You probably have never heard of Yasmine Arrington. But she could be your daughter, or in my case, granddaughter. But she represents our children, children of the incarcerated – who by popular wisdom are the most at-risk of becoming incarcerated themselves.
But not Lady Yaz.
Yasmine Arrington, a first year student at Howard University School of Divinity, is the founder and CEO of ScholarCHIPS, a not-for-profit organization that provides college scholarships for children of the incarcerated. And she is one herself.
“My father and I were out of touch from the time I was three years old until I was around fourteen or fifteen,” offers the articulate honors graduate of Elon University in North Carolina. “But then we started writing, and when I got to college, we were able to see each other.”
I asked Yasmine how she felt about her father, who is still incarcerated, part of the churn in and out of jail. “I have forgiven him,” she said, referring to his physical absence from her life. “I grew up in church, gave my life to Christ at an early age, and it was instilled in me to forgive…I hold no grudge. Life is too short and precious for me to hold on to anger. Grudges can be debilitating, and I want to set an example for the young people in our program.”
And what young people she has inspired. They attend colleges from Penn State to Bowie State, from Spelman to Towson, from Alabama State to Virginia State, from community colleges to Virginia Wesleyan.
With her father’s churn, it has been “difficult to keep an ongoing relationship,” but she presses on. “I know he loves me,” says the young social entrepreneur, but she would like a more “regular relationship.” Yasmine went on to talk about how her father feels remorse, but “basically when he is behind bars again.” That’s a wake-up call for us all. The remorse we feel when incarcerated should be memorized and called up when we feel like doing something stupid again.
I thought about Yasmine last month while at a conference on mass incarceration sponsored by the Pennsylvania Council of Churches. During a break, Jondhi Harrell of The Center for Returning Citizens and I talked about the dire predictions for our kids. He has five, I have three. They are all doing well. In fact, they help us. Yasmine told me how she encourages her father when he slides into pity parties, and feels like nobody loves him. She reminds him that he’s “a grown man” and that he has to be responsible for his decisions (ouch- my daughter says the same to me). “I don’t know if he knows how to break the cycle” of his continued bids. But her encouragement is instructive to us all. We are grown men (grown-a#@-men) who can thrive when we put our minds to it. Our children, like Yasmine, believe we can. And when they don’t, we can prove to them otherwise. We can do it. Yasmine believes in us.
Rev. Harold Dean Trulear, Ph.D. is an associate professor of applied theology at Howard University’s School of Divinity. He also works on behalf of prisoners and returning citizens as the national director of Healing Communities USA, a reentry initiative. Dr. Trulear is also a former inmate.