Ashley* shares her story as part of the release of a new KIDS COUNT® policy report, A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families and Communities. She is one of 135,000 Kentucky children who has had a parent incarcerated, according to data collected in 2011/2012.
When I was 12, I discovered that my mom was addicted to drugs. It was hard for us from then on.
As her drug addiction worsened, my mother, brother, sister, and I started staying at other peoples homes, especially when she started going to jail. We couldn’t afford beds to sleep on or food to eat, let alone our own home. We typically slept on the floor in the living room, unless mom was in jail, then one of us got to sleep on the recliner.
We couldn’t afford to do laundry with a washer and dryer, so we did our laundry in the sink and hung it up to dry. It was embarrassing having to go to school with stiff clothes that smelled of dirt and Ajax dish soap.
For me, learning wasn’t my main focus in middle school; making sure that my brother, sister, and I looked normal was more important. Of course while my mom was in jail we had no money, and how were these three kids going to eat? The people my mom had us stay with had the same habit as her and no children to support. We weren’t their concern. We were hungry and had nowhere to go for food. So we started going to the church next door to eat; and on days when there was no food to be served, we would sneak into the kitchen and stole food; and on days when the church wasn’t open, we broke in anyways and stole food.
It was hard, focusing on school was nowhere near our top priority. Surviving was.
My mom’s continued visits to jail were no longer a shock to us, but part of our routine. It got to the point where her not being there was fine, because when my brother and sister needed something they didn’t go to mommy anymore; they went to me. At 13 years old, I had the responsibility of caring for two kids. This continued for some time before my mammaw intervened.
I’m 16 now and we all live with my mammaw, she is the only support this family of four has in every way: financially, emotionally, etc.. We still fight with my mom about the wrongs she has done and the wrong she is still doing. She is still repeatedly in and out of jail.
This is not a rare case for many children in Kentucky. It is a serious issue that not only affects the child’s home life, but their education and the child as a whole.
For me, my past has motivated me to not live this way, and to not let my children suffer like my siblings and I have. I want to be a successful person with her life together in a nice home, able to support and love my children, knowing they won’t have to worry about the same things I did when I was a child.
Although there are many who also have incarcerated parents in their life and have went through or are going through the same things that I have, a lot of today’s youth don’t have the same motivation to reach for – and achieve success. I would be the same way if I didn’t have teachers who saw the potential in me and saw how great I could become. They gave me the love and support I needed when nobody else did. And, thanks to them, I can proudly say that when I graduate high school I will be the first person in my family to go to college (my next step to becoming a successful adult).
I would say that the support I got from my teachers and counselors while in high school made me who I am today, and the key to future success of the youth of Kentucky is based upon the love and support they get not only from home, but their community, too.
Ashley is high school student from a small town in rural Kentucky.
*Name changed to protect confidentiality.