This Girl Scout troop doesn’t just sell Thin Mints and attend day camp.
Troop 1500, Austin, TX, busies itself with restoring families, growing children, reintegrating ex-offenders, and keeping another generation from becoming criminals. All the ex-offenders, however, are the scouts’ Moms, and the futures of the kids and Moms alike are in the balance. Depicted in the documentary film Troop 1500 (by director Ellen Spiro and producer Karen Bernstein), this Girl Scout troop, comprehensively served by social work professionals, addresses all aspects of the mother/daughter equation. The goal of the troop is to strengthen the bond of mother and daughter and break the cycle of crime.
Previously some of these girls involuntarily accompanied their mothers on drug-buying runs. Now, once a month, these Girl Scouts visit their incarcerated mothers in prison. The Moms are behind bars for significant crimes and the girls of the troop face up to that as best as eleven-year-olds can. One girl is asked what she tells people when they ask where her Mom is.
“She’s out of town in Las Vegas,” is the coping answer she supplies. The once-a-month visits are part love fest, part psychotherapy, equal measure heartening and heartbreak.
“How do you feel about your Mom being in prison?” can only be responded to with “It hurt,” and a quick dash out of camera range.
More than two million U.S. children at any one time have an incarcerated parent. One-seventh of U.S. children have had an incarcerated parent during their childhood. The Girl Scouts Behind Bars movement (PDF) is in operation in 27 states.
Harford County (MD) State's Attorney Joseph Cassily recently reiterated the problem as he sees it.
“If you have children who are not disciplined in their formative years or given any values, all the government can do is kind of corral them until they end up in jail…. When you have a lack of parenting, that’s what leads to increased gang problems, increased drug use, increased violence. It all goes back to that.”
Girl Scout Troop 1500 is staffed by professional social workers and psychologists to support the Moms while they are in prison and once they get out. Both are scary times for the Moms, their children, and the kids’ interim caregivers (in some instances, grandparents who have more than a passing familiarity with drug use and incarceration.) Since the beginning of the program 96 percent of the 45 Girl Scout participants have not gotten pregnant before age 18; 93 percent have not dropped out of high school; and none have been arrested.
That’s more than a start.