The Walden-Dickson Family

“Locked Apart: The Walden-Dickson 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 Walden-Dickson Family is attempting to regain its footing after the father, Von, was imprisoned several times at State Correctional Institute – Graterford. During Von’s absence, Omyra, the mother, struggled to care for their daughter, Mariah, and their newborn son, Von, Jr. Stretched to the limit financially and physically, Omyra is outspoken about the importance of keeping family members close together. She is convinced that keeping men near their families reduces the risk of additional infractions, particularly when they are charged with minor offenses or parole violations. Von’s return has been a major success thus far. The parents must work hard every day, but the family is reunited, both have jobs, and Von is committed to staying out of prison and keeping the family together.

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. Even though Mariah participated in the Fathers and Children Together (FACT) program that brought her to visit her father at Graterford, she is shy and withdrawn in the wake of repeated separations from him.

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.