MANSFIELD – As Easter rolls around, children look forward to the joy of receiving a basket full of sugar and artificially colored eggs from their parents. Unfortunately, children with incarcerated parents do not have that same luxury.
Latonya Palmer, founder of the Perfect Peace Prison Project, wants to make sure those children are not lost in the shuffle. She recently put together an initiative to find kids with incarcerated parents and make sure they receive an Easter basket this year.
“I'm looking to provide services for the children as well… Just an outlet about how they feel about their parents being incarcerated. Because they hold all those emotions in, and I think we tend to not pay attention to the children,” Palmer said.
The North End Community Improvement Collaborative (NECIC) provided Palmer with a small grant to help her purchase materials needed for the Easter Baskets. Palmer also reached out to Pamel’la Jones, founder of Children’s Cupboard, who helped her with finding over 30 children to make Easter baskets for.
Jones, whose focus remains on all children, was more than happy to help Palmer with her initiative and volunteer as well.
“We’ve got to show love to these kids—let these kids know no matter what they're going through, we're here for them (and) they're never left alone...,” Jones said. “But you’ve got to get a foundation. The kids need a foundation, the grandparents raising these kids (need a foundation). There's so much help we need in this community, but we've all got to pull together.”
Palmer started the Perfect Peace Prison Project in 2020. As a formerly incarcerated person, she became wary when the pandemic arrived that those currently incarcerated would struggle and face neglect.
“The expectations that are put on us once we are returning back to society is to get a job (and) secure housing…,” Palmer said. “And it takes a lot to adjust. Not only expectations from others, but we have expectations on ourselves as well. And I think that's a missing element with re-entry is that there is a disconnect between the community and the offender. So I'm hoping to bridge that gap. I'm hoping to restore identity.”
Palmer’s currently working toward a degree in social work at Capital University. Once completed and the pandemic is over, she wants to get more involved in prisons and helping those released adjust back into society.
“They don't know who their councilmen are, they don't know what board they're on, they don't know the county commissioner, what roles they play (or) the finance director,” Palmer said. “All those conditions… I want to educate the inmates on that.”
After having success with the food boxes initiative, Palmer wanted to take her project further. However, with the pandemic, she wasn’t able to do much past the food boxes. The Easter basket project, her second initiative since starting her organization, received warm recognition from the community.
Using Facebook, Palmer, along with her five board members and several volunteers, has reached out to many groups in search of children who may need an Easter basket.
Palmer will continue to help kids with incarcerated parents and make sure they’re not forgotten. She wants to prevent a cycle from happening.
Jones fully supports Palmer’s focus on incarcerated children and wishes the community would work together to ensure a better future for them.
“It takes a village to raise these kids—takes a village to pull together to have nice things for the kids,” Jones said. “Kids are our future, and if we don't get behind them… what future are we going to have?”
For Palmer, getting children of incarcerated parents as well as incarcerated people invested in the community will make them less likely to harm the community. As her outreach bubble expands, she wants to make everyone feel safe and welcome in Mansfield.
“Anything that you're invested in, you're less likely to harm, so I want it to be a safer community, a stronger community,” Palmer said. “You know, when we talk about ‘all-inclusive,’ that includes (inmates) as well. And I believe that they'll feel better about themselves if they're letting their voice be heard—if you're taking a part in the community.”
The Easter Basket Giveaway for children of incarcerated parents provided by Perfect Peace Prison Project and Children's Cupboard takes place on March 27 at UMADAOP 215 N. Trimble Rd from 10 a.m. to noon.
With the hope of staying in contact with the children signed up to receive Easter baskets, Palmer wants the Perfect Peace Prison Project to be a valuable resource for them.
“It's a preventative measure also, because, again, even with the Easter basket giveaway it's not just about giving away an Easter basket to the child of an incarcerated parent,” Jones said. “It's about building rapport. It's about linking with children that have an incarcerated parent. It's about just connecting with the children.”