Clarisa spent much of her childhood travelling around Victoria visiting her father, who was in prison. There are two things that she remembers clearly about that time in her life: spending quality time with her dad and receiving Angel Tree gifts.
My name is Clarisa, and my dad went to jail when I was four years old and my brother was just five weeks old. My dad was in jail for nine years, and so we grew up going to all the different jails to visit him. Getting to the prisons was incredibly difficult sometimes. The drives ended up being longer than the time we got to spend with Dad. We would drive for an hour and 30 minutes for a half-hour or hour-long visit, sometimes only through the window. Dad was moved to different prisons a lot of the time, so we basically travelled all throughout Victoria!
I used to feel jealous of other kids with their dads because we never had our dad around to pick us up from school or play with us in the backyard. Things that were considered ‘normal’ for all the other kids would have been an extraordinary experience for us.
I had to get used to telling people where my dad was and why he wasn’t with us because the kids at school would ask lots of questions. I remember being bullied at school and not understanding why they were teasing us. That was our normal—to have one parent around. Even the teachers in primary school bullied us because my dad was not around and just treated us differently. Even nowadays when people ask me questions about my mum and dad, I say, ‘I grew up with my dad in jail’, and they are taken aback and shocked.
Gifts of Hope and Joy
We never really got presents growing up and sometimes the only present we would get would be from Dad through the Angel Tree program. Receiving the Angel Tree gifts was a great blessing to us. Dad would write a little note that went with the gifts and we still have them to this day. I remember feeling like, ‘Wow! Dad didn’t forget about me. He actually thought about me and got me something!’ I still have some of those presents, because they meant a lot to me. Getting something like that from Dad meant the world. It made Christmas more normal for us even though Dad wasn’t there. It made us feel like every other child receiving gifts at Christmas time.
Feeling like you are not forgotten and feeling like you are an actual person who is loved makes all the difference to a child. And when I did get the presents from Dad, it helped us feel closer to him while he was in jail. It really just made a difference in our lives.
Feeling Loved is a Very Important Story
The only two positives that I remember from that time are that we got to spend time with Dad together, and receiving presents through Angel Tree. Those are the moments that I remember leaving the jail feeling different. It hit differently.
Prison Fellowship really supported my family, too. Prison Fellowship was a big part of our lives and came alongside my family and me. I know Prison Fellowship does an incredible job! There were obviously lots of things that helped during that time, but this was really important, to know my dad still remembered me and still loved me. A card with money is okay, but a present means everything. Kids love that – a present you can unwrap!
I want Prison Fellowship to be around forever and keep making the impact that they are making because they impacted my life and I would not be who I am today if it was not for the love that I received from them. Prison Fellowship is part of why I am who I am today, and I am very grateful for it. Feeling loved is a very important story.
Today, when I buy Angel Tree presents, I try to get in the mindset of what I was like as a kid, to get something meaningful that will bring joy. Those kids are probably in the most desperate times in their life. They’re missing their mum or dad and might not know what’s happening. Their parent outside prison might not be in a position to get them a present. You never know what it’s going to do in their life. Look where I am today and the memories I still have from receiving a gift!
Angel Tree is an incredible opportunity to help brighten a child’s life! It gives hope and joy to a child who has had to go through situations that no child, nor person, should have to go through.
When you buy an Angel Tree gift, you’re helping someone, and you experience the joy of being a blessing. When these kids get an Angel Tree gift, they’re reminded that they are not forgotten and that their mum or dad still loves them. They need it.
Thank you so so much for all the incredible work you do! It’s life-saving!