“Daddy’s Time Out” is a children’s book that uses the metaphor of a ‘time out’ to explain to a child why their father is in prison or jail. It was co-created by a team that included child psychologists, criminal justice professors, and parents whose co-parents are incarcerated. This team collaborated to ensure that the book comforts children affected by their parent’s incarceration without triggering negative feelings about themselves, their incarcerated parent, or the adults who are raising them. In the words of one librarian who manages the books provided to children who visit their parents in prison, it “is the perfect way to explain incarceration to a child.”
The book was written by three-time TEDx speaker Jeremy Gregg; beautifully illustrated in watercolors by Christian McGowan; and produced by Joan Richardson at Mission Allies Publishing, a company based on the belief that “every mission begins with a story.”
The book’s narrator is a child (a lion cub named “Chris”) whose own father is in prison, and he explains how adults who are in prison are not necessarily bad people: they just made a bad choice and need to take a ‘time out’ in a place called jail or prison. It goes on to help children navigate the complexities of birthdays, holidays, and other difficult conversations with friends and family. The book ends by offering helpful ways for the reader to deal with their own feelings, including writing a letter to their father (with the affirmation that such letters do not need to be sent but can just be a way for the child to “write their own story”).
The book has been endorsed by both sides of the political aisle, from conservatives at the Charles Koch Institute to progressives at Equal Justice USA. It has also been supported by leaders from the Prison Entrepreneurship Program; Prison Fellowship; Big Brothers Big Sisters (whose Amachi program provides mentors to children with a parent in prison); as well as wardens and prison officials from around the world.
To find out more about this book and its journey, please see below.
Jeremy Gregg first walked into prison in 2007.
But, unlike the nearly 1% of the U.S. population that was living behind bars at that time, he did not go as a resident – but as a volunteer.
He had been working for years for CitySquare (then Central Dallas Ministries). Although his job was raising money for the organization’s fight against poverty, CitySquare’s approach was one of “neighbors supporting neighbors.” As a result, Jeremy became friends with many people who lived on the streets … including several who struggled to find work after serving time in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
The PEP leaders shared their belief that many people were in prison due to misdirected entrepreneurial talent. Chris then said something to Jeremy that planted the seed for this project:
“They are not all bad men; but they all made bad choices.”
Jeremy accepted Chris’ invitation to prison a few weeks later … where he saw men walk across the graduation stage for the first time in their lives. He was so struck by the impact of the organization that he soon joined PEP’s Dallas Advisory Board. He continued to volunteer for five years before deciding to join the staff as the Chief Development Officer.
In 2012, after Jeremy was leaving a prison graduation (that he had now helped organize), he could not forget an image from that day’s graduation:
A little boy, around age 6 or 7, sheepishly walked up to a man whom he had never met: his father.
The dad had been arrested while his wife was still pregnant. Deeply hurt by the father’s bad choices, the family had chosen to never bring his son to meet him … until they heard about his transformation through PEP.
As a writer, Jeremy had to get out his notebook to process the experience further. Pulling into a Buc-ee’s parking lot, he began to write a letter to the child … but it turned into a letter to his own children, written from the perspective of the little boy whom he had met in prison.
That was the first draft of Daddy’s Time Out.
That was 2012 when Jeremy wrote the book.
Six years later, the project was still just a draft and dream. Jeremy, who had since left PEP to form his own company, decided to call his friend Joan Richardson (whom he had originally met when he recruited her to volunteer in prison). As the two were getting caught up, Jeremy took a chance: he knew that Joan worked with authors to self-publish their books, so he told her about Daddy’s Time Out.
Joan was so enthused by the project that she not only encouraged him to publish the book … she offered to help him do it.
Within months, the team had found an amazing illustrator named Christian McGowan, whose watercolors conveyed the often-inexplicable wash of emotions that covered children whose parents are in prison. In just a few brief conversations, Jeremy quickly learned to trust Christian’s instincts, and her artistic license informed many of the most beautiful moments in the final text (including the amazing formation of the father’s face in the clouds, the heartbreaking image of the paws pressed against each other in the visitation room, and many more).
Once the first illustrations began to arrive, Jeremy and Joan worked to assemble an Advance Reader Team that could bring a diverse array of perspectives to the project. This team (see list here) included formerly incarcerated parents (as well their co-parents), child therapists, criminal justice professors, as well as leading voices in the movement to transform the criminal justice system. The latter ranged from the politically progressive leaders of Equal Justice USA to the politically conservative leaders of the Charles Koch Institute, both of whom have endorsed the book.
This team’s contributions played a vital role in refining the book, including bringing a trauma-informed lens to the editing process. This helped us to remove several potentially triggering terms and images while ensuring that the book could make the most positive impact possible on young readers.
Recognizing that many of families might struggle to afford the book (if they could even find it), Joan introduced Jeremy to Pierce Bush (the grandson of President George H.W. Bush), who was then leading the Lone Star chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Pierce shared that nearly one in five Little Brothers and Sisters have a parent in prison, and that Big Brothers Big Sisters would help distribute any books that Jeremy and Joan could donate. Jeremy later had similar calls with leaders from the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, as well as Prison Fellowship, and both expressed similar interest in sharing the book with the families they served.
The team then quickly moved to launch a Kickstarter to raise the funds to finish the project and print 1,000 copies to donate through this group of nonprofit partners. Thanks to the support of Cheri Garcia and Damian Skinner, the campaign was launched on 02/20/2020 … and successfully ended on 4/20/2020 with over $15,000 raised to mobilize the project.
The book was printed in early 2021. The first 500 books will be donated to prisons in North Dakota, where an amazing group of librarians will work to get them in the hands of children who are visiting their fathers in prison. Conversations are now underway with prison officials all over the world, including Her Majesty’s prisons in the United Kingdom!
Daddy’s Time Out aims to improve the futures of the estimated 2.7 million kids who currently have a parent in prison. Such children are up to six times more likely to end up in prison themselves, and our research has revealed that a significant contributing factor is the negative self-identity that these children develop due to an inability to understand their parent’s incarceration.
Using the metaphor of a “time out” to explain incarceration, the book equips these children with an appropriate understanding of what is happening in their family.
Our goal is to use this book to give these children a better ending to their own story.
By supporting our work, you are not just donating books … you are writing a better ending to 2.7 million children’s stories.
Thank you for joining us!