Jessica Stillman remembers her first trips to visit her father in Folsom State Prison at age 9, after both he and Jessica’s mother had been incarcerated.
“The first visits were behind the glass. Those were probably the hardest visits because you don’t get to touch,” Stillman said.
She could see her dad, but they had to communicate via a phone.
“I had this list of things I had to tell my dad, but when you get on the phone everything melts in your brain,” Stillman said, “and all you can do is hold back your tears.”
Initially, Stillman didn’t talk to other kids at school about her parents being in jail.
“I didn’t feel comfortable saying it out loud,” Stillman said. “Just because you’re ashamed by it.”
That all changed, however, after she became involved with Project Avary, a San Rafael-based nonprofit founded in 1999 to bring the children of incarcerated parents together and provide them with recreational and educational activities. Stillman was one of the first kids to attend Project Avary’s summer camp, and today, after earning her master’s in public health, Stillman works for Project Avary as a family advocate.