Get on the Bus
Sixty percent of parents in prison report being over 100 miles away from their children. For many families - and especially for children - this distance presents an intractable obstacle to visiting their loved one.
For 13 years, the nonprofit Get on the Bus has addressed this problem by coordinating visits for children and their caretakers to prisons throughout California. In 2013, they gave over 1,200 children the opportunity to see their mothers or fathers in prison. It's not a small feat; there's an immense amount of coordination involved, but the outcome we saw made it all seem worthwhile, and even essential.
Get on the Bus not only contributes to children's wellbeing by connecting them with their parents; they also offer significant support for those incarcerated. Study after study shows that incarcerated people who receive family visits are significantly less likely to return to prison after their release.
We learned about Get on the Bus from our friend Mary Slosson, who wrote this article about a 2012 Mother's Day trip for Reuters. We boarded a bus in south Los Angeles with children and caregivers at 3:00am, and filmed (parts of) the six-hour trip to Chowchilla, California. The kids ranged in age, but most on our bus were in elementary school. They slept and drew and played as the landscape outside transformed from urban streetscape to industrial farms. Lance and I made friends with two sisters who sat across from us.
The kids were greeted with fanfare: many grabbed a donut with one hand and a volunteer's hand in the other, walking down a red carpet in their "Get on the Bus" t-shirts. Once we got through security, we entered the cafeteria and recreational room to find mothers crying, hugging their children tightly, and marveling at how tall they'd grown.
We conducted several interviews, but often felt that we were interrupting precious time between families that way. So for the most part, we documented the joy of families coming together over board games, coloring books, and pizza. We did ask several families to pose for portraits, the results of which appear at the end of the video.
The visitation time flew by for us, so we can only imagine how brief it felt for the mothers and children. We were asked to leave early so security could check out our equipment, so we didn't witness the goodbyes. We could only imagine how heartbreaking those were. Once on the bus again, the kids immediately received a unique teddy bear, picked out by their mothers. Those bears were firmly grasped and admired - many of them all the way back to Los Angeles.
Visit Get on the Bus' website to learn more about their efforts to strengthen ties between families and those who are incarcerated in the California prison system.