PHOTOGRAPHY & MULTIMEDIA

LOCKED APART: Kiya by Gabriela Bulisova & Mark Isaac

Documentary Photography, Narrative Storytelling, Social Documentary

“Locked Apart: Kiya” is one of a series of stories created by Gabriela Bulisova, Mark Isaac and Michelle Repiso that document the impact of incarceration on families. The full project, titled “Locked Apart: The Impact of Incarceration on Families,” includes video and still photographs of multiple families in Philadelphia, PA and Washington, DC.

It is now well known that the United States imprisons a higher percentage of its population than any other nation, with devastating consequences. However, the impact on children and families deserves significantly more attention. Approximately 10 million children in the U.S. have had a parent incarcerated at some point, and human rights advocates have called parental incarceration "the greatest threat to child well-being in the United States.”

Kiya’s story demonstrates the unintended consequences that can quickly impact children when their parents are incarcerated for long periods of time. Kiya’s father is imprisoned with a lengthy sentence at State Correctional Institute – Graterford, about an hour away from Kiya’s hometown of Philadelphia. Because her mother is unable to care for Kiya, she was placed with a foster family where she was thriving at home and at school. However, when Kiya’s father asked for her to be moved, Kiya was shunted to several different foster care situations, changing families and schools repeatedly. Kiya was able to spend quality time with her father when she participated in the Fathers and Children Together (FACT) program that brings children to SCI-Graterford each week for 8 weeks. However, the only thing certain about Kiya’s future is that she remains separated from her father and mother for the foreseeable future.

According to the Urban Institute, the experience of a parent going to prison will have a “significant impact on the emotional, psychological, developmental, and financial well-being of the child.” Children have difficulty visiting their parents and often lose contact. They drop out of school more frequently and are more likely to be incarcerated than their peers. Black children are 7 times more likely than white children to have an incarcerated parent. Separation due to a parent’s incarceration is often accompanied by stigma, ambiguity, and a lack of compassion and support. In Kiya’s case, her nonchalant attitude toward her repeated moves are likely a coping strategy for dealing with the longtime separation from her family and her unstable living situation.

Locked Apart makes clear that family members – and especially children -- of offenders are among those who are victimized when a crime occurs. Like the voices of crime victims and their families, the voices of offenders’ family members must be heard. This contributes to the hope that victims, offenders, and the community can repair the harm caused by crime and create a peaceful future in which all are contributing members of society.