Incarcerated moms and their children come together at Muskegon museum

When the Lakeshore Museum Center staff came across an article about a children’s museum in Manhattan that offered a program to allow incarcerated mothers with good behavior to visit their children at the museum, museum Director of Operations Jackie Huss wanted to replicate the program in Muskegon.

“We applied for and received a grant from the Greater Muskegon Service League’s Women and Children’s Fund of the Community Foundation for Muskegon County in 2021, so I reached out to the Muskegon County Jail administrator, Capt. (Matthew) Smith, to see if it would be possible to replicate the program here in Muskegon,” Huss explains. “The first program occurred in June 2021, and we have hosted four programs since then.”

The “Time Well Served” program aims to run every three to four months and brings together incarcerated mothers with their children and guardians for a two-hour visit that includes books, activities, and quality time, all while supervised by local officers. 

“Sheriff (Michael) Poulin was interested in exploring this opportunity for female inmates to connect with their children/grandchildren in a trauma-free environment,” says Smith. “Each visit consists of one to four inmates, and we require a minimum of two officers for the purpose of supervision. Every officer who has attended this event has thoroughly enjoyed overseeing the experience. It is nice to see the inmates engage with their families.”
The Lakeshore Museum Center allowed children a fun, educational spot to meet their moms for a special visit during the Muskegon County Time Well Served program.
Making new memories

The museum is closed to the public during the time of the program, but staff are in the building and many help with the activities. 

“The women are allowed to change into their street clothes prior to arrival and are transported here by the officers. Once everyone is here and checked in, we take time visiting the various museum exhibits as a group, with an emphasis on the hands-on rooms, for approximately 90 minutes,” shares Huss. “We always have a craft or science activity for them to do while here. In addition, we have books for the children to pick out and take home, and the children’s guardians receive a one-year membership to the museum.”

Many of these children’s last memory of their mother may have been riding off in the back of a police car or being escorted in handcuffs from a courtroom, so the Time Well Served program provides the opportunity for the children to visit with their mother for an extended period in a less trauma-inducing, more child-friendly environment than a jail visitation room.

“The goal of the program is for the inmates to have the opportunity to be rewarded for their good behavior while being incarcerated, while hopefully motivating them to reflect on who is affected by their incarceration,” Smith says. “It truly is a rewarding experience for everyone involved. To witness these children being awarded this opportunity to intimately engage with their mothers or grandmothers is remarkable. These children relish the opportunity to hug and kiss their mothers. Incarceration is tough on everyone involved; this experience can be rejuvenating for all.”
For a child whose last memory of their mother may have been riding off in the back of a police car or being escorted in handcuffs from a courtroom, the Time Well Served program provides a less traumatic and more child-friendly experience with Mom.
A special experience
Huss is thankful for and proud of the opportunity to host this program. 

“Every time we are able to hold the program, it is a humbling and special experience,” she shares. “As a mother myself, to witness their reunion upon arrival and their goodbyes at the end of the program is both heartbreaking and rewarding. At our most recent program, we had a little girl pick out a book and have her mom write to her on the inside cover. I can imagine she’ll cherish that while they are apart.”

While the grant period just ended, the museum is committed to providing at least two programs per year out of its own programming budget. However, the staff hopes to find another grant or a donor to help them continue to fund this program to the best of the museum’s ability.  

“Every visit to the museum is unique, as the expression of love is different depending on the individual,” Smith says. “The group that we had this month — amazing! Everyone involved really engaged with everything that the museum had to offer. They all seemed to be humbled by the opportunity and lots of hugs and tears were exchanged among those involved.”
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Read more articles by Kelsey Sanders.