In 2008, U.S. District Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore (pictured) asked a classroom of 50 girls in Houston whether any of them had a parent in prison. Every one raised her hand.
“70 percent of children who have incarcerated parents are later incarcerated themselves, says Gilmore. “They see that as their path.” As a judge, she had seen first-hand how incarceration and its collateral damage tears families apart.
Judge Gilmore and her friend, psychiatrist Dr. Janice M. Beal, realized there was not a tool to help these children through their feelings of isolation, anger, fear, sadness, and guilt. These children are often under the burden of keeping a family secret, when in fact they should be talking about their feelings. So Gilmore and Beal self-published a coloring book, “A Boy Named Rocky,” as a therapeutic resource for schools and counselors to help realize they’re not alone or to blame for their situation.
The book tells the story of Rocky, whose mother is in jail, how this affects him, and how he finds help. The last page of the book is a form letter than kids can fill out and send to parents in jail to express their feelings. Parents are asked to write back and accept responsibility for their actions.
Gilmore and Beal have distributed more than 7,500 copies of the book, which are used by every Big Brothers Big Sisters program in Texas and many schools, churches, and prisons.
For children, just talking about their situation is a huge relief. “When they hear the story, a lot of kids say, ‘This is my story! This is my story! Nobody’s ever told my story before,’” says Gilmore. “They’re happy to know they’re not the only ones dealing with an issue like this.”
Judge Gilmore related the story of a respected deacon at her church who came up to her, crying, after a reading of the coloring book. “He told me the book dredged up feelings he hadn’t had in 50 years,” she said. “His father was in prison when he was a child and it was only his mother’s grit and determination that kept him out of trouble himself."
In addition to a sequel to “A Boy Named Rocky,” Judge Gilmore is working on three books about adoption, inspired by her own adoption of a son.
For more on the book, visit www.4theloveofkids.com
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