Ayanna Pressley had a Father’s Day message for children with incarcerated parents

"Know that growth, redemption and forgiveness are possible."

Rep. Ayanna Pressley on Capitol Hill in March. J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Following a Father’s Day “filled with love, family and gratitude” with her husband and stepdaughter, Rep. Ayanna Pressley had a message Sunday night for the kids who weren’t able to have the same experience.

At least 1.7 million children, if not more, have a parent who is currently in prison, according to the most recent estimates. Due to soaring incarceration rates in the United States, the number increased 80 percent between 1991 and 2007, disproportionately affecting families of color. Some research says as many as 10 million Americans have experienced parental incarceration at some point.

Pressley was one of them.

In a series of tweets Sunday, the Massachusetts congresswoman addressed “the man I called Martin for decades but now lovingly call, Dad.”


“He was absent for my childhood and young adult years due to substance use and the criminal legal system,” Pressley wrote. “By the age of 10 years old, I stopped reading the letters he sent me from Corrections. I missed him, resented him, and experienced a world of hurt without him, for which I blamed him, for decades.”

Pressley has previously spoken about how her father, Martin Terrell, battled drug addiction and was “in and out” of prison during her youth — and of the “stigma” and “social isolation” it caused her family. As he wrote in his memoir, Terrell’s mother died before he was 12, and he struggled to escape the then-crime-ridden West End neighborhood of Cincinnati, where Pressley was born.

However, after his release, Terrell went on to earn college degrees, became a journalism professor and published author, and retired as a regional director of the United Negro College Fund. Pressley said he even walked her down the aisle at her wedding in 2014.

According to Pressley, their story shows how it is possible for children with absent, incarcerated parents to rebuild those relationships.

“Know that they miss you terribly, think of you everyday, never stopped loving you, and know that growth, redemption and forgiveness are possible,” she wrote.


During the COVID-19 pandemic, Pressley has repeatedly called for reducing the prison population. In March, she introduced legislation to improve support for incarcerated mothers.


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