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 into the public schools for 10-day teaching residencies 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) is a Rochester, New York based 501(c)(3) arts organization that serves those incarcerated, educators, and children whose parents are incarcerated through resources, information, and research that promote education, rehabilitation, community engagement, and rebuilding families impacted by incarceration.




New York State Literary Center’s Community Engagement Seminar

The Community Engagement Seminar

By Rodrick Donte Plant

Empowering the people

through education,

shining a light

on the truth of the past,

we rest on the cusp

of this explosion.

This seminar believes in me

as well as all of our abilities,

nourishes us to grow

as a garden in spring,

fruit for the next generation

to harvest.

The Community Engagement Seminar

        By Eric Brownlee

The Community Engagement Seminar is a door that opened the consciousness of my mind to what is going on in our community. The Seminar gave me the freedom and opportunity to look at poverty and incarceration, not only to discuss these problems but also to write about solutions.

The Community Engagement Seminar is a space for the voiceless. It shines a light on the darkness of incarceration and allows those who care to look to know there are strong and vibrant minds behind these bars. There are individuals who are trying sincerely to make a change in their lives and fight an uphill battle to become part of a society that has forgotten about them.

The Community Engagement Seminar gives me hope that in spite of my circumstance I can succeed. By exposing me to the writings of and Langston Hughes and Frederick Douglass, I believe I, too, am America. Just as Douglass fought with his last breath for opportunity, so, too, shall I try.

The Community Engagement Seminar is important. It is needed because it challenges us, it dares us to use our minds for something positive. It dares us to be lights in our community and to show that change is possible, not simply by uplifting our own lives but by giving a hand to our brothers and sisters.  

The Community Engagement Seminar

        By Rodrick Plant

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 that which matters,

and be loyal to the causes that directly affect us

as members of our community.

The Community Engagement Seminar

        By John Proia

The Community Engagement Seminar is a chance for me to express myself openly and honestly while I am incarcerated. Incarceration does not have much opportunity for this. There is so much judgment  in here among the general population and the deputies that to have a platform for a creative outlet is invaluable to us. This helps us nurture free thoughts and creativity. This is also a way for us to stay in touch with current events and special topics. It is a way for us to connect with the outside world. Thank you.

The Community Engagement Seminar

        By Harry Wilson

The Community Engagement Seminar is a place to address community needs, to connect with what is being done in Rochester’s Anti-Poverty initiative, special education in the Rochester City School district which so many of us in here were labeled and part of, Frederick Douglass, Kelsey’s Landing, as well as the effects on incarceration on children, our children.

The Seminar has made me more self-aware and feel responsible and more accepting of self-change. I want to pass this gift of awareness to inspire and enlighten others and rekindle their spirits.

The Community Engagement Seminar

        By Jaylen Wright

To me the Community Engagement Seminar is an experience to let my mind wander out of these facility walls. The Seminar gives me insight to connect with what’s going on in my community.


© 2019 New York State Literary Center