The New York State Literary Center, The Communication Project, Arts in Education
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Don't let our dreams die in jail. This is what we live and fight for in here. We struggle for our dreams. When you are incarcerated you live day by day. We write to be heard, not ignored. Read what we have to say. All we have in here is a voice, but is it heard? Listen, listen, listen, We are speaking up for those who want to hear us. We want to tell you about our lives so you do not fear us. Maybe you can help your kids stay on the right path by reading the words of inmates.

Only time will tell what is in store for us. We write because we want you to hear from us, stories from the lives we have lived. We are trying to change. Please don't count us out and leave us in the rain.

To us time stands still. It does not move. Being incarcerated is a pain you cannot soothe. We just want you to listen.

New York State Literary Center
Incarceration: Its Impact on Children and Families

In 2014, NYSLC introduced a new initiative, Rebuilding Families, into its Incarcerated Education Program to respond to the impact of incarceration on children and families. Participants in NYSLC's Community Engagement Seminar in a county correctional facility read articles, studied research, and wrote from personal experience on the effects of incarceration on families. In response, Rebuilding Families began a pilot partnership with the Rochester Broadway Theater League (RBTL). John Parkhurst of RBTL visited the Seminar and presented information about RBTL and the musicals Seminar participants would be invited to attend with their families upon their release. Once they were released, participants were given tickets and transportation to attend the Broadway musicals with their families,

The voices, experiences, and success of the pilot led to a four-year partnership with the RBTL, a connection with another of Rochester's cultural resources, and a video:

In the Community Engagement Seminar participants continued to read, write, and reflect on the challenges and stresses they and their children faced. This led to NYSLC's identifying children of incarcerated parents as a challenge that was largely unaddressed in the community. Incarceration fractured Rochester families. In a family where a parent is incarcerated, the impact on a family is traumatic. Parents do not serve sentences alone. Research showed children often lose contact with their parents and visits can be rare. Children, also, were more likely to drop out of school, engage in delinquent behavior, and later become incarcerated themselves. Incarceration had a lasting impact on a child's well-being, health, and behavior, causing stress on relationships, emotional and mental strain, and financial hardships.

"These children are the invisible victims of the criminal justice system. They are going through a loss similar perhaps to having a parent in the military, but instead of the community rallying around them, they often feel like they have to keep it a secret.

"People rarely see the issue through the child's perspective. Who knows if there's parents who don't deserve to have kids in or out of prison. But I haven't met a kid who doesn't deserve to have a parent.'"

Nell Bernstein. All Alone in The World, Children of The Incarcerated. New York: The New Press, 2005.

Throughout the four years, the documentary "Echoes of Incarceration," an award-winning documentary produced by youth with incarcerated parents, was screened. The documentary explores the issue of mass incarceration and its effects on families told from the life experiences of the youth themselves. The effect was tremendous.

As I watched the documentary, the words echoed encouragement, and love, unconditional love. Seeing how much these kids still love their parents, unconditionally after their parents' missteps, and never turning their backs on their parents encouraged me that I can reconnect with my children, that it's not too late, and there is always hope.


Rebuilding Families continued to move forward with continuous input from all participants on the challenges and stresses they and their children faced.

This is helping me to step up and become a better father for my kids.


Thank God for a program like this. It gives me a chance to share how I feel, my true feelings, not feelings of anger because I feel like a failure. I love my children more than life itself. Now I finally have a chance to give something to them to show them. It feels great to know there are still people who care in the world. Thank God.


I feel this program is the most positive way to reconnect broken families. If there were more of these programs, there would be more understanding of the need to reconnect broken families. People need to understand there are people who fall short of what they really want to happen in their lives. They have feelings, and it's hard to show them. This program gives us a chance to express ourselves to our children.


NYSLC is a small arts organization. The initial four years of Rebuilding Families looked at the effect of incarceration on families and challenged a small arts organization to respond to what NYSLC learned from teaching those in the Seminar. In 2019, participants in the Seminar suggested the creation of a space to compile and house resources, research, and information, an accessible space on how incarceration impacts families, and reach out to incarcerated parents, children, educators, schools, and cultural organizations on the burdens faced by children.

Rebuilding Families was initiated to reduce the impact of incarceration for children and families. There is no road map. NYSLC is creating a space on

  • To connect to the latest research on the effects of parental incarceration on families and children;
  • To introduce innovative approaches to teaching and learning in education for children whose parents are incarcerated;
  • To share successful national programs, documentaries, and websites;
  • To post books by families dealing with incarceration;
  • To post writing by incarcerated parents and children whose parents are incarcerated;

NYSLC is actively working to raise awareness that having a parent who is incarcerated is an additional risk factor for a child who is an unrecognized, innocent victim and has done nothing.

Dale Davis

Incarceration: Its Impact on Children and Families is Supported by a grant from the William and Sheila Konar Foundation.

Incarceration: Its Impact on Children and Families

Incarceration: Its Impact on Children and Families

Incarceration: Its Impact on Children and Families

Incarceration: Parental Incarceration and Children’s Education

Incarceration: Its Impact on Children and Families


Albert Abonado's Flower City Yawp interview with Dale Davis, Founder and Executive Director, NYSLC and those incarcerated participating in a NYSLC Community Engagement Seminar reading their writing (2017).




NYSLC was one of the 1st upstate NY arts organizations to send writers and artists into public schools on a regular basis. In the past 40 years, over 350 writers and artists worked with over 35,000 youth and adults in more than 600 different educational settings from rural, suburban, and urban schools, to alternative educational settings, to day treatment, to residential placement, to juvenile justice facilities, to jails and correctional facilities.

Mission Statement


The New York State Literary Center (NYSLC), founded in 1979, is a Rochester, New York based 501(c)(3) art and educational resource serving high risk students, those incarcerated, children whose parents are incarcerated, and educators with information, resources, and research that advance education, rehabilitation, community engagement, and rebuilding families impacted by incarceration.




Writing From New York State Literary Center’s Programs

Together we are seeking to understand 
each other,
together we are searching for answers.
Why does society hate some communities.
All we want to do
    is bask in the reality
    of the taste of hope,
spread optimism,
be loved for who we are,
engage with what matters,
and be loyal to the causes that directly affect us
as members of a community.

R.P., NYSLC Incarcerated Education Program 2018

Why do I write?
I write because something put in my own words matters to me.
I write to bring peace to my soul at night.

        J.N., NYSLC Incarcerated Education Program 2018

I want teachers to know important our children’s education is to those of us who are incarcerated. Please

keep in mind the well-being of each and every child. Each child’s mind is important.

Just because a child acts out does not mean that child needs to be labeled “problem.” What if that child were your son or daughter?

I am an incarcerated parent, and my children’s attitude did 180 after I was gone. How can we know what is really going on in a child’s life?

Please get to know each child. Please show each child you care. Please be a friend when child needs a friend most.

A. G., NYSLC Incarcerated Education Program 2018

Will I be remembered by someone out there, somewhere,

in some way, some day or

will I fade away?

Will someone shed a tear for me,

or hear my cries, or hear my pleas,

or say a word or two of kindness

to take away my pain just for today

or . . . will I fade away?

Will I miss the rain, the contrast of colors,

my emotions on life’s canvas,

while looking out my window from afar, lying in my bed

tangled in my sheets,

listening to sad songs playing in my head,

tasting salt within my tears feeding my fears,

thinking to myself

will I fade away?

D. D. R., NYSLC Incarcerated Education Program 2019

What About Me

Lock him up, throw away the key they say.
Three meals a day, TV in room, should be grateful they say.
Visits and phone calls, don't deserve it they say.
But what about me?
He is still my Dad.
His sentence is my sentence too.
Punish him and punish me too.
Do I not deserve to see my Dad,
a visit to see he is okay,

a visit to talk about my day,
a visit to have a hug?
Do I not deserve to speak to my Dad,
a call to say "Hi",
a call to talk about my week,
a call to say "Good night sleep tight"?
What about me?

Luke, 11 years old