My friend Cheryl Niemo has a compelling personal story. Her son got into trouble with the law. Serious trouble. He is now serving a long prison sentence. Cheryl was understandably devastated by what had happened to her son, her own feelings about it, and trying to cope with the separation, loss and shame.
Like a lot of other people, she searched find a support system for people like herself. After all, there are support groups for practically everything—why not for families with loved ones incarcerated. But it turned out there wasn’t. So Cheryl started Jail Brakers.
No, that isn’t a typo. She didn’t want her organization to be about breaking out of jail, but of putting the brakes on the emotional carnage left behind. In just a couple of years Cheryl has accomplished a lot. She recently led a workshop for children, parents and teachers at Precious Mind’s anti-bulling program Don’t Feed the Penguins at McHenry County College because children and siblings of offenders are often targeted for abuse in school.
Cheryl describes her basic program this way:
Jail Brakers is a support group that provides a safe place for children and families to express their emotional reaction to the separation from a family member who has been incarcerated.
Jail Brakers provides support in the form of 12-week group sessions for families with a member who has been [or is] incarcerated. Ongoing support includes monthly groups as well as individual support for youth and families. We embrace a holistic approach to healing where everyone is welcome, all voices are heard, and everyone is treated with respect. Jail Brakers support incorporates creativity and experiential activities, along with community oriented activities engaging the entire family.
Our mission is to raise awareness about the needs and concerns of the children and families who have been affected by incarceration. Jail Brakers provides opportunities to give children and families a voice and a place to be heard with respect and compassion. Together, we address the stigma that perpetuates fear, shame and isolation surrounding incarceration, and begin to cultivate hope.