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The Impact of Parental Incarceration on Child Development And Sister Tesa’s Bold Idea

a photo of a prison saying "No Contact During Visit" showing the stark reality of the impact of parental incarceration on child development

If there is a Holy Spirit, Sister Tesa Fitzgerald is indeed its embodiment. She is a force of nature. For decades she has devoted her life not only to mere advocacy for the poor and disenfranchised but also to making a difference and improving lives—in particular, those of prisoners. She works with imprisoned women, their children, and their families. She began her work back in 1985 when she converted St. Rita’s Convent in Long Island into a shelter for six children whose mothers were in prison. Her goal was to help maintain the family bonds between imprisoned women and their children, providing a safe loving environment. Recognizing the impact of parental incarceration on child development led Sister Tesa to this bold idea that surely offers a lasting positive effect on prisoners and their family members.

Of course, she didn’t stop there. Soon she created Providence House, visiting women in prison—educating them and easing their transition back into civil society. In addition, her program called Hour Children was devoted to reuniting mothers and their children upon release. Her organizations now oversee three apartment buildings, an after-school program, a food kitchen, and four communal homes, among other projects.

Sister Tesa was the recipient of the prestigious Opus Price in 2014 and has been honored by many other organizations for her work. We caught up with her for this video clip at the Impact Prisons 2017 event. Her decision to act on the reality of the huge impact of parental incarceration on child development has proved to be encouraging to both prisoner and free citizen.

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