Sesame Street aims to help children with parents in prison

Incarceration is a tough topic for anyone to talk about with children. Despite what they've done, many inmates in Arkansas are also parents who care deeply about their children that struggle to understand why mom or dad can't come home. However, a new project is aimed at making that tough conversation a little easier and maybe changing a child's life with the help of Sesame Street.
Anna Riggs is a mom of six. For the last two years, she's had to parent from prison.
"I know they miss me a lot, and they're kind of confused about the whole situation," said Riggs who is incarcerated in Wrightsville on a battery charge.
Her teenagers can understand the situation a little better, but haven't asked a lot of questions. The hardest part has been deciding what to tell the four youngest.
"In the beginning, my husband told my daughters that I had gone to school, a school to learn how to make better decisions and how to be a better mommy," said Riggs.
For some parents, explaining the truth to a child can seem more foreboding than even prison gates. That's where a little orange muppet named Alex comes in to help.
"We are among 10 correctional institutions across the country participating in this program which is very exciting for us," said Shea Wilson of the Department of Corrections.
The program, sponsored by Sesame Street Workshop, gives children of inmates a DVD. The 30 minute show deals with major issues of incarceration. They are issues Jihad Muhammad understands all too well. He was incarcerated from 1994 to 2006 on a murder charge. Now, he works to help and counsel young people in juvenile detention.
"There's a great deal of shame and guilt and once that shame and guilt is internalized, and they begin to think that they're a bad person as a result of them not having a mother or father in their life, then that can lead to all types of destructive behavior," explained Muhammad.
"My six-year-old Elizabeth, she has the toughest time out of all of my children. She often says, 'Are you talking to me like that because my mommy is in prison (to her teacher)," said Riggs.
Anna worries about how friends and teachers view at her children because of her actions.
"I feel horrible that I've put my children in this position."
Feelings of shame, anger, confusion, they're all addressed by these muppets. The hope is to make kids comfortable talking to an adult about these complex feelings.
"If this provides them with the tools they need to discuss their incarceration and maybe provide the tools the children need to maybe keep them from coming and repeating that cycle - I think we've done our job," said Wilson
This Sunday, Anna's kids are coming to visit and will get their DVD. She's anticipating the conversations that show will inspire.
"Maybe they'll be more educated on what to ask and how to ask it because of the DVD" said Riggs.
The new program has already received a lot of positive feedback. At just one facility last week, 39 packets we're given out to children. The DVD also contains advice for the child's caregivers - including advice about counseling and encouragement.

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