From the series "LOCKED APART: The Koger-Harris Family"
“Locked Apart: The Koger-Harris Family” 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.”
The Koger-Harris Family, living just outside the nation’s capital, has ample experience with this negative impact. William Koger, the father, lives with his mother, Sandra Koger, and three boys – Isaiah, Demetri, and Deshawn. But it is the absence of the mother, Sherrie Harris, who has been imprisoned at Hazelton Penitentiary, in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia since 2006, which looms over the household. William took on the unexpected role of primary caregiver to the children, but he has been in and out of jobs and in and out of prison. After being injured in a car accident, he is unemployed and often in pain. Sandra, the grandmother, also provides extensive care of the three boys, but the family is stretched financially and often unable to afford food or medicine. The children are emotionally scarred by their mother’s absence and sometimes withdraw into their shells or act out. Only when pressed do they express their intense yearning for their mother to come home and provide them with the love they are missing.
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. Separation due to a parent’s incarceration is often accompanied by stigma, ambiguity, and a lack of compassion and support. In the case of the Koger-Harris family, the three boys found out for the first time that their mother was in prison when their grandmother took them to visit her at Hazelton Penitentiary. The children now expect their mother to return in 2016, but prison records show she will be released a year later.
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.