Prison's youngest victims struggle to make their own way - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Prison's youngest victims struggle to make their own way

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Kids in the Y-Now program participate in an exercise to connect with one another's experiences. Kids in the Y-Now program participate in an exercise to connect with one another's experiences.
Nakiya Crawford talks about what she's been through in dealing with her father's incarceration. Nakiya Crawford talks about what she's been through in dealing with her father's incarceration.
James Crawford reflects on his daughters words about his incarceration. James Crawford reflects on his daughters words about his incarceration.
James Crawford reacts to his daughter's words on his incarceration and her experiences. James Crawford reacts to his daughter's words on his incarceration and her experiences.
James Crawford watches his daughter's interview. James Crawford watches his daughter's interview.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Nakiya Crawford hasn't seen her father in more than a year. Crawford Confessed, "I don't talk about it much."

Her parents are no longer together and she doesn't really like where dad lives. At least that's what she might tell you. The truth is, "He's been in and out my whole life," Nakiya said.

“He was a very supportive dad and when I had a problem I could go to him with anything,” she recalled.

Nakiya hasn't seen her father much because James Crawford is completing a 10-year sentence at Luther Luckett Correctional Complex for selling crack cocaine. She said, "It kind of broke my heart when he went to prison because I felt let down."

Nakiya's one of the 1.5 million children left behind by parents in U.S. prisons. Left like collateral damage of their parents' crimes. Nakiya explained, "When he first went in the last time it affected my sleep because I couldn't sleep at night. I would think about it and I would cry and it was just hard."

James Crawford has no idea how his decisions have affected his children. It was painfully evident as we watched Nakiya tell him for herself.

WDRB's Gilbert Corsey took a portion of Nakiya Crawford's video interview to her father behind bars. He wept aloud listening to his daughter explain, "It's kind of embarrassing because most people have dads and I'm just kind of left out.”

"I can't even get out the words," James Crawford said. "It hurts, it hurts, it hurts."

Researchers say children of incarcerated parents are seven times more likely to end up in prison. James Crawford called it the silent struggle plaguing Louisville's poorest communities. Prison becomes so normal mothers and daughters, and fathers and sons are having family reunions in a cell.

"Nobody cares if I go to prison," James Crawford said. "Nobody cares if I die and when you mix that mentality with the type of drugs that's on the streets now and the kids indulging in it. It's a recipe for disaster, a recipe for disaster," he said.

James Crawford is the 3rd generation of his family to live in lockup and at 13-years-old, Nakiya was heading down the same path.

She said, "I would get into fights and get suspended and get sent to alternative schools." The teenager was battling depression, anxiety and anger.

"I just felt like he didn't care, so I didn't care anymore so I was going to do whatever," said Nakiya.

She ended up in the YMCA safe place, a homeless shelter in Louisville for children in crisis. It's changing her life. Nakiya enrolled in Y-Now, a mentoring program crafted for kids who have parents in prison.

Y-Now Director Rebecca Hentz explained losing a parent to prison is "harder than death." Hentz takes on 30 children for 12 months building camaraderie with common ground.

"Most of us have the same situation,” Nakiya admitted, “it's with our dads and we just feel angry and it feels good to have somebody that can relate to me."

"We talk about the stuff nobody wants to talk about,” Hentz said. “I don't know how else they're going to learn unless we get into some of the gunk sometimes."

Their journey begins far from home. It's three days at camp where the children set dreams, begin to process their grief and plan out goals to avoid their parent's path. Y-Now alumni return and share stories of their own success with the new class.

"My goal is to not disappoint myself," said one recent graduate.

The program boasts remarkable results. In ten years, Hentz and her team have mentored 230 children and 95 percent are still crime free. Though Hentz said she still doesn't know if she's found the formula to break the cycle.

"Maybe in another five years I'll know it needs to get replicated everywhere but right now what I know is that this community needs to pay attention to this forgotten population," she said.

Hentz is paying particular attention to Nakiya Crawford who's turned into a straight-A student in the beginning of her 8th grade year. Hentz is carefully watching to see if Nakiya stays on course as her father goes up for parole early next year.

"I regret everything that I've done as far as hurting my kids," said James Crawford.

It's a familiar promise -- that this time is the last time. "I just want him to know that I'm angry at him but I am not going to hold a grudge,” Nakiya said. “And that I love him and when he gets out I want him to take care of his kids the right way."

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