"Sesame Street" Takes On America's Prison Industrial Complex

The producers of "Sesame Street" recently decided to air episodes about children dealing with incarcerated parents and called it, "Little Children, Big Challenges." They introduced a character named Alex who has a father in jail. Alex is upset that his father has been sent away and doesn't want to play. However, he soon receives comfort from a wiser friend who has also gone through the same experiences.


"Sesame Street" is a long-running television series that was created to tackle tough issues young children face in different communities. The show uses muppets, short films, and animation to help children learn how to cope or deal with every day situations such as divorce, health and food insecurities. If you were raised in the United States, you knew or heard about "Sesame Street" and can recall the giant yellow bird that represents the iconic show.

Incarceration is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed. The statistics are alarming: 1 in 43 children have at least one parent who is incarcerated. This means more than 1.7 million children living in the United States have a an incarcerated parent.

While activists, educators, and academics tackle the prison industrial complex to relieve the high number of incarcerated individuals, when do children get to deal with this issue? For starters, they can turn to "Sesame Street."

Unfortunately, instead of airing on television, the producers are bringing it to federal prisons and to the homes of those affected by incarceration, literally. The producers are working with social workers and correctional facilities to ensure the shows reaches children with incarcerated parents. This show is not accessible to everyone because the producers warn that this show is not suitable for all audiences, not yet.

This show should be available to all audiences so that children who have the privilege of never having to deal with this issue at home can understand what it is like. The reason it may be shameful for young children to be open about their parent's incarceration is the stigma comes from other people not familiar with the issue. To the children, their parents are still superheroes. Unfortunately for folks living in the U.S., incarceration is part of American culture that can be seen in popular television like "Orange is the New Black." Incarceration is romanticized, turned into comedies and now turning into a trend on Twitter. Humor can be a good way to cope but children need a healthy way to discuss their own personal trauma associated with their parents being incarcerated.

You can find clips of the episodes on YouTube or view the toolkit provided by Sesame Street to give parents tips and resources to help tackle this issue.

Share your thoughts with me on Twitter: @Cualania 

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Maribel Hermosillo

Maribel Hermosillo is a contributor for PolicyMic's Identities column covering racial justice and feminism. Maribel has written for Rh Reality Check, Strong Families, The San Antonio Current, Yes Ma’am, Brown Queen and The Arts United of San Antonio. Maribel graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio with a focus on American Studies and Mexican-American Studies. Maribel's experience as a first generation queer woman of color deeply informs her writing and poetry. Maribel likes to take long reflective walks on mountains, hills and wooded areas. She resides in San Antonio, Texas.

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