In recent weeks, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has spoken openly about his admiration for the outdated War on Drugs and Nancy Reagan’s zero tolerance drug campaign, “Just Say No.” This approach was ineffective and caused the US incarceration rate to skyrocket. When policies like these are enforced, the families of those who are incarcerated feel the impact most acutely. Children with incarcerated parents face a plethora of challenges. Those incarcerated find it increasingly difficult to secure successful reentry into their family lives and society.

At our Greensboro lab, storyteller Tiffany Bullard spoke of her father who was incarcerated when she was only two years old. She met him for the first time sixteen years later once he was released. Her story reflects that of the more than 2.7 million children who currently have an incarcerated parent. That is 1 in 28 or 3.6% of American children. Research has shown that nearly half of those incarcerated lose contact with their families, halting any chance for parent-child connection and successful reentry upon release. Tiffany’s story was grounded in a memory of her father taking her out on a fishing boat years after his release and helping her bait her line. She speaks of the silence and awkwardness they felt.

“I met him right after I graduated high school,” she shared. “I remember what it felt like to hate and love him so much. To know that his blood was mine but to feel so cold and very far away from him. […] So much was lost.”
— Tiffany Bullard

There are many reasons why families lose contact with an incarcerated family member. Correctional facilities are often geographically isolated, making travel to and from the facility challenging. Families who are able to visit often face visiting facilities that are inadequate and hinder healthy family interaction. Additionally, family members often report experiencing disrespect from staff when visiting and are subject to extensive security procedures, which can be traumatizing to children. Such obstacles can have lasting effects once the incarcerated family member is released. Tiffany explains,

Incarceration does not just remove a person from society. It strips away our innate ability to connect with one another. Our sense of belonging. Our sense of love.
— Tiffany Bullard

Tiffany highlighted the difficulty that her father has faced in terms of reentry back into society after incarceration, and specifically how difficult it has been for the family to connect.

It has been seventeen years since my father’s release and there is still a part of prison that follows him around. Reentry is not something that happens overnight. Reentry is not just a program, something to quantify or sell or get funding for. It is deeper than that. Reentry is complicated. It is a holistic lifetime journey with many moving pieces, places and people. It is a process that takes time. Sometimes, a lot of damn time.
— Tiffany Bullard

Incarceration creates a barrier between returning citizens and their families and communities. Successful reentry for the formerly incarcerated can be difficult, but people like Tiffany work tirelessly to provide solutions. Tiffany is the Programs Manager for Benevolence Farm, a residential reentry program that supports women leaving the North Carolina prison system by offering housing, employment, career development, and agricultural skill building. To learn more about Benevolence Farm, visit

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By Claire Zager, Mass Story Lab Intern