Spending roughly 3,650 days away from his family, missing holiday celebrations and everyday life with his children, Hakee Mitchell, founder and executive director of Assisting Children of Prison Parents, served 10 years in prison beginning on Dec. 12, 1997.
“While I was there, I realized that because I had an ongoing relationship with my children as well as the outside world, it kept me humble, patient and planning for my eventual release. But those who did not have any form of communication with their children became very bitter and adapted to the penitentiary lifestyle. They became institutionalized,” Mitchell said.
Missouri prisons were the original inspiration for Mitchell’s organization as he realized the effect incarceration had on both children and parents. Upon release, Mitchell gained employment in food service, only to later put his efforts toward his passion.
“After I was fired from my job because of discrimination, I prayed and asked God to reveal what he had planned for my life. He showed me ACOPP. It took hard work and dedication to keep pushing my vision until God directed me to the right people, to help me manifest it,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell began ACOPP to help children keep a bond with their parent as he or she spends time in prison. Mitchell makes this happen this through letters and visits. The organization also helps the children affected by incarceration who may have educational and behavioral issues.
“In the two years I have been involved, we’ve expanded from St. Louis to East St. Louis, and numbers have gone up tremendously,” said Shameca Mitchell, Hakee Mitchell’s wife and ACOPP program director.
Although ACOPP has become more successful over the years, their message, passion and love for helping the children of incarcerated parents will not stop expanding. Their grant from Old Newsboys Day will go toward two new laptops for the use of the children.
“Our new ‘Heard’ program gives kids an opportunity to be heard, because sometimes they are just seeking attention. We offer tutoring, mentoring and help with homework. With the laptops, we can teach math lessons, help with science and teach keyboarding skills,” Shameca Mitchell said.
ACOPP’s vision is to ensure children receive support throughout their parent’s incarceration.
“It is not the child’s fault, and they need the guidance of someone who cares about them, whether it be their incarcerated parent or ACOPP. We must continue to lower the negative stigma of prison. Just because you are in prison doesn’t make you a bad person, and just because you are not doesn’t make you a good person. These unfortunate men and women have simply made a mistake, and I believe the children are the ones who suffer the most,” Hakee Mitchell said.
Tori Downar is a senior at Parkway West High School in Ballwin.