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Both Sides of the Wall: Empowering Incarcerated Families Through Healing & Wellness 

The trauma of incarceration often extends beyond the individual, leaving behind family members reeling from the physical loss of their loved one and struggling to understand the emotional and financial implications of their new situation. After a detention most family members are overlooked, left to navigate the challenges and hardships of their new normal with little to no support from government or community agencies. In addition many families avoid seeking help because of the stigma and biases surrounding incarceration, yet without proper interventions the negative impacts of familial imprisonment can have devastating and long-lasting effects.  

A partnership between Northeastern University and the Mellon Foundation is working to reverse this cycle of generational trauma by empowering families through workshops, presentations, and wellness strategies for dealing with stress. Patrice Collins, Assistant Professor, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Department of Cultures, Societies and Global Studies in Africana Studies at Northeastern University, and Sam Williams, Executive Director, Concord Prison Outreach; Founder, One Circle Health and Wellness LLC, are leading the workshops in a public health project titled “Both Sides of the Wall: Empowering Incarcerated Families through Healing & Wellness,” focusing on mitigating trauma for families experiencing generational incarceration.

“Having an incarcerated loved one can be an isolating experience,” said Williams. “Imagine that your loved one has just been put away, and you’re left to deal with not only the stigma surrounding that but also the emotional and financial tolls, and for the most part you’re expected to deal with it by yourself. That stress can negatively affect your physical and mental well-being in several ways.”

The effects of that stress can trickle down through generations. Research has shown that children separated from a parent because of imprisonment are more likely to have poor academic performance and are at higher risk for juvenile delinquency and substance abuse later in life.  

“Having your parent put in a jail at a young age becomes a formative event in your life,” said Collins. “It alters your upbringing and as a result can change the trajectory of your life. Our project aims to facilitate social change by providing meaningful support to incarcerated families, helping them navigate this challenging event in both their own lives and the lives of their children.”

Williams’ and Collins’ workshops provide a comprehensive approach to address this social issue. Both Sides of the Wall offers workshops to family members that are focused on health and wellness support, while actively considering the lived experience and perspectives of these families. These workshops are attended by families with incarcerated loved ones, and in addition to physical support can become a place of community for those sharing this unique experience. Both Sides of the Wall offers presentations and classes to community partners already involved in supporting families affected by incarceration, training stakeholders in evidence-based tactics and coping strategies.  

Both Sides of the Wall is a multi-year project aiming to meet the evolving needs of this unique population. Documenting lived experiences through audio and visual mediums will be used to critically examine the public history of generational trauma on children and families. With a core focus on addressing stress and trauma, Both Sides of the Wall helps communities understand the crucial relationship between trauma, stress, and physical health, as well as the overall well-being of children and families. Furthermore, Both Sides of the Wall acknowledges that physical trauma and psychological distress are frequently more prevalent in urban communities, attributed to a variety of environmental and cultural factors. Consequently, the project goals strive to alleviate these traumas.

Learn more about Both Sides of the Wall: Empowering Incarcerated Families through Healing & Wellness and The Reckoning Institute here.

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