Crimes are committed. Police and prosecutors do their job, and justice is served. Those found guilty go to prison, and in many cases, people cheer when the sentence is handed down. Life goes on for those not directly affected. Too often, though, there are forgotten victims: the children of those put behind bars.
“They’re told they may end up in prison too. They’re told they can’t afford to go to college.” Leslie Knight knows firsthand. Knight is by any measure a success story. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina, and is now pursuing a master’s. She will compete in the Miss South Carolina pageant for the fourth time this year. As executive director of USC Dance Marathon, she led a team which raised more than $500,000 for Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital. But before all the successes, she was in the same position as those children, as the daughter of an incarcerated father.
Knight made raising awareness of the needs of children of incarcerated parents her platform as a Miss South Carolina contestant, then connected with and began volunteering for a nonprofit called Proverbs226. The all-volunteer organization was founded five years ago by Cyril Prabhu to help those children.
“The main idea is really to push education,” Knight said. “We want to keep them out of jail and help them break the cycle of incarceration.” That breaking is no easy task. According to statistics supplied by Proverbs226, 82 percent of children with parents in prison end up serving time behind bars themselves. The numbers also show that 78 percent of the prison population lacks post-secondary education, and studies show that graduating from college programs can decrease recidivism by 72 percent..
Knight is living proof of the good side of those numbers. “I was a child in their situation. I’m about to graduate with my master’s,” she said, adding that she benefited greatly from a strong mother and other support. “A lot of them are not that lucky.”
Continuing her mission to help those children, Knight is spearheading a campaign through Proverbs226 called The Blameless Ones, aimed at raising awareness of the children’s needs and at raising money for college scholarships for those who meet academic goals to qualify.
Knight and the other Proverbs226 volunteers meet often with children of incarcerated parents. There are approximately 52,000 such children in South Carolina alone, and many of them find themselves in an uphill battle.
“I feel like I’m in a movie when I’m with these kids, hearing what they’re going through,” Knight said. “They’re having to work much harder than everyone else.”
The efforts of Proverbs226 have resulted in scholarships for 36 young people who will be going to college this fall, all children of incarcerated parents, all people who had to fight hard for things that come easily for others. They also battle the image held by many of “typical” prison inmates and their families.
“People need to get past the stereotype,” Knight said. “You’re not giving to someone who doesn’t deserve it.”
Proverbs226 founder Prabhu and the volunteers who work alongside him have no deep-pocketed sponsors or huge budgets. They are simply a group of a dozen people committed to helping reconnect prisoners with their families, and helping the children.
“Our founder is kind of a superhero,” Knight said. “It’s been all hands on deck, just whoever he can meet along the way to help reach his goals.” The primary goal is a lofty one: to keep a million children out of prison. Some would say it can’t be done. Knight has heard that before, and proven many doubters wrong already.
“Dance Marathon taught me that every donation counts,” she said. Those who would like to help, financially or by volunteering, can find more information at the Proverbs226 website. And why does the organization have that name? The answer lies in the Bible, the center of the mission for Prabhu and Knight, and sums up the goal of all they do.
“Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”