Esteban Parra, The News Journal 4 p.m. EDT July 8, 2016
Like any father and son, Coley Harris and 24-year-old Ahmarr Melton have had their ups and downs.
For 14 years, Harris was in prison serving a second-degree murder sentence, often wondering how his son was doing. During that time, Melton got used to not seeing his dad and dealing with disappointment and jealousy when he saw other boys playing with theirs.
“I didn’t have a father in the household to show me how to be a man,” said Melton, who despite having male role models still felt a void at not being able to have his dad take him to the movies or even just watch him take a nap.
“I felt it the most when I’d see my friends who had their fathers in their lives and see how they would interact,” he said. “That’s when it hit me the most …. I focused the most at blocking it out. I never knew when my father was coming home.”
Today, father and son share that experience through a dramatic therapy performance called “Out of the Ashes,” which aims to let others in that situation know they are not alone. The performance has been welcomed in many communities, especially those in which a large percentage of one or both parents are separated from their children because of incarceration.
More than 2 million children in the United States have at least one parent in prison and many more minors have experienced a father or mother in jail, according to the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, a federal resource for those interested in supporting strong fathers and families.
The Delaware Department of Correction does not track how many prisoners are parents, but it is believed that about half of the men incarcerated by the state are fathers. A 2015 Conference on Women’s Health and Justice report claimed that 70 percent of women who have come in contact with the justice system in Delaware are mothers.
That’s why it is important for parents to be reunited with their children when they are released, said Ashley Biden, executive director of the Delaware Center for Justice.
“Attachment is one of the most critical developmental tasks for a child,” Biden said in a statement. “Secure attachment is vital to a healthy future. Kids also learn social bonding and develop their sense of identity through their relationships with their parents.