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  • Writer's pictureAva Martoma

Maison Teixeira x KidsMates

"I don’t think of myself as someone who just had a parent in prison. I think of myself as someone who does playwriting and screenwriting, animation, and drawing and painting. I think of myself as someone who loves being around people, making friends, and enjoying life. I don't really think of my father’s incarceration as a defining trait for me. And I want people to know that, you know?" - Maison Teixeira

Happy April. Hopefully, some of you are enjoying the warmer weather! 

As we continue to explore the power of storytelling and filmmaking, KidsMates welcomes Maison Teixeira. Previously, we spoke to Ms. Denali Tiller, director of the acclaimed documentary Tre Maison Dasan, which poignantly captures the lives of three boys coping with parental incarceration. Well, this month celebrates the sixth anniversary of the movie, so we’ve come full circle as we chat with Maison, one of the film’s leading figures.

Having watched Tre Maison Dasan numerous times, I am continually struck by Maison’s courage and transparency. As a child of an incarcerated parent myself, I found the film enlightening, helping me to understand my experience in ways I previously hadn’t. I believe the film serves as a reminder of the silent American epidemic happening to children all around us. It’s a film that I hope everyone has the chance to see.   

Maison is currently an undergraduate at Brown University, where his creative talents flourish as an animator for SciToons, a student group dedicated to producing educational animations about science. He also worked as a policy project leader for Young Voices RIDOT, where he authored and illustrated a children’s book called, “Simon the Safer Street Sloth.” His story and achievements are motivational to all, particularly children of incarcerated parents, who can see it as a beacon of hope during challenging times.

Now, without further delay, please join me in welcoming Mr. Maison Teixeira!

Ava: Hi Maison! It’s lovely to get the chance to speak with you today. Let’s jump right into the questions. Can you tell us your story as it relates to the criminal justice system and your work with children of incarcerated parents?

Maison: Before I was born, my dad got sentenced to life in prison. His sentence ultimately was shortened, and I’m very grateful for that. In the end, he got 25 years. And, of those 25 years, he was in for only 14 of those years. Obviously, it's a lot, but it's not life. 

While he was there, we had this program called Daddy Daycare, where on Saturdays, kids could just go and visit their parents, and there were no other adults involved. It was just the sons and daughters with their fathers, which was perfect because we got to play tag and actually make physical contact and draw and play – all things we couldn't really do in the regular visits. There were lots of toys, and it was a lot of fun.

One day during that visit, these two women came in. One of them was named Denali, and the other was a woman who had been formerly incarcerated. That was the first time I met Denali. Denali told me she was directing a film on incarceration and the effect of incarceration on the children of the parents. Essentially, she was looking to see if any children would be interested in being involved. In my mind, I was thinking, “Oh, my gosh, I would love to do this,” and I immediately jumped at the opportunity. Initially, my dad was a bit reluctant, but he went along with it. 

From there, I just got filmed and followed on camera for a few years. In the end, it meant I got to be part of this movie, which was a really incredible opportunity. The movie was initially released on PBS. After that, I got to go to several film festivals around the country to talk about my experiences, which was really important for me because when I was growing up, I never felt seen or heard as a child of an incarcerated parent. There was not really any representation to the issue, and this movie was actually giving representation. I actually saw firsthand other kids of an incarcerated parent seeing this movie and saying, “Wow, there are other people like me with my experiences!”

About six months after the movie came out, my dad got released and deported to England. He's doing really well now, and honestly, I think that things worked out. Even though it was hard, my father being in prison, (this might sound weird) but a lot of good came out of it.

There was a silver lining because of the film and the amazing opportunities the film has created for me. I've been to see my dad three times now in England, and I'm really happy that he's out.

Ava: That truly is an inspiring journey, Maison. It’s wonderful to see how much positive change and personal growth you've managed to foster from such challenging circumstances. Reflecting on that, what was it like being a part of the film, having cameras on you during that period of your life?

Maison: It was definitely different. I was pretty cool with it because I was so young, and I just felt, “Oh, I'm in a movie. This is so fun!” I think it was definitely nice to get to know Denali. We’ve developed our relationship to the point where Denali is basically a family member to me. She's also been a mentor to me because she's such an incredible, amazing artist. She's just always been there for me, and I'm beyond grateful for her presence in my life. 

Being filmed was definitely different, but I really enjoyed it because, as a kid, it was just exciting. Later on, I realized it was really helpful. Looking back, I think it was partly helpful for me to cope with the experience of having my parent in prison because I felt like I wasn't really doing it alone. I had these people filling me and documenting what was going on, and so I didn’t feel like, “Oh, I just have to just deal with this. I have my story and I don't have anyone who knows what's going on.” I had Denali and everybody who was heavily involved in making this film – because it was a lot of people.

Ava: It’s incredible to see how supportive relationships and creative expression played such a pivotal role in your journey. This brings me to another aspect of our discussion at KidsMates, which focuses on the resilience of children facing adversity. With that in mind, what's the most important thing that you've done in the last year to help children or families facing incarceration?

Maison:  I haven't done anything directly relating to incarceration in the past year per say, but I have done some public policy work in my own way. Last year, I worked on some stuff relating to pedestrian safety. I love animating. I'm an animator, and that's my passion. I animated a PSA that was actually funded by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, which helped to teach kids the dangers of texting and driving and the dangers of texting and walking on the road. That was definitely a lot of fun.

The film opened me up to the possibilities of storytelling as a medium for change. I'm really interested in this because I want to pursue storytelling as a career. It’s a really good vessel for change—not even just policy change—just changing how people feel about things. I think that's definitely what the film did. It definitely opened people up to what kids like me experienced.

Ava: Your experience really highlights the transformative power of storytelling. Would you say that your time on the film made you more interested in filmmaking as a career?

Maison: I think at the time, it didn't because growing up as a kid, I was only interested in the artistic side. I just wanted to be an artist and just an animator. But I think now, I've recently come to realize how important the film was in setting me up on the filmmaking path.

For example, here’s a funny little connection. When I first met with my advisor, RaMell, at Brown, he told me that he directed an independent documentary for PBS a few years back. So naturally, I told him I was in an independent lens documentary a few years back. He asked which one, and when I told him Tre Maison Dasan, he gave me a big hug. As it turns out, he knew Denali because they were in a class together at RISD. After that, I texted Denali, and she was like, “Oh, my gosh, RaMell's the best!” Now, it's so funny because most other kids I know at Brown barely talk to their advisors, but RaMell and I are really tight. I'm in his class now, which is really cool. 

To be honest, I don't know if documentary filmmaking is necessarily my interest. I'm open to it, but I think I’ve realized that storytelling can take on so many different forms. And it doesn’t always have to be a story that you're writing. Sometimes I feel like documentaries write themselves because they’re written by life. However, I think it was definitely a very powerful experience in gearing me towards filmmaking and animation.

Ava: That’s truly fascinating! It’s heartening to see how your unique experiences have shaped your artistic and professional pursuits. Shifting our focus a bit, there’s something I’m curious about. Is there a misconception about you or your work or your life that you’d like to clear up?

Maison: Yeah. That's a good question. I’d say a misconception is that having an incarcerated parent is part of someone’s identity. I don't usually tell people about my dad until I trust them and am close friends with them first. Of course, this isn’t always the case. For example, last night, I was talking to someone who's really into filmmaking, and I just brought it up and told him I was in this documentary, even though I had just met him. 

However, I do have a lot of friends who just don't know that my father was incarcerated. And I have some friends who do know. I think that speaks to the fact that it’s just not part of my identity as a person. I don’t really think of it when I think of myself. I don’t think of myself as someone who just had a parent in prison. I think of myself as someone who does playwriting and screenwriting, animation, and drawing and painting.  I think of myself as someone who loves being around people, making friends, and enjoying life. I don't really think of my father’s incarceration as a defining trait for me. And I want people to know that, you know?

Ava: Yeah, I think it's hard, especially when you have a parent who's in prison when you're so young, and you spend your weekends at visits and your weeks waiting for a phone call. It can start to feel like this is you. This is your life. But I think there are so many other parts of ourselves that we get to explore as we continue to grow and change. And I think that's a really powerful statement. So, what message do you want the world to know about children or families dealing with incarceration? 

Maison: This is a big point of the film, but I want the world to know that children of incarcerated parents are not just a statistic. You can’t say, “Well, their parents are incarcerated, so they will be too.” There's no correlation there – at all. Also, I believe you can’t judge anyone based on what their parents or family members have done because people are their own people.

Growing up, I didn’t really feel like I had much of a problem with people assuming things about me because my parents were incarcerated, but this is the case for a lot of people. I think it’s really important to break the stereotypes because, in many cases, it can and does impact the lives of children physically and emotionally. So basically, my message to the world is that you can't make assumptions about where someone is going to go because of what their parents have done.

Ava: I’m glad you brought that up because I think it’s really important to us at KidsMates. It is true that there’s a statistic that says if a child’s parent is incarcerated, they're more likely to be incarcerated. However, this fact is so wrong because it is falsely inflated by outstanding circumstances, including unfair justice systems, systemic racism, and other things that put certain communities at increased risk for incarceration. So, you can’t use that statistic to judge where people will end up because it’s not correlated at all to their character or who they are as a person. At KidsMates, we’re trying to reverse this narrative and bring back the personhood to children of incarcerated parents and let them know that they have their life in this world and there's so much that they can do with it. So moving to the next question, what tips would you give to children specifically who are coping with adversity? This could be incarceration or just any kind of adversity. 

Maison: One thing is that you’re not alone. There are a lot of other kids going through the same thing you’re going through, even if it doesn’t feel that way. For example, I knew one other student in elementary school who had a parent in prison. Actually, when I went to high school, I remember the principal telling me, “Oh, there are a few other students here who have a parent in prison,” and I actually never knew who those kids were. I don’t know who they are now, but just knowing that they are there was really important. 

Also, you should never be afraid to tell people about your story because if they judge you, then that’s more of a reflection of them than you. And, it does get better. There are cases, like life sentences, and I really can’t imagine how difficult that must be. In some ways, I’m very lucky to have my dad freed, even though he wasn’t throughout elementary and middle school. But, just know, no matter how difficult it is, you control your destiny, and no one else does. I know you aren’t in control of your circumstances, but ultimately, you control who you are and who you can become. 

Ava: For sure. As you know, my father was incarcerated as well, and I think it’s common to feel like you’re going through it alone a lot of the time. When I started doing my research for KidsMates, some of the things I found shocked me. Particularly, this: One in two Americans has had a family member incarcerated. When you’re walking down the street, you’re not looking at people and thinking that. But, in reality, every other person you see has probably had someone important to them incarcerated. So, you are not alone, and there are so many people who are doing it alongside you. I think it’s comforting to know that there's a community of people who understand a little bit of what you feel. So, who or what has most influenced your thoughts on incarceration?

Maison: Honestly, probably my dad. When I was really little, I kind of just knew his prison as “Naughty School.” That’s what my dad had told me because I was just too young to understand. I don’t remember the exact moment I realized it was a prison, but it hit me kind of hard. Growing up, my dad would always tell me, “I’m here because I made a mistake. I don’t want you to think that I’m here for no reason.” 

He would also talk to me about how the criminal justice system itself is deeply flawed, deeply racist, and institutionally corrupt. I think the incarceration system is just the same. In high school, I read The New Jim Crow, which was a really good book, and it solidified a lot of what I already thought about the carceral system. 

Ava: Yes. The criminal justice system is definitely one filled with a lot of flaws and issues that need to be solved, and from anyone who’s experienced it firsthand, those flaws are clear. Next question: if you were giving one last piece of advice about how to make a difference, what would you say?

Maison: Think about what kind of impact you want to leave in the world. Think about how you want to be perceived as you go. I’ve always wanted people to see me and understand my story, but also know that I’m more than just a figure, more than just a kid with incarcerated parents. So, I would say to do things that create the positive change you want to see in the world. 

Also, don't be afraid to be yourself. I know that’s kind of cliche, but remember, you’re parent’s incarceration doesn’t define you or who you are. You can do so much more. You know you can do so. You can make so much change. 

Ava: Awesome, that’s a wonderful message. Is there anything else you want to share with us that you want to be included in your interview?

Maison: Yeah, here’s one quick thing. This is kind of an amazing coincidence – the documentary, Tre Maison Dasan, was shown at Brown, years ago, before I even thought about coming to brown. I remember I was in sixth grade, and I came to Brown for a screening of it. Looking back, I remember my dad telling me that I should talk myself up and tell people that I would want to go to Brown. I wasn’t sure because I didn’t know if I wanted to go to Brown. 

Well, I actually ended up writing my college essay about my experience with the film and having an incarcerated parent. I think some really great success and opportunities came out of some adversity because now I’m at Brown. There’s a class here that is taught by Professor Brad Brockmann – I want to give him a shout-out as well, because he's a great, great guy. He actually gave me the first tour of Brown I ever went on in December, a few days after I’d gotten in.  Anyway, he shows the film in his class to his students every year. It’s kind of crazy, but it’s really cool to be a part of a professor's curriculum at Brown. So, I think it's really great that I've been able to find such an opportunity from something that was such a challenge growing up. 

Ava: That’s a wonderful place to end. It's awesome to see that you've explored so many opportunities and you’re in a really great place now. I think your story inspires a lot of hope for children of incarcerated parents across the nation. Thank you for sharing your story with us.


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