Review: What Will Happen To Me? by Howard Zehr & Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz

by Notorious Spinks on 02.25.2011



As adults we often get caught up in our emotions.  We fail to think about how our actions affect the children in our midst.  What Will Happen to Me?, authors Howard Zehr and Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz give voices to the children who often go unheard.

Life would’ve been different if my parents hadn’t been in prison.  I would have been graduating high school this year, going to senior prom, and doing all the other stuff kids do instead of growing up too fast.

Those are the words of Brittany.  Her mom went to jail when she was 3-years-old and her father went to jail when her mom got out.  Brittany was 18-years-old when she told her story and admits that she didn’t think she would live to see 16.

There are many stories just like Brittany’s in this book.  I often found myself stopping to thank God on many occasions because I didn’t have it as bad as them or so I thought.  I can relate to their stories.  I didn’t have an incarcerated parent but I remember the childhood feelings of wanting my dad around and wondering why he wasn’t there.  I took many of those feelings into early adulthood with me.  Now that I think about it, there were very few of my friends who had fathers around.  I just wanted him to be a dad to me like he was to my little sister.  Present and accounted for. These days I know it was his lost not mine. 

I loved that the authors broke the book into three sections–

Part I includes the faces of the children with their stories.  There is nothing like hearing the truth from a child.  We know that children will be honest in spite of our feelings.

Part II has stories from the caregivers of the children with both parents absent.  I find it so sad that no one steps in to help many of them.

I asked for the same thing for Christmas and for my birthday from my family: for two hours on top of Spruce Knob by myself.  I didn’t get it.  That’s all I ask for.  If they would just take the boys so I can go out on the mountain for two hours by myself, that’s all I ask for.  But I didn’t get it. ~~Martha Arey

This section also includes pointers and tips for dealing with children during this time.  Just like adults, children are full of emotions and they should be treated as such.  When I used to do home visits I always reminded my clients that they’re raising little people who have likes, dislikes and emotions.

Part III covers the topic as it pertains to justice and how we as a community can work to restore justice.  Incarceration alone is not enough.  There are families who are affected by this in such ways that it has become a generational curse.

I was serving time with a woman who had only 10 years to do.  Twenty years later, some kid comes up to me and says, “Aren’t you Ms. Mechie?…”

Ms. Mechie is serving life in prison and her parents were incarcerated.  According to research done by the authors, children with incarcerated parents are five times more likely to become prisoners themselves.

This book really made me think about the examples we’re setting as a democratic nation when we have more people incarcerated than any other nation.  However, we deem ourselves worthy to help other nations fight for democracy.  If I were on the outside looking in…the U.S. has rates of infant mortality higher than a Third World country and more citizens imprisoned than any other nation, etc. …I’m not sure I’d want democracy in my country if this is the fate of a country with it.  Seriously…

I recommend this book for anyone who is serious about making a difference in the lives of others.  You may not be a social worker or a teacher but as a member of our community we come into contact with people from various walks of life.  We need to open our minds to understand the struggles of others better so that we can lend a hand to lift them up and/or encourage them.  As a part-time substitute teacher in an impoverished neighborhood, I can only imagine how many of the children have parents incarcerated but they come to school in efforts to make the best out of a bad situation.

Like a web, we are all interconnected.  The children in these pages are in some sense our children.  What happens to them affects all of us.

*This book was provided by the author for review.

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