07/23/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Incarcerated Fathers Are Still Fathers

I can never hold back the tears when I watch this video. Daniel Beaty delivers this poem with such force and such passion; you can't help but be moved. They are the most powerful words I've ever heard in describing the pain left by a father's absence. I've felt that pain, but I've never heard words that capture it so eloquently.

It should be noted that the boy in Beaty's poem is left fatherless by incarceration. It's the same fate of more than 2 million children across the nation. In Illinois, nearly 90,000 children have a parent in prison or a parent who recently left prison. As Beaty tells us, that pain can last for decades -- and it doesn't instantly dissolve even when those imprisoned fathers come home. It can take a lifetime to heal those scars.

There are scores of organizations and individuals advocating for the rights of children with incarcerated parents, but the people and institutions with the most power in helping those children cope with the loss Beaty describes are the very ones who've arrested, sentenced and imprisoned their parents.

Surely, the police, the courts and the prisons can't make a father have a relationship with his children. Nor should that be their primary charge. We pay police officers, prosecutors, judges and wardens to protect the public. But they can remove some barriers that limit the contact between child and incarcerated parent, or limit the impact of these tragic realities on the fragile psyches of children.

Whether it's taking the presence of children into account during arrests, considering the impact on a father's children when sentencing him to years in prison or providing smoother access for children to actually hug their mothers and fathers when their behind bars, we have some ability to intervene in the painful journey that Beaty describes.

The plight of children of the incarcerated is really not about crime and punishment. It's about family values. If we value familial bonds, we should help children continue their games of "Knock Knock" with their fathers, even if their fathers owe us years of hard time for the wrongs they've committed. After all, as Beaty tells us, "we are our fathers' sons and daughters, but we are not their choices." So let's not make children pay for the mistakes of their incarcerated parents.