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March 24th, 2017

You Know Mass Incarceration is Real When Sesame Street has Fam in Lock Up

As of 2013, there were 2.7 million American children going to bed each night with one or both parents locked up- that’s one out of every twenty eight kids in the entire nation

As of 2013, there were 2.7 million American children go ing to bed each night with one or both parents locked up- that’s one out of every twenty eight kids in the entire nation- a huge increase from the mid-nineties when it was one out of every one hundred and twenty five kids.

Through the United States’ use of the so-called war on drugs and reliance on broken windows type policing, it is no surprise that so many children are having to deal with the devastating consequences of a broken criminal justice system that seemingly criminalizes being poor and a person of color.  Given this reality, it is incredibly powerful to see Sesame Street tackling mass incarceration directly via the introduction of Alex, a child whose father is in prison.

Sesame Street’s incarceration episode begins with Alex talking with friends and playing with toy cars when one of the friends suggests getting their dads to help them build faster toy cars. Alex grows quiet and briefly explains that his dad is not around before sullenly walking off.

In the next scene, we see Alex sitting with his friends and opening up about his dad’s incarceration. He soon learns that one of his other friends has had a parent locked up and that talking about the experience can be therapeutic.

Most important, however, is Sesame Streets’ tackling of the stigma associated with having a parent caught up in the criminal justice system. Alex learns that there is no shame in having a non-traditional family and that he can still have a relationship with his incarcerated dad.

Alex’s friends then sing him a song to drive the message home and to let children watching  know that they do not have to bear the burden alone.

You’re not alone

I’ve been there too

Many children have

Many are like you

You’re not alone

I’m by your side

My ears are here to listen

My arms are open wide

You are not alone

We are here for you

We will be your friend

We will help you through

You are not alone

Look around and you will see

People who take care of you

Who lived it and will share with you

Who always will be there for you

Like me, and me, and me

You’re not alone

With the Trump administration threatening to eliminate the funding for PBS, and in effect Sesame Street, this episode demonstrates how vital public broadcasting can be in helping to provide positive messages that provide children with support and self confidence. It also shows how devastating the United States’ criminal justice system and its reliance on incarceration has become.

It maybe time for Sesame Street to go to D.C. to teach Congress and the Trump administration a thing or two about accountability and collateral consequences.

To watch this episode and learn more about Sesame Streets’ toolkit on talking to kids about incarceration, go here.

Jeronimo Saldaña is a member of Mijente and a volunteer on its CommSquad. He’s internet famous for making President 45’s sayings into stylish hats. Follow Jeronimo at @JeronimoSaldana

Paid for in part by Mijente PAC, 734 W Polk St., Phoenix, AZ 85007, not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.