Damien Smith Jr. wasn’t always embarrassed that his father is in prison. Just this winter, when playing with a giant checker set at the Monona Public Library, he readily told a little girl that he played the game with his dad in prison and beat him all the time.
But Damien's grandmother, Pat Dillon, saw the look on the little girl’s face.
At 6, Damien doesn’t want to talk about his dad’s incarceration anymore. He gets teased or talked about. This summer, he was bullied.
“I knew that there would come a point in his life where he was going to feel different than the other kids … he was going to hide it, it would embarrass him, even though he has a great relationship with his dad. He adores his dad,” she said.
But thanks to a pilot program Dillon created, Smith Jr. has a chance to meet other kids with incarcerated parents, in a stigma-free space to create and appreciate the power of art. It’s a chance for these children — who often face an array of challenges — to experience a program created specifically for them.
“Those kids are so commonly stigmatized that they hide. Then they suffer their traumas silently ... Yet we don’t collectively seek these kids out and create support for them,” Dillon said.