Story Telling About Justice and Hope
By Lesha Townsend
Founder and President of Children of Incarcerated Parents International (COIPI), Hamed Farmand participated in a panel discussion for the University of the Streets Café program at Concordia University.
On May 12, 2017, COIPI’s Founder and President, Hamed Farmand contributed to a 3-hour panel discussion entitled Story Telling About Justice and Hope hosted by the University of the Streets Café program at Concordia University located at Studio XX 4001 Berri St. Montreal, Canada. The panel discussion consisted of four guests who shared personal narratives about social justice, resiliency and hope. The audience comprised of 30 individuals.
Storytellers discussed their narratives in the following order: Malek Yalaoui, Mohammad Hassan, Jennifer Drummond and Hamad Farmand. Afra Saskia Tucker moderated the group discussion where she posed questions delving into each guest’s individual stories.
The report is a summary of the evening’s interactive discussions
About University of the Streets Café
University of the Streets Café is a program overseen by the Office of Community Engagement at Concordia University. The program organizes bilingual, public conversations in cafés and community spaces across Montreal. The program is free and open to participants of all ages, all backgrounds, and all levels of education. Without grades or diplomas, the University of the Streets Café reinvents the idea of the ‘university’ by creating spaces for lifelong learning, critical thinking and community engagement in local neighborhoods.
Guests & Moderator
Hamed Farmand is the founder of COIPI – Children of Imprisoned Parents International. Farmand was born and raised in Iran and moved to the United States of America in 2010. When Farmand was six years old, his mother was arrested in Iran for political reasons. He wrote a book (in Farsi), titled “Missing Mum,” which is the story of this childhood experience.
Malek Yalaoui is a Montreal-based writer, advocate and public speaker that have been called many things but the most frequent of these is “force to be reckoned with.” Born in North Africa but bred in the American Midwest, Yalaoui’s work is all about reconciling her multiple, intersecting identities as she moves towards wholeness. A queer femme of color and adult survivor of child abuse living with long-term depression, the sole purpose of Yalaoui’s work is to heal herself and her community. Yalaoui believes in the power of representation to lift up underserved communities and uses social and independent media to highlight both her own voice and the voices of other women of color.
Mohammad Hassan is a Montreal-based community organizer originally from Bangladesh where he studied political science at Dhaka University and participated in the 70s liberation movement. Hassan is actively involved in his community, as co-founder of the Jobra Center and president of the Greater Association of Chittagong in Montreal. Hassan is passionate about micro-finance, drawing inspiration from the Grameen Bank model. He holds a diploma in Community Economic Development from Concordia University. Hassan is currently the owner and chef of Les Casseroles de MoMo, a Bangladeshi and Quebecois fusion restaurant in Park Extension.
Jennifer (JD) Drummond received a Master of Social Work degree from McGill University and is currently the coordinator of the Sexual Assault Resource Centre-Concordia University. In her role as the coordinator JD supports survivors of sexual violence, designs and delivers education on sexual violence prevention and works with the university to implement recommendations from its sexual violence prevention working group report. JD has been involved as a board member and volunteer with the community organization Stella (Les ami(es) de Stella) for many years and has done research and published on the topic of women’s sexuality.
Afra Saskia Tucker
She is Development and Communication Coordinator at the Montreal Diocesan Theological College, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada. Blessed with a multi-cultural family and an inclination to learn about other faith traditions, She has learned from her life experiences in Canada and abroad that encounters with people of different faiths, beliefs, and cultures are in fact essential and enriching to her own faith journey.
Panel Discussion Summary
Malek Yalaoui discussed her passion for writing; however, Yalaoui stopped writing because she felt others judged her wrongly and provided negative critiques of her work. Once Yalaoui was able to overcome her personal struggles with other people’s opinions of her work, she decided to create an environment where females of color learned how to share their own stories and also learned how to support each other in storytelling.
Mohammed Hassan discussed his migration experience to Canada from Bangladesh. Once arriving to Canada, Hassan lived in a shelter and did not let that experience define him. Hassan lives by the motto I am standing for my life. Amidst his trials, Hassan was able to open a restaurant. Hassan overly emphasized the need for people to recognize that they are the change in the world.
Jennifer Drummond focused her discussion on story holding in which she described as the individual hearing the story should create a supportive and safe environment for the storyteller to share a honest and authentic narrative. It is the responsibility of the individuals listening to the story to withhold judgment.
After the storytellers shared their personal narratives, the audience participated in the conversation and discussed their personal experience with isolation, immigration and preserving their own culture.
Hamed Farmand’s Narrative
The following story is Hamed Farmand’s personal narrative he shared at the Story Telling About Justice and Hope panel discussion
I was a six-year-old boy when my mom was arrested in my country of Iran and held in prison for five years. One day while she was in prison, I came home from school and heard the voices of two women, my grandma (my father’s mother) and my aunt (my uncle’s wife) who were my caregivers. My grandma told my aunt:
Then she saw me, bent down, and kissed my forehead.
I wasn’t sure who she was talking about.
When I got to the landing at the top of the stairs, I heard my grandma say:
“She left these poor kids and went after her own pursuits.”
Then I was certain she was talking about my mom. However, on the day of her arrest, Maman hadn’t willingly left us. I asked myself: “Why did my grandma say she went after her own pursuits? While my mom was locked up, and for many years after her release, I had this confusion about loving my grandma but disagreeing with what she had said about my mom. It wasn’t an easy situation. If I had agreed with her, I would be agreeing that my mom was guilty. Even if I was angry with my mom because of her absence, I didn’t view her as a guilty mother.
Our system and our society put the sense of guilt and shame on incarcerated parents, especially mothers. We stigmatize people who come back from prison on a fundamental, social, and personal level.
We know labeling, stereotyping, or stigmatizing to be a major barrier for ex-prisoners who are trying to reintegrate into the community. One of the main parts of the re-entry process for mothers is reconnecting to their family members, especially their children. Having a sense of shame may keep mothers isolated from society. We also send the wrong messages to children that may damage their relationship with their mother after release. We may stigmatize children by referring to them as “children of incarcerated parents.” All of these effects link to an inability to create strong relationships with family members when re-entering society.
Lack of connection and communication between children and their parents during imprisonment or after release may also lead to the difficulty of children to proactively deal with the effects of separation from their parents.
In addition, there is a conflict between not wanting to stigmatize incarcerated parents by making them feel shame when discussing the effects of their incarceration on their children, and the need to discuss the effects on their children in order to help them. I wrote a memoir about my own childhood experience, describing how I was affected by seeing my mom go to prison; my feelings while she was in prison; and how I dealt with her release. But, whenever I talk about this experience in front of my mom, she feels guilty and shameful. I’ve also received many comments from other mothers who were taken from their children by force and put in prison, and they have the same feelings while reading or hearing my stories. This is not the way I want parents to feel when I’m sharing my personal experience. How can we strike a balance between talking about the feelings and needs of the children, and showing sensitivity to the feelings of an incarcerated parent, especially a mother? Some parents share their experience that focusing more on the children may harm the parent emotionally, and focusing more on the parent may harm the children emotionally.
Watch the video, Hamed Farmand’s speech
P.S: All photos are from University of Street Cafe Facebook page