The 10th anniversary of the International Prisoner’s Family Conference was a wonderful place to share experiences, learn from other experts, and discuss different solutions, which, in turn, helps us in supporting families and children with incarcerated loved ones. For Children of Imprisoned Parents International (COIPI), it was also a great chance to collect more first-hand stories of people experiencing parental incarceration.
On October 10 – 12, 2018, at the Wyndham Rewards in Dallas, Texas, The International Prisoner’s Family Conference, celebrating its 10th anniversary, hosted a three-day conference consisting of discussions, workshops, and art gallery shows. Experts and professionals came together and shared thoughts on filling the empathy gap between our society and families who have loved ones in prison. It was a wonderful venue for sharing experiences, learning from other experts, and discussing various solutions. It was most valuable to COIPI in supporting families and children with incarcerated loved ones, and we were able to collect more first-hand stories
Hamed Farmand, advocate, storyteller, author, and president of COIPI, presented a workshop on the first day of the conference. He spoke about his childhood experiences while his mother was in prison and explained his COIPI interactive storytelling projects, which focus on community engagement as an integral part of a support system for families with incarcerated parents. At the end of the workshop, all participants shared their experiences and asked specific questions about COIPI’s advocacy projects. Mr. Farmand encouraged all participants to share their stories, including their personal experiences as a child or parent, as a professional who has worked on or designed programs for family reunification, as well as their observations of any reentry programs–successful or unsuccessful. There were three individuals who had childhood experiences with a mother, father, or both in prison, and there were other professionals, all of whom were willing to share their experiences and be a part of COIPI’s future plan: To break the silence and build a bridge between communities and families with incarceration in their lives–past or present.
The conference offered an opportunity for individuals who work in the field of mass incarceration and its effects to learn from each other and find a support group. There were professionals, applying their knowledge while working with students in community-based services and programs, who brought their academic perspective to the conference, while at the same time, there were also experts in attendance who have had years of experience working with families with incarceration backgrounds, as well as artists presenting their works, which were for sale in the main hall of the conference.
While some presenters focused on individual responsibility, family engagement, and families’ or prisoners’ strengths, others discussed systematic barriers and community responsibility. There were also a few professionals who viewed mass-incarceration as an issue that was born and raised out of individual and social systems, including political activities and policies.
The International Prisoner’s Family Conference brought together individuals with different perspectives and offered a friendly atmosphere that enabled participants to grow their relationships and continue learning from each other.
Another opportunity for professionals and individuals who focus on mass-incarceration to share ideas, thoughts, and experiences will be at the International Conference for Children of Incarcerated, to be held in England in 2019.