View Full Version : Article: (Mississippi) Churches train to help children of imprisoned parents

12-12-2004, 11:36 AM

Sunday, December 12, 2004 By NATALIE CHAMBERS

MOSS POINT -- Members of Little Rock Missionary Baptist Church, Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, St. Paul United Methodist Church and Olivet Missionary Baptist Church were in training Saturday to learn how to assist children whose parents are incarcerated.

Approximately 2.4 million American children have one or more parents incarcerated. These children, research has shown, are likely to repeat the pattern.

Big Brothers Big Sisters has initiated a mentoring program, Amachi, to assist these children ages 5 to 17.

Dr. Clarence Lovelady, director of Amachi, for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Mississippi, conducted the training session at Little Rock Missionary Baptist Church in Moss Point.

"Amachi" is a warm greeting used in west African cultures that means "Who knows but what God has brought us through this child."

Lovelady said the term is also a perfect fit for the new mentoring program being brought to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

"It is also a faith-based mentoring program operated by Big Brothers Big Sisters in partnership with local church pastors and their congregations. And, it is free," he said.

Amachi is the only congregational based mentoring program in the United States to offer a proven and effective model for mentoring children of incarcerated parents, he said.

"The caring members of the church can help break the cycle of intergenerational incarceration for the children who live right around the corner in our community. The church member is asked to spend quality time with their little brother or little sister an average of one hour each week," Lovelady said. "The mentor can easily accomplish the time commitment simply by including the little brother or little sister in normal day-to-day activities such as going shopping, attending an athletic event, going to the movies or attending church services together."

Big Brothers Big Sisters provide proven, comprehensive support services to Amachi volunteers and to the families of the children, he said.

"Each partner congregation will assign a church volunteer coordinator to help recruit volunteers and to support the volunteers after they have been matched with little brothers and little sisters," he said.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics bulletin:

Roughly seven of 10 women in a correctional setting have minor children who are under 18 years old.

Women under correctional care, custody or supervision with minor children reported an average of 2.11 children of this age.

In 1997, an estimated 2.8 percent of all children under age 18 have at least one parent in a local jail or a state or federal prison. About one in 40 children have an incarcerated father and one in 359 children have an incarcerated mother.

These translate into more than 1.3 million minor children who are the offspring of women under correctional sanction.

Males serving time in state prisons reported that they have nearly 11 times as many minor children as women serving time in state prisons but four in 10 said they had lived with the children prior to entering prison.

Ruth Spillers of Moss Point, who is a member of Little Rock Missionary Baptist church and an organizer of the training session, said she and Donna Joseph attended a faith-based conference in Jackson and were stunned at the statistics they learned pertaining to the effect incarceration has on families. They asked Lovelady to do a local presentation.

"It is a new program, especially to our area. It is in Jackson and Hattiesburg and they are trying to expand it to the Coast," Joseph said.

Spillers can be reached at (228) 475-1936 or Joseph at (228) 475-5887.

Lovelady can be reached at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mississippi, 175 East Capitol St., Suite 222, Jackson, MS 39201, or by telephone at (601) 961-9286 or e-mail at

Reporter Natalie Chambers can be reached at nchambers@the or (228) 934-1429.