Volunteers Give Gifts to Help 390K Prisoners’ Children Feel Loved this Christmas
Through Dec. 24: People Across the U.S. are Purchasing Gifts to Let Some of the Nation’s At-Risk Kids Know They are Not Forgotten by Prisoner-Parents
Chris Cleveland's 30-year journey with drugs began when he smoked his first joint at age 12, the year his parents divorced. By 16, Cleveland was expelled from high school.
"My formal education stopped there," laments Cleveland, but his addictions took off. A self-described "highly functioning addict," he held down a series of jobs as a bounty hunter, bail bondsman and corrections officer while abusing drugs.
After Cleveland's mother died of cancer, he descended into a four-year cycle of drug abuse and arrests, blowing through his sizable inheritance, his salary and the profits from frequent thefts.
By then Cleveland was married and had a young son named Christopher. The family moved constantly, and Cleveland and his wife had volatile confrontations. To compensate, he sometimes gave his son lavish gifts purchased with stolen credit cards.
Though arrested dozens of times, Cleveland used connections and manipulation to evade prosecution, until his actions finally caught up with him in 2002. Facing 69 felony charges, he left behind his 8-year-old son and entered the Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Living in 23-hour lockdown, Cleveland said that he spoke to his son only about once a year—until Angel Tree® reconnected them.
"Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree gave me a way to connect with my son when nothing else was working," said Cleveland.
A program of Prison Fellowship, the world's largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families, Angel Tree reaches out at Christmas and throughout the year to children who have a parent in prison. While Prison Fellowship works to reconcile prisoners and ex-prisoners to their families and communities, its Angel Tree program addresses the need which every child has - the need to feel loved by mom and dad.
Just like some 275,000 other prisoners that year, Cleveland had registered his son to receive Christmas gifts delivered by Prison Fellowship volunteers - gifts designated with a tag "From Dad." When Christopher received a basketball, he soon shared a phone call with his father.
"All Christopher could talk about was his basketball," remembers Cleveland. "All of the expensive things that I gave to him when I was a mess weren't important to him, but that basketball from Angel Tree gave him hope."
Since 1982, Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree has allowed some 8.6 million children to have a meaningful point of connection with their parents. And just like with Christopher Cleveland, whose dad came out of prison in 2006, Angel Tree has lowered the odds of recidivism for the prisoner-parent while encouraging the parent-child bond—a bond that is tremendously important in breaking the intergenerational cycle of crime.
"I know what it's like to feel scared and lonely at Christmas and wonder if my dad cared about me," said Christopher. "I love being able to do something special for these kids who are missing their mom or dad so much."
Since his release from prison, Cleveland has thrown himself into caring for Christopher, now a 16-year-old football player. He supports his family by running his own business, has launched a nonprofit ministry to support ex-offenders with re-entry tools, receives support and mentoring through Prison Fellowship and has completed all of his parole requirements and earned a recommendation for full pardon.
This Christmas, Cleveland and Christopher are joining thousands of churches and individuals to help 390,000 prisoners' children across the U.S. know that they are loved and not forgotten by their incarcerated parent. Like every Christmas since Cleveland's release, the father and son will volunteer through their church to purchase and distribute Angel Tree gifts in their community, giving back to the program that transformed their relationship.
Individuals not affiliated with an Angel Tree church can also provide gifts this year by making an online cash donation, or for $11.44 they can choose a child's age, gender and home state and give a gift on behalf of his or her incarcerated parent.
To find a participating church in your area or to give online, visit www.AngelTree.org or call 1-800-55-ANGEL.
- LIVE Interview Opportunities: On-site or via Skype, now through Dec. 24, cover the impact of Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree through live interviews with:
- Former inmate Chris Cleveland and son Christopher as they shop, wrap and deliver gifts
- Angel Tree volunteers in select cities as they shop, pack and deliver gifts
- Angel Tree parties in select cities at which all children sponsored by a church celebrate receiving their gifts given on behalf of their prisoner-parent
- Prison Fellowship Vice Chairman and Former Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley
- Prison Fellowship Vice President and Former Prisoner Pat Nolan, whose children were Angel Tree recipients during his incarceration
- Miss America 2003 Erika Harold, a Prison Fellowship board member who was bullied as a child and understands the social stigma and shame faced by many children with an incarcerated parent
- Follow Angel Tree via updates on Facebook and YouTube
69-Count Felon and Ex-Offender Chris Cleveland
- "Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree gave me a way to connect with my son when nothing else was working."
- "All Christopher could talk about was his basketball. All of the expensive things that I gave to him when I was a mess weren't important to him, but that basketball from Angel Tree gave him hope."
16-year-old Christopher Cleveland, Angel Tree Kid
- "I know what it's like to feel scared and lonely at Christmas and wonder if my dad cared about me. I love being able to do something special for these kids who are missing their mom or dad so much. "
Colson Center for Christian Worldview and Prison Fellowship Founder Chuck Colson
- "Angel Tree gifts help maintain the fragile bond between a parent who made a serious mistake and his innocent children. I pray that you will help these needy children . . . by taking part in Angel Tree this year."
ABOUT ANGEL TREE & PRISON FELLOWSHIP
Angel Tree is a program of Prison Fellowship, the world's largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families.
STATISTICS ABOUT THE CHILDREN OF PRISONERS
- There are an estimated 1.7 million children who have a father or mother serving a sentence in a state or federal prison (Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, NCJ222984. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, Glaze, Lauren E. and Laura M. Maruschak, 2008).
- An estimated 7.3 million children have a parent in prison or under some form of state or federal supervision (Families Left Behind: The Hidden Costs of Incarceration and Reentry, Urban Institute Justice Policy Center, rev. 2005).
- Some 10 million young people in the United States have had a mother or father - or both - spend time behind bars at some point in their lives (Partnerships between Corrections and Child Welfare, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2007).
- Between 1995 and 2005, the number of incarcerated women in the United States increased by 57 percent compared to an increase of 34 percent for men (Prisoners in 2005, Bureau of Justice Statistics).
- Seventy-five percent of incarcerated women are mothers (Incarcerated Parents and Their Children, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, 2000).
- The average age of children with an incarcerated parent is 8 years old; 22 percent of the children are under the age of 5 (Incarcerated Parents and Their Children, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, 2000).
- African-American children are nearly nine times more likely and Hispanic children are three times more likely to have a parent in prison than white children (Incarcerated Parents and Their Children, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, 2000).
- More than 60 percent of offenders in state and federal prisons in the United States are incarcerated more than 100 miles from their last place of residence (Incarcerated Parents and Their Children, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, 2000).
- Parental incarceration creates financial instability and material hardship as well as instability in family relationships and structure (Parental Incarceration in Fragile Families: Summary of Three Year Findings, an unpublished report to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2007).
- Having an incarcerated parent often results in school behavior and performance problems as well as social and institutional stigma and shame (Vulnerability of Children of Incarcerated Addict Mothers: Implications for Preventive Intervention, Children and Youth Services Review, 2005).
- In addition to lowering the likelihood of recidivism among incarcerated parents, there is evidence that maintaining the child-parent relationship while a parent is incarcerated improves a child's emotional response to the incarceration and encourages parent-child attachment (Examining the Effect of Incarceration and In-Prison Family Contact on Prisoners' Family Relationships, Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 2005).