Diane Nembhard works as a prison guard at the Ithaca Correctional Facility for Women. Her husband is currently serving time at the Onondaga County Justice Center. The Nembhards have three daughters, ages 17, 8, and 3. They are a loving family made stronger by the lessons learned through a very unique program for incarcerated parents called PACT. PACT or Parent and Child Time is time for families to engage in interactive literacy activities. The following is Dianes story.
I sat quietly watching my husband and three-year-old daughter, Mercedes, at play. I knew better than to intrude. This was their special time together, and my experience (working with incarcerated families) told me that these precious moments shouldnt be taken for granted.
This became all too obvious when I looked around the room at the other families in the PACT program. A woman inmate, particular, caught my attention. She was not much older than myself, and her daughter was about Mercedes age. Our eyes met for an instant. I could see by the way she interacted with her child, just how much this visit meant to her. I kept thinking about the young women at the correctional facility, many of whom spend 16 hours a day behind bars. Some experience mood swings, others never see their parents. And the sad fact that the majority of these young women have children of their own. As a person who sits on both sides of the prison fence, theres no doubt in my mind that there should be a PACT program in every correctional facility in our country.
As our visit neared conclusion, I listened to Mercedes ask her father questions about the book he was reading to her. This simple connection made me realize how important these visits had become. The speech problem Mercedes had developed when my husband was first incarcerated could hardly be detected. Seated on his lap, she was animated, excited, and happy to be at (what she called) her daddys house. For the first time, there was hope that the painful images of earlier prison visits, (when her father couldnt touch or hold her) were fading from her memory.
As the other inmates families said their good-byes, Mercedes clung tightly to her Daddy, Just one more story, Daddy she whispered. Ladybug wants to tell you one more story. And so she put the picture book down and made up her own story, about a little girl who sprouted wings and learned to fly to fly anywhere, unafraid. Daddy, she said, looking up at my husband who had tears in his eyes, Ladybugs name used to be Mercedes, but now everybody calls her Ladybug.
Thats how Mercedes became Ladybug, and we started to become a real family again.
Note: Mercedes still calls herself Ladybug. Her father was recently transferred to another facility, where there is no PACT program. Everyday Ladybug says Its time to go to Daddys house.
Mercedes is one of approximately 1.5 million children of incarcerated parents in the U.S.
important and special your child is! Always show your child love.TEXT
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