Posts Tagged ‘Sesame Street’

Prison Visitor Hardball

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

As if California’s prison visitors didn’t have it demanding enough.

Process in and process out is what seeing daddy is all aboutIt goes without saying that, for family members, prison visits are psychologically and emotionally demanding. Just keeping up with background check requirements, approved visiting days, bureaucratic obstacles, and the distinct operational eccentricities of the facilities in which your loved one may be housed is an education in itself – a part-time job. And none of it applies to the wild-card of lockdowns or the myriad other things that can affect visitations, like visits being cut short due to overcrowding.

The experience itself is more akin to driving for four hours only to stand in line to deal with a speeding ticket for which you’d previously failed to appear. You get a strong sense that you’re only being grudgingly tolerated by authorities, who’ve lumped you in with the rest, with “those people.” And in fact you are literally penned in with other visitors awaiting approval and entry.

Such areas are always some variation of “Visitor Intake” or “Processing,” and they’re never short on militaristic signage and ALL CAPS ANXIOUSNESS. Depending on the facility and its administrator’s interpretation of departmental policy, waiting areas may be lined with hard wooden benches (the kind you could easily be handcuffed to), tattered airport seating, or flimsy plastic stackables. (more…)

The Cellblock on Sesame Street

Saturday, October 12th, 2013

Today, even Sesame Street intersects with Incarceration Boulevard.

New Character Alex on Sesame StreetThe most important thing you can learn from Alex, a new Sesame Street character with an incarcerated dad, is that he exists. While he’s not yet a regular on the show, Alex is out there on the Internet, interacting with your children via the “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration” initiative, an online tool kit designed to help kids aged 3-8 deal with having parents in custody.

To some, that might sound a little scary. But fear not, Helicopters, there’s safety in numbers. One of every 28 children in the United States has a parent in prison, so Alex has a lot of friends, some of whom are already interacting with your child in real life.

WheresMom_TulsaPeopleThis is what makes Sesame Street so special, because it traditionally tackles issues head-on, literally at the 3-foot level. Because parents can’t always be there.

The show’s producers and writers (and by extension, sponsors) often address the questions children ask about a variety of subjects that confuse, confound, and anger us grownups. This time, the topic at hand is incarceration – and the reality that 2.7 million U.S. children have a mom or a dad in prison. Alex is Sesame Street’s answer to the soaring numbers of kids in America who have questions about what it means to be quarantined from the rest of society. “Coming from a Muppet, it’s almost another child telling their story to the children,” Jeanette Betancourt, vice president of outreach and educational practices at the Sesame Workshop, told NBC’s Today.

Criminal detention and life behind bars is about as dark a subject as you could ever cover with a child. I’m not a parent, so I’ve never had that conversation, but I’ve witnessed and overheard hundreds.

In visiting rooms at the various prison facilities in which I was housed during my four-year tour, it was hard to pull my eyes from the interactions between incarcerated fathers and their children. (And to say it’s not polite to stare in prison is a deadly understatement, believe me.) I witnessed everything from familiar representations of guilt, phony-baloney contrition, overwhelming love, and genuine pride to awkward reverence and equal opportunity resentment.

Much of this extends well beyond the individual child-parent bond. There are caretakers, aunts and uncles, older and younger brothers, and so forth, all of whom have an elephant in the room that needs to be addressed, who have questions that need attention from the best person to answer them: the one who doesn’t get to leave.

So bravo! Sesame Street, for showing adults how urgently we need to start educating our children  –and ourselves–  about the effects of mass incarceration. It’s a problem that won’t likely be going away any time soon.





Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Did Kevin Clash, the voice of Elmo, have  a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy? Apparently unaware that it’s still gross, Clash claimed things started only after the boy turned 18. What, did he wait for the kid’s “special” birthday? And WAS ELMO THERE? Sesame Street Workshop execs have known about the situation since June. Did Elmo protect the man who operated the puppet for more than 27 years? Will our furry red friend go out like Paterno, disgraced and weakened, or will he persist, forever a symbol of parental awkwardness?  

And who’s going explain Elmo’s sudden, if slight, voice change? (more…)