Youth Program that Explores the Diversity, Commonality, and Meaning of Families

Faith In Action: Absent Loved Ones - Long Term

Part of Families

Preparation for Activity

  • For such a complex activity, you will want to solicit help from others in your congregation and/or community. Finding another congregation that is involved in programs pertaining to the penal system would work best. This could be a good place to do interfaith work, so consider congregations of other faiths too. If you have a prison near you, their officials could be a source of suggestions and assistance. You would need to contact prison officials for proper authorization. You might develop the idea of what the Families participants want to do and then have the entire group present the idea to the Social Action Committee and solicit its help. Any activity that you eventually become involved with will need a great deal of supervision. Safety and privacy issues need to be addressed.
  • Another option is to invite a guest speaker to talk about families that have members in prison: the difficulties they face, how they cope, and what we can do to help. Ask the speaker if she/he knows a helpful activity that youth can do during the session.

Description of Activity

There are few difficulties families can experience that are as devastating as having a member imprisoned. It is especially hard when the imprisoned member is a mother, father, or primary caregiver. Providing opportunities to build connections for families that are hurting in such a way could be a rewarding long-term project that would involve both Families participants and others in the congregation and community.

The exact nature of such a project could take many shapes. For instance, families whose mothers are imprisoned could be the focus. In this scenario, the project might be to host holiday celebrations (perhaps ones that are already part of your congregational calendar) and invite families. For example, you might invite families with absent mothers to a small party the week before Mother's Day, at which they can make cards and small gifts for their mothers. At such a party families could make picture frames, without glass, from foam or wooden sticks. The Families participants could then use an instant processing camera to take photos of the children and put the photos in the frames for children to present to their mothers.

Work with others in your congregation or community to design a project that actively engages the program participants and gives them an opportunity to interact with the prisoners' families in a safe way.

If you lack support for such a project, instead consider inviting a guest speaker who could talk to participants about the experiences of families having a head of household in prison. Ask the guest speaker if there is a way the youth could help and, if so, to offer a suggestion during the talk.

After the discussion or event, consider using the following questions to help process the experience:

  • How might having a mother, father, or caregiver in prison affect the life of a family?
  • In what ways might families cope with this difficulty? How can we help?
  • In 2003, the Unitarian Universalist Association voted to choose Prison Reform as a Study/Action Issue. Why do you think prison reform is an issue about which many UUs care?