Prison parent/family educator, Jan Walker, is speaking with us today about her newly published book. Jan is trained in child and family studies and has spent the past 18 years as a correctional educator for adult felons in medium custody prisons. Welcome to Reader Views Jan.
Irene: Jan, your book, “An Inmate’s Daughter,” is being launched now. Your book speaks out for children who cope with a parent’s prison term. Tell us the gist of your book. adult classifieds
Jan: The protagonist, Jenna MacDonald and her mother and younger brother, have moved into Jenna’s grandparents home in Tacoma, WA, to be near McNeil Island Corrections Center, the prison where her father was transferred. Jenna is the new girl in a middle grade school, and wants to get into the “in group,” a multi-racial group of girls.
The girls are curious about her heritage (she’s part Native American Indian) and the reason she lives with her grandparents. They follow her home from school and peek in her bedroom window. She dubs them The Snoops.
Jenna’s mother enforces a “Don’t Tell” rule about prison. Jenna loves her dad and would like to talk
about him and his artistic talent. Keeping a secret is difficult in the best of circumstances. It gets
harder when Jenna calls attention to herself and the family when they are family are leaving a visit to
McNeil Island. A small child trips and falls into Puget Sound, and Jenna jumps in to rescue her. It’s an
automatic reaction, borne of many rescues of her younger brother at a trailer park swimming pool
where they used to live.
Irene: What inspired you to write it?
Jan: During the 18 years I taught incarcerated parents, wrote curriculum and text books, and worked
with women and men to remain involved in positive ways with their children, I invested energy above
and beyond my contract-responsibilities out of concern for my students’ children. They are innocent
victims of their parents choices. The children broke no laws, yet they are often abused or shunned in
their communities, schools, and sometimes in their own extended families.
After leaving correctional education to write full time, a friend and writing mentor encouraged to write
a book for children from about age 9 or 10 to about age 15. She said it should be classified as a
middle grade novel. Children who fall in the age group 9 to 15 are often the most hurt and confused
about incarceration. I didn’t know how to write for that age, so I had to learn some parameters as I
went along. My friend listened t o the entire first draft, offered good suggestions, and encouraged me
to get it published. She died before I found a publisher. The book is dedicated to her, but it is in fact
my effort to let children of incarcerated parents know that I understand a bit of their struggle, and that
I value them enough to spend considerable time and energy writing a story about one of them that is
for all of them.