PARK SLOPE — A crayon drawing of a single yellow flower surrounded by white space. A drawing of a little boy standing next to his father, who's dressed in a green state prison uniform. And a geometric shape drawn by a little girl in a visitor's room while she waited to see her father in jail.
These are just a few of the poignant drawings that hang as part of a the "Incarceration of Dads" exhibit currently on view at the St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church at 116 Sixth Ave.
“Each picture is the child’s statement,” said Ellen Edelman, Executive Director of Families, Fathers & Children, Inc., the organization that produced the exhibit. “Sometimes a picture is particularly relevant,” she said.
The exhibit, which includes a selection of artwork and writing from children and parents who have relatives in the criminal justice system, gives voice to many who have felt voiceless, Edelman said.
Among the art on display through April 12 at the church is the solitary flower, drawn by a 10-year old girl in foster care whose mother was an addict and whose father was in prison.
Edelman said that when she asked the little girl why she always walked with her head held down, she said the girl replied, “Because I don’t like people.”
“You realize she was drawing a picture of herself,” Edelman added of the lone flower.
Other drawings are just as poignant. One boy drew a series of self-portraits with his father, who always appears in a green prison uniform. The boy said he had never seen his father wearing anything else, Edelman said.
Another drawing by a young girl was of a geometric pattern, which she said “My Daddy showed me how to make" while she visited his prison facility.
Edelman founded Families, Fathers & Children, Inc. seven years ago to provide services to families with a father who is incarcerated. She said she realized the need for the program after seeing that many other agencies were focusing on mothers rather than fathers in their outreach mission.
As part of her work, Edelman frequently travels to visitation facilites at prisons across the state and beyond, and always brings along crayons and paper to keep any children she encounters busy. She also offers children the chance to draw their experiences during her classes and other outreach.
She also provides transportations for families to visit correctional facilities. And she writes Christmas cards to men in prison, for which prisoners have responded that it was the only card they received that year.
She said the exhibit was an “organic” outgrowth of all of the drawings these children have made. The drawings have become an integral part of her program, and she always carries around three drawings with her to help explain her work, she said.
More than 9,000 children are involved with Families, Fathers & Children, mainly from Central Brooklyn and The Bronx, she said.
She added that the outreach is a crucial proactive step toward keeping children from following in their fathers' footsteps.
“Children have a 70 percent chance of following their dads to prison,” Edelman said.
She said that her prison visits don't just benefit the children. They also help the adults trying to survive behind bars.
Edelman said people have told her, “When you come here, we feel we’re not abandoned anymore.”