August 29, 2013

By Ander Pearce

‘There is Hope’: An inmate’s account of the Sesame incarceration Initiative

Ander Pearce and his family

Sesame Street’s newest community engagement initiative, Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration, was created to comfort and reassure children who have an incarcerated parent as well as provide language and guidance to their caregivers. Since its release, the initiative has been making a real impact on the lives of families and children affected by incarceration across the country. In order to get these materials into the hands of those families that need them most, Sesame Workshop partnered with the Florida Department of Corrections, the third largest corrections system in the United States, to distribute these resources. We recently participated in two events to help distribute incarceration kits to families in Florida: an event produced in partnership with the Florida Department of Corrections at Polk Correctional Facility on July 13th, and an event produced in partnership with Bridges of America at the Orlando Bridge Transition Center on August 10th.

Life-sized versions of our beloved Sesame Street characters came to both events and helped make the day especially memorable for inmates and their families. In order to share just how special these events can be, we asked Ander Pearce, an inmate at the Orlando Bridge Transition Center, to write about the experience he and his family had at the August 10th event with Bridges of America. The Workshop would like to thank Mr. Pearce for taking the time to contribute to our blog. 

This event meant a lot to me, my wife, but it especially meant a lot to my children. That’s why I helped prepare for it with determination. We painted the Sesame Street characters, set up the props, games, tables and chairs, and stuffed supplies into the backpacks for all the kids. It felt wonderful to work as a team with the other men in the Transition Center. It was a privilege to work alongside men in the same situation as me. We wanted everything to be just right for our families. It was good for both the children and we the incarcerated parents.

It gave me the opportunity to be with my kids and have a good time. I have visits with my children every weekend, except for times when they skip because traveling south from Ocala is too expensive. But to have a special event like this, that excited my children so much, is something my family needed. My little girl Madisson couldn’t wait to see Elmo. Her face lit up when he came down the street. She wrapped her little arms around Elmo’s leg and squeezed him with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen. And our son Alex loves to draw so when he saw all of the characters and paintings he was so excited. The joy and delight was all over his face. When it was time to line up for backpacks, they couldn’t wait. Even my oldest son Bradley was excited. It was a great day.

When I became incarcerated, we told my kids I had broken the law and was being punished for committing that crime. I gave them an example: If they couldn’t share a toy, then they toy would be taken away as a consequence. That’s what was happening – this was a consequence for an adult crime. The Sesame Street curriculum has also helped them understand what is going on in their lives. The kids can relate to Alex, the main character in a story about a family who has an incarcerated parent. It’s wonderful what Sesame Street is doing for children. It works. We have also reached out to my family to help explain this to our children.

If there is one piece of advice I would give to other men in my situation, it’s don’t give up. There is hope. You can make that change in your life. You can live happy and be free. Remember that your family needs you and loves you no matter what you’ve done in the past, and it can be fixed. Just have faith.

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