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A story about parental incarceration for children. A read-along for caregivers and parents.

Rocko’s Guitar
A Story About Parental Incarceration
Finding a silver lining when a
parent goes to prison or jail
Extant-One Publishing, Inc.
& Avon Hart-Johnson Publications, LLC
Rocko’s Guitar
A Story About Parental Incarceration
Finding a silver lining when a
parent goes to prison or jail
Dr. Geoffrey A. Johnson
Rocko’s Guitar | Finding a Silver Lining When a Parent Goes to Prison
ISBN: 978-0-9967410-7-5 | Copyright © 2019 by Geoffrey A. Johnson. All rights reserved.
This edition is published by DC Project Connect in arrangement with Extant-One Publishing, Inc. and Geoffrey A. Johnson
Avon Hart-Johnson, Publications, LLC. All rights reserved.
9103 Woodmore Centre Drive, Lanham, MD 20706, USA |
Internal Layout & Printed by
Miki Gilmore. |
This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is distributed with
the understanding that the author and publishers are not engaged in rendering psychological, financial, legal, or other professional services.
If expert assistance or counseling is needed, the services of a competent professional should be sought.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including
photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the author and publisher.
Printed & Published in the United States of America. | First Paperback Edition/eBook Edition
Illustrations by Miki Gilmore voiceover by Monique Davis
Cover by Miki Gilmore
1. Study Aids/Self Help
2. Family & Relationships/ Parental Incarceration/Grief and Loss/Coping
Rocko’s Guitar
My Dad began calling me Rocko when I was three years
old. He noticed that I would bounce to the music and
pretend to play the guitar while he practiced songs for his
band’s performances.
Dad said I was playing an air guitar. He promised to teach
me how to play the guitar as soon as my fingers became
strong enough to grip the guitar strings.
Mom recognized my love of music, and she let me listen to
Dad practice on most Friday nights. I loved these magical
times with Dad. I had the best time ever!
Dad’s band was well- known in my neighborhood. Everyone
seemed to know him.
Besides playing in the band, Dad tried to find work. He said
the money he earned helped out with food and rent. My Mom
sometimes complained about money. I didn’t understand her
concerns. Dad made me feel like the luckiest kid in the world!
I was so excited on my sixth birthday. When I came home
from school, Dad surprised me and gave me the best gift ever,
an Electronic Guitar. Mom said something about the cost of
the guitar, but Dad seemed to not hear her.
I was so happy! Dad said if I practiced every day, I could be a
great guitar player.
I wanted to be just like Dad.
One weekend, everything changed! I hugged Dad before he
went out to play with his band. I usually fell asleep before Dad
came home, but I would see him the following morning during
As usual, when I woke up, I anticipated eating with Dad, but,
strangely, I didn’t smell breakfast.
I ran into the kitchen to see Dad, but he wasn’t there. I
searched the bedroom; he wasn’t there. I went into the music
room, too, but there was no sign of my father. I looked in
every room, but I couldn’t find Dad.
I heard Mom’s footsteps. As I ran to greet her, she seemed
sad. I asked Mom where Dad was, but she didn’t answer.
Instead, she reached out to me and held me for a long while. I
thought I felt tears dropping on my head as she held me.
Mom said she had some exciting news to tell me. She whispered,
Remember how your Dad was always looking for a job; well, he
found a job playing with a band overseas. She said, “Dad will be
gone for a while, but this is an exciting time for him.
Even after Mom shared this information, I couldn’t understand
how Dad could just leave me?
What about our Friday- night practice sessions?
What about my guitar lessons? How could he just go overseas!
This wasn’t exciting news! I wasn’t happy about Dad’s new job!
I want my Dad back!
I went to my room and sat on my bed. I was trying to make sense
of Mom’s words. I wondered whether this was my fault. Did I do
something to make Dad leave? Should I have done better in
school? I felt sad and alone.
I went back to the “music” room where Dad and I practiced
guitar. The room now felt big and empty.
Days later, Mom found a second job. She told me we needed
extra money.
Mom seemed concerned about how I would feel with Dad being
away. She also seemed to be uncomfortable answering my
questions about Dad’s whereabouts.
Mom began asking me to do more chores around the house.
I never washed dishes or swept the floor when Dad was around!!!
I did not go to school the day after Dad left. I missed him so
much. I couldn’t get Dad out of my thoughts. I was so lonely.
When I went back to school, I actually disrupted the class.
My teacher simply asked how I was doing. I called her
question, Stupid! I was miserable!
My teacher told Mom about my behavior. She recommended
that I attend an after-school program at the recreation
While I was attending the after-school program, one of the
janitors at the recreation center saw me and asked me what
my name was. When I replied, “‘Rocko,’” the biggest smile came
across the man’s face, almost as though he found something
He said, So, you are Rocko. The man then explained that he
played in a band with my father. Finding someone who knew
Dad, I wanted to hug this stranger, but I quickly paused, and
I asked him why didn’t he go overseas with Dad?
The man said, What? Go overseas with him? Your father is
doing time!
I was trying to understand his comment about doing time.”
I asked myself, what does this mean? I couldn’t think of an answer, so I
asked him, What does that mean?”
The man looked at me and recognized that he may have said something
wrong. He ignored my question, and instead, he told me his name was
Mr. Buddy.
Mr. Buddy said my Dad talked about me all the time. He also knew about
my recent birthday present. Mr. Buddy then asked whether I still
practiced guitar every day?
I didn’t answer him. I was becoming both confused and angry.
I needed to understand what doing time meant. I had to talk with
Out of respect, I said goodbye to Mr. Buddy and hurried home to talk
about this “time” stuff with Mom.
Mom was very tired when she arrived home, but I told her about the
janitor, and what he said about Dad.
Mom looked stunned and then worried. She then said we needed to have
a heart-to-heart talk.
Mom explained that doing time meant spending time in jail or prison.
She said Dad made some bad decisions and was now in grown-up time
out, in a place called a prison.
Mom’s words didn’t completely make sense to me, but it sounded to me
like Dad had gotten into trouble.
Mom apologized and said she felt bad telling me that Dad was
overseas. Mom said she couldn’t think of the right words to explain
things to me.
Mom said Dad still loved me dearly and his actions were not my fault.
Mom then told me that we could talk about Dad as often as I needed.
Mom also said that she wouldn’t leave me.
I had a whole lot of questions that I wanted to ask Mom, but the
conversation seemed to stress her out. She also seemed to be sad all
the time.
I figured it out: Mom also missed Dad.
I decided that I would be available in case she wanted to talk to me
about Dad or other things.
The next day, I went to school, but before leaving to go to the after-
school program, I apologized to my teacher for calling her question
stupid. I told her that she was a great teacher and I was learning a lot
from her.
My teacher said children and adults have good and bad days. She said
that I must have been having a bad day after missing school. My
teacher encouraged me to work hard in class.
I then ran over to the recreation center.
Just before I entered the recreation center, Dad’s friend, Mr. Buddy,
rushed toward me. He said, About yesterday…”
I interrupted Mr. Buddy and told him I didn’t want to talk about Dad
doing time.”. I told him that Mom told me Dad had made some mistakes
and he was going to be in grown-up time out for a while.
Mr. Buddy looked at me for a moment and then recalled what Dad told
him about my love of music and my air guitar.
Mr. Buddy said, if my Mom agreed, he would teach me how to play guitar.
Mr. Buddy said my Dad would be proud of me.
I thanked Mr. Buddy!
I got really excited about learning to play the guitar again!
I couldn’t wait to tell Mom!
That evening, the phone rang, and a woman’s voice asked if I would
accept a call from some correctional place. Moments later, I heard
Dad’s voice. Dad said he loved me, and I said that I loved him, too. He
said he was really sorry that he was not with me.
I felt better after hearing Dad’s voice. I really missed him so much.
After my conversation with Dad, I grabbed my guitar and began to
practice. I also thought about Dad being in grown-up time out; he had
made mistakes, just like I did sometimes.
Mom said I could write Dad notes and draw pictures for him so he would
know how I was doing.
I knew then that even though Dad was not with me, I had my teacher,
Mr. Buddy, and the best Mom ever to help me. I also had my guitar to
remind me of all the good times that Dad and I shared.
The End
Stories as Intervention
Stories have been used historically to help children and adults find meaning of certain experiences. Rocko’s Guitar, is designed to assist
parents who care for children with an incarcerated parent to have tools to help them understand they are not isolated or alone. Rocko and
other little ones may need to understand their plight and process emotions, family dynamics during difficult times like parental incarceration.
Children who are affected by the traumatizing experience of parental incarceration may not be able to articulate their feelings associated
with separation and loss. In their minds, they may have lost a parent and so much more. They may not be fully equipped developmentally to
express their feelings. The activities designed as companion resources for this book can be used to help children externalize their feelings.
These resources can be used to help children give voice through nonverbal activities such as drawing, engaging in a scavenger hunt, and
using other creative activities offered in the companion resources link on our website: Remember to always
consult with a helping professional if you think that your child is in need of psychiatric or mental-health support.
We hope that when parents use this book to read and discuss with their children, it may lead to young kids learning to see life events as they
are and not a problem that they have created themselves. We hope that they then can begin to make meaning of their lives and develop
Dr. Geoffrey Johnson, Co-Principle Researcher and author of Rocko’s Guitar; Dr. Avon Hart-Johnson, Principle Researcher, and author of
Baby Star Finds Happy; & Dr. Renata Hedrington-Jones, Co-Principle Researcher and author of The Big Dinner. The Storybook Research
Project Team (shown left to right, respectively)
Rocko & Likeminded Children
At the age of six, children begin to understand the differences between themselves and others. In this
regard, they begin to compare and contrast lessons and experiences in their home with those of their
peers at school and community. They grasp the feedback provided by teachers and recognize the grades
and value attached to performing school assignments.
Psychology Today (12-19-2009) provided the following comments about six-year-olds:
This is time of remarkable change in social and cognitive skills. The six-year-old seeks more
independence, both intellectually and emotionally.
The six-year-old craves affection from parents and teachers.
As with every age, structure is important to facilitate adaption.
Watching your child perform is critical to their self-esteem, as they need a meaningful audience for
their newly acquired skills.
Further, John Bowlby’s theory on attachment suggests that children come into the world programmed to
form attachments with others. Bowlby believed that attachment behaviors are instinctive and will be
activated by conditions that appear to threaten the achievement of proximity, such as separation,
insecurity, and fear.
While the mother-child bond is generally thought to be the guiding force in a child’s development,
fathers also play vital roles in a child’s confidence and emotional well-being. At six, a child’s self-image,
and in particular boys, may be shaped by fathers and male figures in his environment. As such, the
feedback received from fathers will be internalized and used as sounding board for direction.
About the Author
Dr. Johnson served as an evaluator, auditor, and criminal investigator with several agencies
and departments of the federal government. He received numerous awards for saving U.S.
taxpayers millions of dollars; identified fraud in government operations; employee and
contract misconduct that resulted in disbarments, suspensions, dismissals and
imprisonments; and investigated sexual assaults, homicides, and financial crimes and
referred matters of concern to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
After retiring from the federal government Dr. Johnson and his spouse (Dr. Avon Hart-
Johnson) combined energies and co-founded a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization called DC
Project Connect (DCPC). This non-profit organization provides individual and group support
for families and children of incarcerated men and women. DCPC also responds to
constituent questions about the criminal justice system and reentry processes. DCPC
advocates for criminal justice reforms both locally and internationally. An important
component of work involves research and dissemination of data to promote the uplift of
persons adversely affected by incarceration. In this regard, we partner with individuals and
groups who seek social justice reforms. DCPC’s pro bono programs and services have
touched the lives of individuals (and families) in and beyond the greater Washington DC
metropolitan area.
Dr. Johnson attended college (BA) and graduate school (MPA) at Syracuse University. He
began his doctoral studies at Howard University; in 2018 he was awarded a doctorate in
humane letters for contributions in scholarship and improving the quality of life for others.