A photography exhibit featuring Iowa children who have a parent in prison opens this weekend in a fitting locale.
The display “Confliction” will premiere on the walls of cells in the former Polk County Jail in downtown Des Moines. Joy DeSomber, co-founder of the group Empowering Children of Incarcerated Parents, says the black-and-white photos are riveting as they appear beside quotes from each youngster.
“These quotes from these children are amazing,” DeSomber says. “You see the quote from the child, you see the image of the child, you see that they’re behind bars. You see that we as a community are stigmatizing them. We are putting them behind bars for their parents’ crimes.”
A study finds seven out of every ten children with a parent in prison will end up in prison themselves. DeSomber, who has a degree in criminology, co-authored the book “What Did I Do?,” the inspiration for the photo exhibition. “We hold workshops with these children and invite them to tell their stories,” DeSomber says. “What did they feel when their parent was first arrested? How did they feel when they visited their parents behind bars? Do they tell their friends? Do they not tell their friends? In the back of the book is an opportunity for us to provide resources for these families in their communities that they can reach out to for help.”
She says her West Des Moines-based organization is working to become a clearinghouse for children to gain access to positive solutions.
“These children feel so stigmatized and isolated and neglected,” DeSomber says. “They often don’t tell their friends about their home situation, with their parent being behind bars, because of the stigmatization. It’s an opportunity for them to learn other children have been through similar circumstances and they made it through. It helps them feel more confident they can get through their situation.”
The exhibition in Des Moines only runs this weekend as photographer Ben Easter takes it to Paris, France, next week. Learn more about the book at: www.whatdididobook.com