CLICC staff, mentors, families and advocates gathered in April 2019 at the Justice Collaboratory, Yale Law School, for the first CLICC Mentor Network Conference. The second CLICC conference is planned for 2022. Courtesy of Keelin Daly.

As high incarceration rates persist, Connecting Through Literacy: Incarcerated Parents, Their Children, and Caregivers — or CLICC — has worked to support Connecticut families impacted by incarceration through mentorship and literacy programs. Yale students are among the mentors that help parents and children connect through reading and letters.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, Connecticut’s incarceration rate is 394 per 100,000 people — lower than the U.S. average, but more than most democracies in the world. In response, humanitarian and Stamford resident Arthur White founded CLICC in 2003 in order to strengthen ties between children, incarcerated parents and their caregivers. CLICC’s research, which asserts that communication between incarcerated individuals and their families helps mitigate the shame that children of incarcerated parents often feel, guides their work. The nonprofit also aims to reduce recidivism rates and support their members through the reentry process.

“We are the only organization in Connecticut trained to address the expansive challenges families impacted by incarceration face,” Executive Director Joy Haenlein told the News. “We work with both incarcerated fathers and mothers and the people who are left behind, the children and the caregivers. We try to not only offer them a means of connection to each other, but also a sense of constancy and stability with the mentorship relationships we provide.”

Over the course of the one-year program, each child and parent meets weekly with their own mentor. CLICC parent mentors conduct meetings with incarcerated parents in prison, while child mentors meet individually with the child at a local community site, such as a library or community center. With the guidance of CLICC mentors, the parent and child read a book requested by the child once a month and connect the readings to their lives through letters to one another. The body of mentors includes students from 16 colleges and universities, including Yale.

CLICC-trained parent mentors work with parents in state prisons who are within three years of their release date. Through weekly meetings over the course of six months, the mentors help incarcerated parents talk through concerns and parenting strategies.

“Mentors encourage our parents to think towards the future and make a game plan for their lives post-release,” Haenlein added.

Haenlein and her colleague, Program Director Landon Osborn, have grown CLICC’s outreach from two prisons to now eight across the state of Connecticut. While CLICC has existed for almost two decades, its programs were first pilot tested in 2009 and 2010 with mothers at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury. The program was later introduced to other parents incarcerated in Connecticut prisons between 2014 and 2016. Now, children aged five through 17 who are Connecticut residents and have a parent who is incarcerated in a participating Connecticut Department of Correction prison can enroll in the initiative.

In the six months following a loved one’s release, CLICC mentors meet one-on-one with parents and continue to support their relationships with their children. The program also works to connect members with community resources throughout this transition.

CLICC graduate Robert Sullivan is a formerly incarcerated father of four. In an interview with the News, Sullivan stressed that the program is “about more than the books.”

“CLICC does a whole lot more than just literacy and mentorship,” Sullivan said. “I’ve been home for four Thanksgivings now… and even though financially I’ve made it, the work’s not over. Now I go to Landon [my CLICC mentor] with questions about fatherhood and how to really work at my relationship with each of my kids. And he still takes time out of his journey to help me with mine.”

Osborn said that beyond the connections the program fosters between parents and children, CLICC also sparks “powerful exchanges” between enrolled parents.

“The men I work with are just like any fathers outside,” Osborn said. “We have some great dads, dads that have taught me as a dad. There is so much wisdom within our groups, and odds are someone’s been through what the other is facing.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, CLICC’s virtual mentorship meetings that occurred weekly were “more important than ever,” Haenlein said, as prisons statewide stopped in-person visits and families went months without seeing each other.
Those interested in becoming a CLICC child mentor can email CLICC for more information.