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Dr. Whitney Hollins x KidsMates

By David Martoma, Age 11

"David Martoma" KidsMates "Whitney Hollins" "Parental Incarceration" "Mathew Martoma"
"Things will not always move forward perfectly, but as long as we keep moving, we will eventually reach our goal. Cry if you need to. Grieve if you need to. Feel what you need to. Then get back up." — Dr. Whitney Hollins

Happy holidays, everyone! Today, KidsMates speaks with Dr. Whitney Hollins, author of Anna’s Test and advocate for children who have a parent involved with the justice system. As the daughter of a formerly incarcerated parent, Dr. Hollins’ experiences led her to explore the ways children can navigate through parental incarceration. I first met Dr. Hollins when KidsMates promoted Anna’s Test. Dr. Whitney regularly advocates for children of incarcerated parents, understanding firsthand what those children have experienced. I loved her book, especially the positive imagery. The book’s overall theme is clear having an incarcerated parent doesn’t limit you. It’s a simple message, but one that’s important to hear over and over. I'm looking forward to hearing more of Dr. Hollins' thoughts today.

David: Dr. Hollins, thank you for joining us today. The holidays are a special time of year when many of us remember loved ones and special memories. Can you share how your life was impacted by the criminal justice system?

Dr. Hollins: My father was incarcerated for over 24 years during my childhood. He did three separate bids; the final one found him spending 20 years in federal prison. When I was younger and my father was in state prison, my grandmother would take us to visit him pretty regularly. There are still some family photos of us there. However, when I was 11 my father went to federal prison. There were times when the facility he was in was over 8 hours away. Between feelings of anger and confusion, I didn’t want to make the trip to visit anymore. My grandmother couldn’t go as often because of the distance and expense. My mother didn’t push me to go, so I simply didn’t visit. I didn’t see my father again in person until I was in my 30s. In addition, as my brothers got older, both were incarcerated at some point. I suppose my story with the criminal justice system is simply that I love a few people who were incarcerated at some point. Each story is different time, location, relationship, etc., but the difficulty of loving someone behind bars was the same.

David: You’re right, every child’s story about caring for an incarcerated person is different, but there’s a common hardship we all experience. What’s the most important thing you're working on now to help children or families facing the same challenges you did as a child?

Dr. Hollins: In the last year, I finished co-authoring a curriculum (Joining Forces: A School-Based Support Circle for Youth Directly Impacted by Incarceration) with Pamela Brunskill, another directly impacted individual. As educators and children of incarcerated parents, we both recognized the lack of resources available in schools for directly impacted children. We decided to build a curriculum from scratch. At first, it seemed like a daunting task, but it started to click rather quickly. We now have a K-12 curriculum that can be used in schools to support directly impacted children. It has been piloted in Buffalo and is going to be used at three high schools in Minnesota. It is a small start, but it is a start. We are hopeful that in 2021, Joining Forces will expand to schools nationwide. I am really proud of it because it shows what happens when our community comes together. We now have a curriculum for directly impacted individuals by directly impacted individuals.

David: What an amazing feat! We can help each other grow stronger when we work together and share our knowledge. It’s reassuring to know that others face the same challenges. What else don’t people understand about kids with incarcerated parents?

Dr. Hollins: This is an interesting question. I think there is a misconception about children of incarcerated parents in general. Years of research has painted us as weak, vulnerable and prone to adverse outcomes. However, as I’ve gotten older and I have gotten to know more and more of my community, I realize how brilliant and strong we really are. It’s amazing to see people from all walks of life who have