My Dad is in Prison: CYS Member Shares Story with Scholastic Magazine

22 March 2016

A member of our Children and Youth Services, Justin Burl, bravely shared his experience with parental incarceration with Scholastic Choices Magazine. 

"My dad is always so happy to see my brother and me."

My Dad Is In Prison | By Justin Burl as told to Mary Kate Frank 

2.7 million American kids have a parent behind bars. Justin, 15, is one of them, but he won’t let that hold him back.

My favorite thing to do is play basketball. Before a game, I picture myself scoring, my team winning, and the crowd cheering. But then another thought enters my mind: If only my pops was here.

My dad has never seen me play ball. He’s never helped me study for a test or even just sat on the couch and watched TV with me.

For my entire life, my dad has been incarcerated. Right now, he’s at Five Points Correctional Facility in Romulus, New York. That’s almost 300 miles—or six hours—away from my home in Brooklyn. Unless he gets an early release, he’ll be there until 2021.

My dad calls, and we write letters back and forth, but it’s just not the same as having him here to talk to on a daily basis. In fact, I only get to travel there to see him in person twice a year.

Saying goodbye is always the worst. No kid should have to do that. Parents are supposed to be with you all the time.


In a lot of ways, my life is pretty normal. I have a fraternal twin brother named Jamaill. (He’s five hours older than me, but I think I’m more mature!) We live with my grandma, who has raised us since we were babies, and we have a cat named T and three turtles.

When I get the chance to see my dad, I’m so happy, but going to the prison can be scary. The building is huge, with fences and wire around it. And I have to take off my sneakers and go through a metal detector, kind of like airport security.

At the beginning and end of the visit, I can hug my dad, but other than that, we’re not allowed to touch. The guards are always watching us, and that’s frustrating. I wish we could be alone.

Jamaill and I stay as long as we’re allowed, about five hours. We sit at a long table and talk about sports, school, and our family. We laugh a lot and take photos. We also play games. My dad beats me at chess, but I’m the Connect Four champ!


After I leave my dad, I don’t feel right. When I’m in that mood, I usually take a walk. Even just walking to the mailbox helps relieve my anger, or sometimes I go to the Y to swim or work out. I also spend time at the Osborne Association. They help people like me who have a family member who is incarcerated.

Jamaill and I have been going to Osborne for most of our lives, so the people there feel like family. They take me to visit my dad and help me stay out of trouble.

The staffer I’m closest to is named Cortez, but I call him Mr. Cortez. I can talk to him about anything. Like recently, a kid at school wanted to fight my friend, but I convinced everyone to sit down and talk instead—and it worked. Now we’re all friends. When I told Mr. Cortez, he was so proud of me.


Sometimes, I imagine the day my dad will come home. It’ll be the happiest day of my life. He loves hot wings, so maybe we’ll go to a wing place. I’ll tell him, “Order whatever you want!”

But for now, I just keep in mind the advice my dad gives me. He says: “Keep your head up. Don’t go down the wrong path like I did. Make me proud.” And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Read the article on Scholastic here.