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Healing is About Purposeful Action

Children of Imprisoned Parents: A Guide to Holistic Caregiver and Child Well-Being, McFarland Publishing, Inc. by Dr. Avon Hart-Johnson with Dr. Geoffrey Johnson

Blog by Dr. Avon


Healing is About Purposeful Action


No journey worth sharing is accomplished alone. I am forever grateful for those who have helped us to better understand the plight of individuals impacted by this phenomenon, mass incarceration. There are people who have traveled this journey together, such as Dr. Geoffrey Johnson, our fellow researchers, colleagues, advocates, and Ms. Ann Adalist-Estrin. Thank you.

Over the past decade, our research has led us down pathways that we did not plan to venture. We knew we wanted to support families affected by incarceration. However, we did not know that we would be in the business of "healing generations of children." This was divinely revealed to us during 2016 at a conference in New Zealand, where Dr. Hart-Johnson spoke at the International Coalition for Children with Incarcerated Parents, in a keynote address.

Seeking to understanding the need and the research gap, she and Dr. Geoff Johnson and other colleagues set out to better understand the caregiver experience raising children while the parent or parents were incarcerated. This book, Children of Imprisoned Parents: A Guide to Holistic Caregiver and Child Well-Being is an outgrowth of that research study that took place from 2018 through 2019. We learned firsthand what caregivers and their children were experiencing related to incarceration. The writing and research extended until 2022. This book is the product of that work.

While we are considered scientists— (researchers who seek to understand human behavior and provide interventions using empirical evidence), we are human first. Our journey comprised working on several parallel projects over the years. We authored children's books, workbooks, seminars, and workshops. We spoke at conferences, trained interns, guest lectured at universities, and yes, we volunteered at the halfway house, gave out care packages during the Pandemic. The work continued with intention. We built alliances with stakeholders and community organizations--trying to advance awareness in this area. Through the ten year journey of building our nonprofit, then repurposed it as a community-based organization to enable us to have greater flexibility without so much overhead. We have learned that each step of this journey requires work, sacrifice, and diligence. The work is multifaceted and influenced by instinct, passion, and heart-felt caring. In all of our efforts we felt the sheer need and responsibility to ensure that those who are hurting could have a ray of hope. This is the drive and grit that helped us to achieve this body of work.


The book, Children of Imprisoned Parents: A Guide to Holistic Caregiver and Child Well-Being speaks to the nature of our purpose. As authors, we gave 4 years of our lives to create this body of work. Our goals was to provide healing tools for impacted families and children, but also for those who needed to heal from past wounds. Virtually, writing two books at the same time (guidebook and workbook), we spent weekdays, weekends, vacations, holidays devoted to researching, writing, vetting ideas and testing the validity of our assumptions. We poured our hearts and soul into this book and its companion workbook. This book represents our toil and diligence towards creating a product that both caregivers and their children who are affected by incarceration could read, apply, and benefit.


Offering user-friendly content and examples, we take the reader on a journey where personal reflections yield “Ah-Hah” moments over and over. On a personal note, I found myself reading the final draft, and relating to the content myself, saying "Oh, yeah, now I know why I respond in situations, based on my childhood." It is refreshing to understand the "why's." For example, when I read the section on "Attachments" I reflected on my own behavior of backing off when people are getting too close to me. I learned that my discomfort and hesitancy (attach-detach) behavior is all rooted in my childhood. Specifically, after becoming an adolescent, I was not raised by my parents. Therefore, attachment figures (other than my Auntie), represented people who would eventually abandon me and leave me. I have since then, retrained my brain.  As the co-author of this book, you would ask "How is it that you are learning from your own co-authored work?" My response is, the book offers us a reflection relative to life experiences --but more than that, it offers ways to make meaning of life's difficulties. Through the lens of hope and resiliency and purposeful action, we can excel – our children can excel. Healing is about purposeful action! That my friends, is a beautiful thing.

In the pages of the guidebook, we find that childhood experiences shape who we are and become as adults. However, those experiences do not need to result in an adulthood where we are seeking fulfillment in persons, places, and things-or seeking to fulfill our childhood void in unhealthy relationships and coping behaviors. There is promise! Using the tools of prevention and protective strategies identified in our book and workbook, children can grow up to become fully actualized powerful adults. Healthy adults reflect upon their strengths and life learning as opportunities to build resilience and grit.  

In our guidebook and workbook, readers are reminded, that the care and support provided by attuned adults can change children's lives for the better. Yes, one well-regulated role model is all it takes to make a child's life a masterpiece. For me, that was my Auntie. She showed me what life could be and I followed that model. This one's for you Auntie!


In our book, using sensitivity and care, we explore experiences that children encounter during their youth related to incarceration, but far beyond that context. The book reveals that 61% of all American adults will experience at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE) before reaching age 18. This means that life events such as the death of a loved one, divorce, abuse, neglect, frequent change of caregivers, parental incarceration, and other (ACEs), can be managed with the right tools. If neglected and ignored, according to a large Kaiser Permanente and CDC study, these risks may show up later on in life as weakened immune systems (epigenetics), chronic health conditions such as asthma, heart disease, obesity, and other health conditions.

Our book helps caregivers and children to understand the body-brain connection and how we can empower ourselves to re-wire the brains response to fight or flight stress reactions. Caregivers are also a point of focus in the pages of the guidebook and workbook. Caregivers encounter stress as well. They are lovingly reminded that you must care for yourself in order to care for others. Children are watching and modeling their problem-solving behaviors based on what is learned in their environments. That is a tall order, but with a bit of help, you got this caregivers!


While our prediction was the Summer of 2023, the publishers sought perfection. We love their attention to detail, as we have many wonderful graphics, illustrations, and content in the book that requires careful placement, typesetting, and management. We want this book to be the best that it can be for you, the reader! We think we are going to make you proud. This will be a resources for school educators who work with affected children, community organizations, prisons, and most certainly, universities who are training our forthcoming helping professionals.  Look for an update soon. We believe that Spring 2024 we will have copies at Barnes and Nobel, Amazon, and eventually in public libraries across the nation. Thank you as always for believing in us. God has been dropping breadcrumbs and we have been following them. Perhaps this is finally our long awaited “loaf.”

Peace and Blessings, Dr. Avon

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