simplebooklet thumbnail

A book about parental incarceration

Truth and The Big Dinner A Story About Parental Incarceration  Finding a silver lining when a parent goes to prison or jai...
Truth and The Big Dinner
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
Truth and e Big Dinner | Finding a Silver Lining When a Parent Goes to Prison
ISBN: 978-0-9967410-2-6
Copyright © 2019 by Renata Hedrington Jones. All rights reserved.
is edition is published by DC Project Connect in arrangement with Extant-One
Publishing, Inc. and Renata Hedrington Jones.
Avon Hart-Johnson, Publications, LLC. All rights reserved.
9103 Woodmore Centre Drive, Lanham, MD 20706, USA |
Internal Layout & Printed by:
Anointed Press Graphics, Inc.,
11191 Crain Highway, Cheltenham, MD 20623
301.782.2285 |
Illustrated by:
Miki Gilmore |
is publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information regarding
the subject matter covered. It is distributed with the understanding that the author and
publishers are not engaged in rendering psychological, nancial, 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 eBook voiceover by Monique Davis
Cover by Miki Gilmore
Creative Consultant: Caidyn Zuri-Aloma Jones
1. Study Aids/Self Help
2. Family & Relationships/ Parental Incarceration/Grief and Loss/Coping
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, since the 1970s,
the number of Americans incarcerated in federal and state prisons,
as well as local jails, increased by 700% (ACLU, 2019).
One of the
collateral consequences of this phenomenon has been the adverse
impact on children, leaving parents and caregivers at the forefront
to address these issues without adequate intervention. While there
are a growing number of resources available for families aected by
incarceration, less attention is paid to how tools such as storybooks
can be used as creative interventions to support aected children.
Parental incarceration is now considered an adverse childhood
experience (ACE). Nearly a decade ago, the U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services acknowledged that 50% of children
who witnessed a parent’s arrest were under seven (7) years of age
(HHS, 2001).
Today, incarceration rates have declined slightly, but
tailored interventions to address the legacy of mass incarceration
have lagged far behind. This book is designed for adults to read to
their children (10 years of age and under). Parents and caregivers
are encouraged to use this book and the website to create an
interactive experience with children. A child’s opportunity to discuss
his or her feelings with an understanding adult may play a critical
role in supporting, healing, and building resilience in these young
While this book was written for parents and caregivers, the text
can be used by helping professionals as one of many integrative
modalities. While stories about incarceration may not take the
place of professional intervention by trained professionals, they
can serve as a starting point for discussion about the unaddressed
emotions and feelings children may suppress when a parent is
incarcerated. Supporting material to accompany this book, along
with discussion guides, activity sheets, and resources for parents
and children, can be found at:
ACLU. (2019). Mass Incarceration. Retrieve from https://www.aclu.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [HHS]. (2001).
From prison to home: The eect of incarceration and reentry
on children, families, and communities. Retrieved from https://ects-parental-incarceration-young-
Truth and The Big Dinner | 9
Truth and The Big Dinner | 11
Truth’s whole family prepared for “The Big
Truth was seven years old and extremely excited
about the upcoming family dinner at Auntie
Lou Lou’s house. All the family members would
be there.
The family all lived in the same town, but they
didn’t have big dinners together often. That’s
why this dinner was so special. The night before
the big dinner, Truth thought, I am so excited
about the big dinner that I can’t sleep!
Late that night, Truth climbed out of her bed
in the darkness and tiptoed to the mirror. She
looked in the mirror, using a ashlight under
her chin, and tried to imagine a hairstyle for
the big event.
Truth noticed that she looked like her mother–
beautiful, with lovely hair. In the morning, she
would ask her Auntie to style her hair. She
would be just as pretty as all the other girls in
the family. That night Truth dreamed of how
beautiful she would look for the big dinner.
Truth and The Big Dinner | 13
When morning came, Truth woke to the
smell of food that her Auntie Ellen was
cooking for the big dinner.
Auntie Ellen had pots and pans lled with
food. She was busy creating her favorite
recipes. This made her very happy.
Truth and The Big Dinner | 15
Truth and her momma lived with Auntie Ellen
in a purple house. Auntie Lou Lou lived in a
yellow house next door, where the big dinner
would be held.
That morning of the big dinner, Truth could
smell the food in the summer air, coming from
both houses.
Truth’s momma, her Auntie Ellen, and Auntie
Lou Lou were her favorite people. Auntie
Lou Lou was, indeed, like a second mother
to Truth, even though she lived in the house
next door.
Long ago, Auntie Lou Lou gave “Truth” her
name and jokingly explained, “The truth is
better than a lie!”
On the morning of the big dinner, Truth said
to Auntie Ellen, “I haven’t seen my momma in
a while.”
Auntie Ellen said, “Sometimes, your momma
doesn’t come home because she doesn’t want
to hear me yell!”
Truth thought to herself, Yell about what?
Truth and The Big Dinner | 17
Finally, Auntie Ellen said it was time to
get dressed and to style Truth’s hair. She
styled it just the way Truth had imagined
it in the mirror the night before. Her hair
was beautiful.
Truth believed that she looked more
beautiful than all her cousins combined,
and even prettier than her Aunties and
the other grownups in the family! Even her
dress was beautiful. Purple was Truth’s
favorite color.
Truth proudly skipped over to Auntie Lou
Lou’s house to wait for the family to arrive.
Truth and The Big Dinner | 19
Truth looked out the window of the home to
see who else was coming to dinner. She saw
a van coming down the street. Truth said, “I
hope it is Big Mama.” Big Mamma had a big van
because she used it to carry her wheelchair.
Sometimes, Big Mamma would give Truth a
ride on her motorized wheelchair.
Truth shouted throughout the house, “It’s
Big Mama and Uncle Dee! This is the best day
ever! My cousins and family are arriving, and
Momma should be here soon, too! Momma
had better hurry, so she won’t be late for
dinner. Oh my goodness, the food smells so
Truth and The Big Dinner | 21
Just then, Uncle Nat walked through the door,
asking, “Where do I put the ice cream machine?”
Truth was beyond excited. She loved homemade
ice cream and loved to watch the ice cream being
made. She remembered that it always tasted so
Truth went back to the window, wondering aloud.
“Where is my momma? She never misses a family
This is the biggest dinner we have ever had, and
it’s not even Thanksgiving. Momma must arrive
Truth thought about the exciting day’s activities.
We will jump rope, play hopscotch, and marbles,
too. My momma better hurry and get here. She
always wins when we play fun games! Right in the
middle of Truth’s daydream, Big Mama startled
everyone, catching them all off-guard with her
loud, strong voice as she called everyone to
prepare for dinner.
Everyone laughed. No one dared to challenge Big
Mamma. “I may not be able to catch you from my
wheelchair, but my words will sting like a bee!”
All the family laughed when Big Mama said that,
especially her statement “sting like a bee.”
Truth and The Big Dinner | 23
The aunties started setting the table. Truth
was nally ready to have the big dinner with
her family–all the people she loved so dearly.
Looking at the place settings, Truth asked
her aunties, “Where is my mom?” No one
answered. They just looked concerned.
Momma must be running late, Truth thought
to herself.
Later, Auntie Ellen and Grandma Alice
came into the house carrying more food and
deserts. They were laughing so loudly and so
hard that everyone else in the room started
laughing, too, without knowing what was so
funny. When Truth looked around, all she
could see was happiness in the family; yet,
she was missing her momma.
Truth and The Big Dinner | 25
While the table was being set, Truth played
with her cousins. She suddenly asked,
within earshot of the other family members,
“I wonder how long it’s going to be before
my momma comes home?”
Even though everyone heard her, no one
answered; they just looked at each other.
Truth and The Big Dinner | 27
Finally, Auntie Lou Lou asked all the family
to be seated at the table. She looked at
everyone around the table and said, “It’s
time for a family talk.” Her tone of voice
was serious, and she was concerned about
what she was about to say.
Truth and The Big Dinner | 29
Auntie Lou Lou looked at the adults in the
room and said, “We are going to tell Truth
the truth!”
Truth was confused. She thought, Tell me
Then, Auntie Lou Lou turned to Truth and
said, “Baby, do you know the difference
between the truth and a lie?”
Truth said, “Yes, Ma’am. The truth is what
you say when you are talking about something
that is real.”
Truth and The Big Dinner | 31
Auntie Lou Lou said, “Sometimes, telling
the truth makes us feel uncomfortable.
Sometimes, the truth also hurts. There are
people who love you very much and believe
that they can protect you by not sharing the
truth. They do not want you to feel bad or
to be afraid, so they avoid telling the truth.
Do you understand that?”
Truth, nodded her head, “yes.” The other
children sat quietly, listening, too.
Auntie Lou Lou smiled. This made Truth
feel comfortable. Then Auntie Lou Lou
continued, “Truth, do you know what con-
sequences are?”
Truth said, “Yes, we face consequences in
Girl Scouts when we don’t complete our
Auntie Lou Lou said, “Yes, Truth, that’s
right!” And “Do you know what choices are?”
Truth said, “Yes, but… not really.”
Truth and The Big Dinner | 32
Auntie Lou Lou continued, “Sometimes,
you eat too much candy and your tummy
hurts. That is because it is a bad choice to
eat too much.”
Truth said, “I understand. The consequence
of eating too much candy is a tummy ache!”
Even though Truth understood what Aun-
tie Lou Lou was saying, she became con-
fused and frustrated. “Why is everyone
talking about truth and lies?” she asked. “I
just want to know when my momma is com-
ing home. No one has told me when my mom-
ma is coming to dinner. I even heard Cous-
in Mabel in the kitchen when she said my
momma ‘can’t come home unless she breaks
through the bars at the jail!’”
Auntie Lou Lou said, “You should not have
heard about your momma that way. We
should have told you.”
Auntie Lou Lou said, “Truth, we want you
to be happy. We want our young people to
Truth and The Big Dinner | 33
be happy and not worry about us older peo-
Truth said, “Auntie Lou Lou, I love being
with you and all my family.”
Auntie Lou Lou then said to Truth, “We
apologize, and we are sorry for not telling
you the truth about your momma.
We apologize because we told you a ‘lie’ rath-
er than the truth. We were trying to make
you feel better because your mom has not
been home. Truth, your momma won’t be
coming to dinner today.” Truth was sad.
“Remember, when we talked about choices?”
Auntie Lou Lou said. “Well, your mom didn’t
make the right choices and now she is in a
place called jail. We don’t know how long she
will be there. But we will always love you and
take care of you while your momma is away.
Do you understand that, Truth?”
Truth and The Big Dinner | 35
Truth, in all her pretty curls and pretty
dress, broke down and cried– in front of ev-
eryone. Auntie Lou Lou and both grandmas
all hugged her, together. Each in their own
way said, “Truth, we will be with you always.
Your family loves you.”
Auntie Lou Lou said to Truth, “I know this
is a lot of information. We can continue to
talk about it. We don’t know all the details
about your mom. But you can keep in touch
by writing letters. You can color pictures and
even speak with your momma on the phone.
We do not want you to worry. Instead, we
want you to do all the happy and fun things
little princesses do.”
Truth and The Big Dinner | 37
Then Truth felt better. She wiped her eyes
and thought about all that had been said.
She asked her Auntie, “May I call my mom-
ma now?”
Auntie Ellen quickly answered, “Truth, your
momma is supposed to call us this evening.”
Truth and The Big Dinner | 39
Later, the phone rang and one of the
grandmas answered the call. It was a collect
call from the jail. Grandma said, “Truth,
it’s your momma.” Truth ran to the phone.
“Hello, Momma,” Truth said. “I am sorry
you are not here with the family today for
the big dinner. Auntie Lou Lou, Auntie
Ellen, and Grandma Alice sat me down
and explained that you would be away for
a while. They also told me they were sorry
for not telling me the truth.
Truth and The Big Dinner | 40
Momma don’t worry about me. I know
you love me and will be home one day. I
will be good. I am a big girl. I am seven
years old. I have learned about lies and
the truth. Oh, Momma, I am going to try
to always tell the truth because it feels a
lot better.”
Then Truth asked her momma so many
questions: “Momma, why did the police
put you in jail?” Her momma answered,
“I didn’t obey the rules.” Then Truth
asked, “Were they mean to you?” Momma
replied, “No, they were professional.”
Truth asked, “Mommy, did you know you
did not obey the rules?” Her Momma said,
“Yes, but I ignored the rules. Now being
here is the consequence of making poor
choices. Truth, I should have told you
the truth. I am sorry.”
Truth and The Big Dinner | 41
Then Truth said to her momma, “Thank you
for telling me the truth. I love you!” Truth
continued to talk about the big dinner with
her mom.
Truth and The Big Dinner | 43
Truth eagerly shared, “Uncle Dee and Uncle
Nat made homemade ice cream and as soon
as I nish talking to you, we will have dinner
and afterwards, eat the best ice cream
In saying goodbye, Truth gave her mom a
big “air- kiss.”
Finally, the family nished the big dinner,
and Truth ran to get her ice cream.
Truth was once again excited and happy.
Auntie Lou Lou looked at the family
gathered in the dining area and after a big
deep sigh, she said to all of the relatives
and especially to the grandmothers, “What
is important is that we keep our little ones
safe and remind them that we are one big
supportive family, and they are loved.”
Truth and The Big Dinner | 44
Uncle Dee added, “We are family and while we
may still make some mistakes–sometimes, in
not telling the truth- we have good intentions.
It is our love that binds us together.”
Truth was surrounded by all her many
uncles, aunts, cousins and the rest of the
family. She thought to herself, The love of
family is so important, Truth knew in her
heart that she was still missing her momma.
But she felt happy to learn that her momma
would be coming home one day and that her
family’s love would help her to overcome the
absence. Yes, the big dinner was wonderful,
but most important, Truth had learned the
lessons of truth, consequences, honesty,
and the enduring love of family.
Truth and The Big Dinner | 45
Truth and The Big Dinner | 47
Note from the Author
As adults, we impress upon children the importance of telling the
truth. However, telling young children the truth can be dicult and
sensitive. At times, we even grapple with using the word “lie” and
instead, we use euphemisms such as “telling-a-story” or “I told a
white lie.” However, when using the word lie, we can begin to teach
children the language of admitting when something is not truthful.
Yes, the adage, “the truth will set you free” might be a wise analogy
for honest discussions. Conversely, “the truth hurts” might provide
reasons or an excuse to avoid dicult discussions.
Telling children the truth about dicult topics such as parental
incarceration may require bravery and courage. Yet, as with
Truth’s family, sometimes our best intentions may not be the best
approach. We may inuence children’s lives more than we know.
As they grow and develop, it is important that adults model ways
to help children to cope with conict and challenging life events.
Further, it is helpful to also model ways to convey the truth(s) –even
when it hurts.
It is unclear what long-term impacts may arise from not being
honest with children. Therefore, it may be wise to debunk the myths
regarding “the truth hurts.” Working through these dilemmas of
truth- telling can bring about an improved life for children and the
family system. Further, the idea of family as a village may extend
toward healthy and healthier communities.
To each parent, caregiver, and helping professional/practitioner,
Truth and The Big Dinner | 48
who share this book with children, you possess the potential to
aect children positively. Perhaps this text can be used to generate
conversations that will serve to uplift our children from pain and
sorrow, and feelings of confusion and emotional conict. It is my
hope that this book in some way contributes to your eorts to help
children become wonderful individuals who develop ethics of truth,
transparency, and honesty throughout their lives.
Truth and The Big Dinner | 49
Stories as Intervention
Stories historically have been used to help children and adults nd
meaning in certain life experiences. Truth and the Big Dinner is
designed to assist those who care for children with an incarcerated
parent with tools to help them understand they are not isolated or
alone. Children like the ctional character, Truth, may need tools
such as storybooks to help them understand and process emotions.
Books such as this can help children to better understand family
dynamics during dicult times such as parental incarceration.
Children who are aected 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, possibly, more. They may not be fully equipped
socially, emotionally, or 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 oered 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.
Truth and The Big Dinner | 50
We hope that when parents and caregivers use this book to read and
discuss with their children, it may lead to young children 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 resilience.
Dr. Georey 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 Truth and The Big Dinner.
The Storybook Research Project Team Authors (shown left to right,
Truth and The Big Dinner | 51
About the Author
Dr. Renata A. Hedrington Jones is originally from Chicago, Il., and is a
product Washington, DC Public Schools. She is currently a resident
in central Virginia. She is married to Lonnie Jones, Sr. and has three
adult children, Lonnie, Jr., (Larena), Charles, and Miyah. She is the
proud grandmother (Umi) of the most beautiful grand children in
n the world, Caidyn and Sundiata. Cooking is her personal therapy
and her passion. She is the daughter of Claudius E. Hedrington, Sr.,
and Ellen Norman Hedrington. She believes in family and the love
of family.
Dr. Hedrington Jones earned her doctorate in Human Services
(Administration) at Walden University. She is also a charter
member of the Tau Upsilon Alpha (Alpha Chi Chapter, Walden
University) Human Services Honor Society; earned MSW at Virginia
Commonwealth University (Richmond, VA) with a focus in School
Social Work and Micro Social Work; attended Virginia Intermont
College and received a BA in Social Work. While an undergrad
student her love and passion for social work began. She is interested
in Family Preservation, Children and Families, the School to Prison
Pipeline, and Mass Incarceration. The demise of the family is obvious
in our society today. However, she also nds that those families
who have experienced a parental incarceration experiences are
impacted greatly. She strongly believes and asserts that we can
make a dierence if we investigate, explore, and determine what
we must do to impact social change in this area.
Truth and The Big Dinner | 52
Dr. Hedrington Jones was employed in the public education
arena for 30 years. Her career began as a Licensed School Social
Worker, then promoted to Senior School Social Worker, earned a
promotion to Specialists and retired as Coordinator, Medicaid &
Special Projects. As a school social worker she served as a lobbyist
for the RAVT/VVT/SSW (Richmond Association of Visiting Teachers
& School Social Workers & Virginia Association of Visiting Teachers/
School Social Workers) & SSWAA (School Social Worker Association
of America).
Prior to the school system she was employed in mental health as a
Transition Specialists and a residential supervisor for the mentally
ill. She also worked as an Adoption Social Worker. In this position
she facilitated groups for prospective adoptive parents, counseled
children in preparation of adoption, served as social worker to
parents placing their children up for adoption, and as a clinical social
worker in the counseling and mental health department. She worked
in the Department of Corrections as a project supervisor, which is
equivalent to a correctional ocer; as a Correctional Institutional
Rehabilitative Counselor, and as a Correctional Institutional
Rehabilitative Supervisor. She also volunteers facilitating parenting
groups. Dr. Hedrington Jones continue to serve the community
by sitting on various boards involved with social issues and social
change. She is also a Core Faculty member at her Alma Mater,
Walden University.
Dr. Hedrington Jones was awarded the Nia Lifetime Achievement
Award by the National Association of Black Social Workers in April
2018 at the 50th Anniversary of this illustrious organization. Dr.
Hedrington Jones is a member of the Richmond Association of
Truth and The Big Dinner | 53
Black Social Workers. It is with this organization of dedicated social
workers that she fuels her re for the people she loves and know
that “A Change is Gonna Come”. She is a member of the Richmond
Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., where she
is an involved member who takes Delta’s initiatives seriously and
to heart. She is also working with the Delta Research & Education
Foundation by being the Virginia Representative along with Danielle
Miles (Arlington Alumnae) and the DMV as they work diligently to
implement the DTEC/DTAG initiative to impact the inequities in
public education.
This Children’s book is a part of a project we aectionately call “The
Storybook Research Project.” Through focus groups and individual
interviews held in the Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia
area, our research team gained a breadth of knowledge about
communication between parents, caregivers, and their children
regarding parental incarceration. Insights, lessons learned, and
tips from parents and caregivers who participated in the study are
integrated in our website resources for families and children. As we
continue our quest to bring about social change that renders healing
for those aected by mass incarceration, we oer our thanks to the
countless families who, in the midst of their own perils, were willing
to contribute to research in hopes that their contributions will yield
such interventions as our children’s books.
We also acknowledge the following individuals who contributed to
the “Storybook Research Project” and ultimately made this project a
success: Dr. Avon Hart-Johnson (Author & Principle Researcher), Dr.
Renata Hedrington-Jones (Author & Co-Principle Researcher), Dr.
Georey Johnson (Author & Co-Principle Researcher), Dr. Brenda
Fawcett (Child-Psychologist), Ms. Miki Gilmore (Web Developer/
Graphic Artist), Ms. Rhythm Bowers (Graphic Artist), Monique
Davis (Voiceover Talent), Ms. Madra Cochrane (Project Manager).
and Caidyn Zuri-Aloma Jones (Creative Consultant). We also wish
to thank Walden University, who sponsored the research project
through a 2018 Faculty Research Initiative Grant. Dr. Avon Hart-
Johnson is the Principle Researcher for this project and currently a
contributing faculty member at Walden University. She is the author
of Baby Star Finds “Happy.” Dr. Georey Johnson (Co-Principle
Researcher) is the author of Rocko’s Guitar. Dr. Renata Hedrington-
Jones (Co-Principle Researcher), is a core faculty member at Walden
University. She is the author of this book, Truth and the Big Dinner.