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), a Rochester, New York based 501(c)(3), was founded by Dale Davis in 1979. NYSLC's goals are to make education relevant, to introduce diverse ideas and perspectives, and to enlarge the view of the community for those impacted by incarceration.





Post Pandemic: Articles, Studies, and Surveys that are Relevant to Education in Correctional Settings

Compiled by Dale Davis

A Better Path Forward for Criminal Justice. A Report by the Brookings-AEI Working Group on Criminal Justice Reform. April 2021.

Most imprisoned people will be released into society, but are they prepared to rejoin their communities and avoid a return to prison? In Chapter 3, our experts note that the lack of vocational training, education, and reentry programs makes reintegration difficult for the formerly imprisoned. They propose programming such as cognitive behavioral therapy, education, and personal development to help ease this transition.

The Anna E. Casey Foundation. Survey: A Pandemic. February 2021.

A survey by the Annie E. Casey Foundation of youth justice agencies finds the population of Black youth in juvenile detention on Feb. 1, 2021, reached a pandemic high, while that of white youth was the second lowest recorded in more than a year.

The experiences between Black and white youth diverged the most when it came to the pace at which they were released from detention. Black youth stayed longer in detention than their white peers — and even longer than before the pandemic began. The difference in release rates between youth of color and white youth was the largest ever recorded in this survey.

The Anna E. Casey Foundation. Voices From The Field: Implementing Programs That Advance Equity. May 2021.

A new issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review — from Stanford University — includes a special supplement sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The supplement explores how social change leaders can use implementation science to improve the lives of children, young people and families in a way that also advances equity. It spans 10 articles, including entries co-authored by community members with researchers, funders and staff of community-based organizations.

Garnet Henderson. Writing Dance, From Inside a Prison. Dance Magazine. April 2021.

The collaboration and sense of community among artists inside and outside the prison has always been a major element of choreographer and Scripps College educator Suchi Branfman's project. "It has been impactful for those of us coming in from what folks inside call the 'free world,' as well as the folks inside the building," says Branfman. "As much as we can, we try to replicate the studio environment, and create a sense of being able to move freely. People on the inside exist under a constant state of surveillance, with extremely limited movement, lack of contact and lack of free space. But we create a community space, and we all cherish it."

Heather Hunt and Gene Nichol. The Price of Poverty in North Carolina’s Juvenile Justice System. North Carolina Poverty Research Fund. Spring 2021.

North Carolina’s juvenile justice system is filled with poor kids. The direct and indirect costs imposed by the juvenile system come down hardest on those families with the fewest resources. When they are unable to pay the price the system demands, youth and parents are punished in ways that perpetuate poverty. These costs intensify economic hardship, push poor youth deeper into the juvenile system, jeopardize rehabilitation, endanger future prospects and entrench poverty and racial disparities.

Justin George. “What Are Inmates Learning in Prison? Not Much.” The Marshall Project. May 31, 2017.

A survey of 2,000 federal prisoners reveals big gaps in teaching reentry skills.

“No one ever fails any class,” said another inmate. “Everyone receives a certificate, whether you attend every class/study for hours or just come in at the beginning, sign in, and leave. The certificates really don’t mean anything when you do it that way.”

A report released Thursday by the advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums provided an inside look at educational opportunities within the federal prison system that inmates say suffers from a glaring lack of trained instructors and a scarcity of classes.

Jeroslyn Johnson. “Bard College Makes Tuition Free for Formerly Incarcerated Students.” Black
, April 29, 2021.

Scholars are taught a curriculum that aims to foster the growth of future community leaders and social justice initiatives. Eligible applicants include those who were formerly incarcerated, impacted by the prison system, or seeking careers in advocacy work.

Aleks Kakstura. “Women’s Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2019.” Prison Policy Initiative. October 29, 2019.

In stark contrast to the total incarcerated population, where the state prison systems hold twice as many people as are held in jails, more incarcerated women are held in jails than in state prisons. The outsized role of jails has serious consequences for incarcerated women and their families.

Kathy Kuhn. “The U.S Spends Billions to Lock People Up, but Very Little to Help Them Once They are Released.” PBS News Hour. April 7, 2021.

It’s not just the dollars and cents of funding that are the problem in reentry, she said. It’s the way the people who make those budgets, and their constituents, continue to view incarceration as a solution to society’s ills. Changing policy, which many reentry programs also lobby for, is a first step to reframing the conversation about crime and people who are locked up.

Lawrence Bartley, Lisette Bamenga, Adria Watson, Rahsaan Thomas and Wilbert L. Cooper. The Language Project.” The Marshall Project. April 12, 2021.


Journalism is a discipline of clarity. That’s why we’ve updated our rules for describing people who are in prison or jail.

Nicole Lewis. “How We Survived COVId-19 in Prison.” The Marshall Project. April 22, 2021.

At the start of the pandemic, we asked four incarcerated people to chronicle daily life with the coronavirus. Here, they reveal what they witnessed and how they coped with the chaos, fear, isolation and deaths.

Luke Muentner, Amita Kapoor, Lindsey Weymouth, Julie Poehlmann-Tynan. “Getting under the skin: Physiological stress and witnessing parental arrest in. young children with incarcerated father.” Developmental Psychobiology. February 25, 2021.

To study how witnessing a father's arrest prior to incarceration in jail relates to children's stress processes, we collected data on 123 individuals from 41 families with young children whose father was in jail, including collecting hair from 41 children, and analyzed their cumulative stress hormones, cortisol, and cortisone. Results indicate that children had higher cumulative stress hormone concentrations when they witnessed their father's arrest. Moreover, there was evidence of a blunted stress reaction in children who witnessed the arrest and who also had high levels of ongoing behavioral stress symptoms, similar to findings in PostTraumatic Stress Disorder studies. Longterm exposure to stress can have deleterious effects on children's brain development, further increasing risk for developmental psychopathology. Findings have implications for criminal justice approaches that safeguard children during parental arrest.

“Reflections on Building a Partnership with Corrections. A Resource Guide for College-In-Prison Programs.” John Jay College Institute for Justice and Opportunity. 2021.

This guide is part of an effort to provide college providers with the necessary tools for developing programs that are responsive to the unique environment of correctional facilities. While designed specifically for college programs that operate in New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) facilities, this guide may also be useful for organizations and colleges that wish to establish or enhance college-in-prison programs.

Maisie Sparks. “Today’s Underground Railroad: From jail to freedom with education.” Christian Science Monitor. April 26, 2021.

Jia Johnson has seen firsthand the hardship of incarceration on those behind bars and those back home. She’s also seen how theological education nurtures humanity – at both ends of the spectrum.

Sara Weissman. “Education Behind and Beyond Bars.” Inside Higher Ed. May 18, 2021.

Spurred by the national focus on racial justice and socioeconomic disparities revealed by the pandemic, the country's higher education institutions and philanthropists are ramping up efforts to serve students currently or formerly in prison.

The growth in prison higher education and workforce training opportunities comes on the heels of a sea change this academic year for all students, including those in prison. The murder of George Floyd last summer and the protests that followed prompted higher education leaders to re-examine their criminal justice programs, campus policing practices and initiatives to recruit and retain students of color.