New art program hopes to help kids of incarcerated express themselves

Edie Wren has one wish for the children she hopes to help through self-expression.

“I hope they find self-acceptance,” she said. “We’re not Mommy or Daddy or aunts or uncles or what teacher says or anyone else. I want that self-acceptance: ‘I am me. This is what I feel and what I think and it’s OK to feel what I feel and think what I think’”

That’s not easy, Wren said, for children whose beloved family members are incarcerated. And it’s her personal experience — as the daughter of a formerly incarcerated father, she turned in her teens to writing for emotional release — that motivated her to launch a program geared at getting kids of all ages creating art for loved ones who are behind bars.

The inaugural Ry’s Up Coloring for the Incarcerated session is scheduled for 2 to 4 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Imagination Celebration iSpace in the Citadel Mall. The event, named for Wren’s young granddaughter who is nicknamed “Ry,” is free and open to young artists whose lives have been touched by the corrections system.

All materials, from the paper and envelopes to the colored pencils, markers and crayons, will be made available courtesy of Imagination Celebration, Wren said. The goal is for participants to create a customized card that they can send to their incarcerated family members, while also making friends who understand their circumstances.

“Remembering what I felt like as a little girl with my father in prison, feeling different and alone,” Wren said. “Not understanding where he was and the entire dynamic of it.”

These children, she said, “are going to be in their own little tribe.”

In, the 2014 Rutgers University National Resource Center on Children & Families of the Incarcerated released a demographic study that put some concrete numbers on the incidence. According to that research, one in 28 children has an incarcerated parent, and roughly half of those youths are under 10 years old. Approximately 10 million children have experienced parental incarceration at some point in their lives, the study found.

For her part, Wren vividly remembers the shame of being told her father was a bad person for being imprisoned. Parental incarceration, according to the Rutgers study, is considered an adverse childhood experience and is distinguished from other such experiences by a unique combination of trauma, shame and stigma.

Creativity, Wren hopes, can help ease those burdens. Writing and journaling provided her a constructive outlet to express her feelings during her childhood, and she believes creating will do the same for today’s youths.

“Hopefully the children, with coloring, can get their emotions out too, whatever they are,” she said. “If they’re sad, angry or happy, it’s ok. Get it out.”

Wren aims to grow the program into a regular happening, meeting every third Saturday of the month from 2 to 4 at the iSpace. The studio is located on the upper level of the Citadel Mall, next to J.C. Penny, 750 Citadel Drive East.

“Of course we’re beginning with coloring, but what about if Ry’s up could offer emotional intelligence reading events? Some kind of educational piece to it?” she said. “I’m hoping we can focus on the children, that’s where it starts.

“If we focus on them, the cycle can be broken. … We can change the world.”

By the numbers
The Rutgers University National Resource on Children & Families of the Incarcerated in 2014 released a demographic fact sheet regarding the prevalence of youths who have or who have had an incarcerated parent.
Here are some of the findings related to the prevalence of youths who have had a parent in the prison or jail system:
* 1 in 28 U.S. children
* 1 in 9 African-American children (11.4 percent)
* 1 in 28 Hispanic children (3.5 percent)
* 1 in 57 white children (1.8 percent)