Breaking the cycle

Former Philadelphia mayor promotes program for kids with parents behind bars

Posted: Thursday, March 10, 2005

A prison address shouldn't be hereditary, a former Philadelphia mayor said Wednesday, shortly after arriving in Alaska for the first time.

The Rev. Wilson Goode now directs the Amachi program, a faith-based national mentoring model for children of incarcerated parents. He is scheduled to speak at today's Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon at noon at the Hangar Ballroom. The public is invited to see him speak at 7 p.m. at the Northern Light United Church, 400 W. 11th St. He will be accompanied by the teen choir Voices of Praise.

Goode said he is in Juneau to get people interested in the program and get them involved with it through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast Alaska.

"We have to break the cycle," he said before visiting the Lemon Creek Correctional Center. Nationwide, about 2.1 million children have at least one of their parents in state or federal prisons. "And 70 percent of children of incarcerated parents will follow their parents (into prison)."

He came at the invitation of Big Brothers Big Sisters, a branch of the national organization that pairs kids with adult role models.

Linda Buckley, Alaska coordinator for the Amachi program, said a conservative estimate of affected kids in Alaska is 15,000.

Amachi is a West African word meaning "who knows what God has brought us through this child," Goode said.

Web links

Learn more about the Amachi program at

Learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast laska at

Buckley said that in traveling the state, she was told in Bethel that the word translated in Yupik to mean carrying more than two children on your back.

Mona Maehara, a former Juneau resident who now works as an associate director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, said it was an interesting coincidence.

"We need to help these kids now," she added.

Last week in Oklahoma Goode heard a story about a 7-year-old boy who was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up.

"I'm going to jail like my father," was the boy's response, Goode said. "I think this is the assumption of far too many children."

Goode served as Philadelphia's mayor from 1984 to 1992 after serving as the city manager. He started working with Big Brothers Big Sisters in 2000 in Philadelphia, where the program has served 900 children of incarcerated parents since it started in March 2001.

Evaluations have shown the mentored children were more likely to stay in school, had better attendance and better classroom behavior. Another study showed there was less drug use and better grades across the board.

"They're victims," Goode said. "They did not ask to be born to an incarcerated parent. Too few of us care about that."

In the first few months of the program, a mother from the inner city missed the bus to bring her son to a suburban church at an inconvenient distance, Goode explained. She drove to the event and was asked by a reporter why she went to all the trouble.

"I want my boy to see there's another way of life other than what he sees every day," Goode said, quoting the mother. "That stuck with me for four years."

• Tony Carroll can be reached at

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