Jason Kelly, 29, has been in Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Uncasville, Conn., for about a year on drugs, weapons and assault charges. He has four children — boys 11 and 8, girls 5 and 4 — with two women.
Jason Kelly, 29, has been in Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Uncasville, Conn., for about a year on drugs, weapons and assault charges.
He has four children — boys 11 and 8, girls 5 and 4 — with two women.
He rarely sees them, though he’s not sure why. He believes it’s the recession and money. He’ll hear, for instance, that the family truck needs tires and can’t be on the highway.
Kelly, of New Haven, is a member of Corrigan-Radgowski’s parenting group. He said he had a relationship with his children before prison; he went on school trips and to Disney World, something he never did as a child.
He paid for it by selling crack, marijuana or whatever the market demanded.
“That’s like a choice that you make for yourself, and you’re not thinking about your kids,” he said.
“Because your kids can lose you to the system, or you can die on the streets. But we don’t look at it that way when we’re doing it.”
His own father was in prison for a time, but he sorted out his life, got a job and stayed out. Kelly said he was 7 or 8 years old when his dad was in prison; he doesn’t know what he did time for.
He’s never asked.
Kelly has three brothers. One was shot and killed in 2005. The other two, both older, also are in prison. One is serving 10 years for assault and a shooting; the other has a 50-year sentence for manslaughter, he said.
Kelly said he can’t see his own children doing what he did. His 11-year-old son knows he did something bad to go to jail, but not what it was.
“We’ve got a good bond,” Kelly said. “But it’s not as good as I want it to be.”
Toys in waiting room
Corrigan-Radgowski used to keep toys in the visiting room of the Radgowski building, which allows visits face-to-face instead of through glass.
They took the toys away, probably 10 years ago.
It was too much hassle. The inmates didn’t pay attention to the kids, or were more interested in their wives or girlfriends. The children weren’t well-behaved. Kids argued over toys.
Now the prison offers books, so parents can read.
Chuck Marshall, a correction officer who observes such visits, said about 10 percent to 20 percent of inmates actually read to their children or engage them in a conversation.
Despite this, those who work with children of incarcerated parents said there are benefits to
supporting the relationship.
Many men reported to Families in Crisis that their most important motivator to stopping criminal behavior was caring for the kids, said Sue Quinlan, executive director of the agency.
Families in Crisis is a nonprofit group that assists families with members in prison.
Visits at Corrigan-Radgowski are a privilege — not a right.
A big brother
Marshall has worked at Corrigan-Radgowski almost 17 years, and has seen families and the children of prisoners come and go.
“I think kids, especially raised in the environment where their dad’s in jail, they think it’s cool,” he said. “They have no foundation to live off of. That’s what they’re taught. From the time they’re a baby, until they go to jail.”
He blames it on the economy, the schools, the lack of places for kids to go, the absence of family time. Though he doesn’t see much hope at times, he said communities could help some by offering more for young people.
“They need somewhere where kids can go feel safe, they can get something to eat if they’re hungry, and it’s a positive atmosphere,” he said. The children also have to want their lives to be different, he said.
“It’s all about want,” he said.
Marshall grew up as one of seven children, whose adoptive parents made him work like a “slave” on a dairy farm in Iowa, he said.
He left home at 15 and never went back. Now he volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters, and in this respect, he has company among his colleagues. The Department of Correction provides more volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters than any other state agency.
Marshall’s been a big brother for nine years, mentoring a child who lives in New London. The boy is 18 now, and like a son.
‘It’s not too late’
Charlene Baskerville, facility coordinator at Corrigan-Radgowski, coordinates the parenting class. It grew out of a meeting last spring by Doug Edwards, coordinator of Real Dads Forever, which encourages involvement of fathers.
“It’s not too late to start,” she said.
Baskerville said she chose about a dozen men who seemed interested in what Edwards had to say. Because of prison transfers, she had four men in the group last month. She encourages them to write letters to their kids and talk on the telephone.
Beth Merenstein, associate professor of sociology at Connecticut State University, said communities also can reach out.
“We have a moral responsibility to care,” she said. “Not just about everybody, but about the children in our society. It’s not their fault if their parent makes a mistake. ... And second of all, I would say (we) have an economic incentive. Do you want to make more money building prisons instead of building schools? Because if you don’t help these kids, you are guaranteeing that they end up in the same situation.”