Grab your hankies: To help kids coping with a parent in prison, Sesame Street created a Muppet whose father can’t play with him because he’s in jail.
Sesame Street has always made it part of its larger mission to address all children, not just the ones with traditional families or easily digestible experiences. In the latest move toward that goal, the popular children’s program created an online toolkit, titled “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration,” for those struggling to raise a child who has an incarcerated parent. Released just in time to help kids in need get through Father’s Day, the toolkit has its detractors. Alex Jones naturally went into full-blown conspiracy theory mode, calling it a “propaganda program designed to help children accept the fact that daddy is in jail” by dangerously telling kids that “all you have to do is talk about your feelings, draw a few pictures, write letters to your dad, and toddle off to visit him in jail every now and then and everything will be all rainbows and lollipops.” (Better to tell them … what?) Mike Riggs at Reason was also angry, though not at Sesame Street but at the U.S. government for incarcerating so many people that these kinds of materials are necessary. He points out that nearly 7 million people are under correctional supervision in this country, writing, “congratulations, America, on making it almost normal to have a parent in prison or jail.”
Obviously, Sesame Street can’t do anything about the growth of the police state or the war on drugs that has resulted in the massive incarceration numbers in this country. The show is just trying to help innocent children deal with the repercussions. But Riggs is absolutely right: That this even has to exist in the first place shows how much pointless damage our prison system does not just to people who are caught up in the overly punitive, often racially biased justice system, but also to their families. As Jill Filipovic writes in the Guardian: