For a child, the loss of a parent can be devastating. But what if that parent is in prison — not dead, but locked away? The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. 25% of our population is in prison — that’s 1 in 4. These statistics are in the opening moments of Ava Duvernay’s Netflix documentary, “13th”, which began streaming Friday, October 7th. While the film focuses on the overall issue of mass incarceration as it relates to people of color and their history in this country, a deeper look into the affect this incarceration has on families, especially families of color was not discussed. Akiya McKnight hopes to change that with her new short film, “Served”.
“Served”, by Akiya McKnight, a PR Professional turned writer/producer, tells the story of two sisters who have to learn how to navigate new life because their mom was arrested. The film also explores mass incarceration and the treatment of incarcerated parents and women in prison. Mcknight, whose father was in prison for seventeen years and her mother for one year when McKnight was 14, drew from her own life for the film. She and her team have completed a concept trailer and recently finished an Indiegogo campaign to complete the film. With a fundraising event coming up at Yale in November, they hope to finish shooting by the end of that month.
“I think that people don't realize actually the emotional and mental effect it has on a child that often leads to issues when they're actually adults”, said McKnight. “Kids whose parents have gone to prison, can actually go to prison themselves, becoming sexually abused, developing depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses”.
McKnight is hoping that her film teaches audiences how to deal with children of incarcerated parents in a way that isn't typical of any other's experience. “I want people to actually dare to be a model of how you deal with these type of children because it's different than someone whose parents are divorced or whose parents have died. It's a different experience because their parent isn't dead, but they're away from them and [you] miss them while they're away. I want there to be an actual type of therapy or healing process that these kids are taken through, and not just being told that they're angry or that they're bad kids or that their parents going to prison is their fault. I want there to be some type of uniformed process of healing for these kids.
During her mother’s imprisonment, McKnight, the oldest of three, was cared for by her grandmother and a cousin. “There has to be a person that takes care of these children while the mother goes to prison. That's a whole other situation - that people actually are caregivers for children of incarcerated parents, who may not be their direct parent or may not be their direct grandparent. That's a whole other set of responsibilities that these people take on. It affects the whole family.”
Typically if one parent goes to prison, then the other parent has to decide whether they'll take care of the child. If that parent won’t take the child, then that responsibility usually goes to a grandparent or someone else in the family. If that doesn't work, then the child will have to go to DCF or a group home. All this depends on the family and who's willing to actually take care of these kids.
What McKnight hopes audiences take home with them is the severity and complexity of the situation. “I just want people to really start to view this experience of your parent going to prison just as serious as your parent passing away, your parent getting divorced, or any other trauma that happens in life. I want people to actually look at the severity of it and the impact that it has on generations to come. I hope that this issue is taken seriously,paid more attention to, and generates more empathy towards people who are going to prison, the people that are left behind and understand the economical, societal, and racial issues behind the mass incarceration.”
You can learn more on the film and donate to the project on their website
LINK: http://servedshortfilm.wixsite.com/servedfilm or Instagram, Twitter or Facebook @Servedfilm