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All Alone in the World: Children of the Incarcerated [Hardcover]

Nell Bernstein
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 14, 2005 1565849523 978-1565849525 First Edition
An intimate and heartwrenching investigation into the lives of children of imprisoned parents, by an award-winning journalist.

"I think they shouldn't have took my mama to jail….Give her the opportunity to make up for what she did. Using drugs, she's hurting herself. You take her away from me, now you're hurting me."—Terrence, a fifteen-year-old boy left to fend for himself after his mother was imprisoned for nonviolent drug possession

One in ten American children has a parent under criminal justice supervision—incarcerated, on probation, or on parole. One in thirty-three American children—and one in eight African American children—goes to sleep without access to a parent because that parent is in jail. Despite these staggering numbers, the children of prisoners remain largely invisible to society.

Following in the tradition of the bestseller Random Family, journalist Nell Bernstein shows, through the deeply moving stories of real families, how the children of the incarcerated are routinely punished for their parents' status: ignored, neglected, stigmatized, and endangered, with minimal effort made to help them cope.

Topics range from children's experiences at the time of their parent's arrest, to laws and policies that force even low-level offenders to forfeit their parental rights, to alternative sanctions that take into account prisoners' status as mothers and fathers.
All Alone in the World defines a crucial aspect of criminal justice and, in doing so, illuminates a critical new realm of human rights.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Children of prisoners: who even thinks about them? Journalist Bernstein puts a face on this population with staggering statistics (2.4 million children have a parent in jail, and as many as half of all boys whose parents do time will wind up behind bars themselves) and personal stories of children like Susana, who has embraced her father only once in her life, and Carl, who told the jailhouse Santa that all he wanted for Christmas was for his mother to come home. Parents and children speak about the trauma of prison visits, the expensive phone calls that cut off without warning and the questions from children (What do you tell your friends? Are you to blame?) and parents (Would your child be better off without you?). Bernstein takes on the system as well: because of mandatory sentencing, judges must impose life imprisonment without parole, regardless of circumstances; a convicted felon, once released, has no access to student or small-business loans, public assistance or housing; a grandmother fears applying for aid because she must give up her grandchildren to the foster care system for evaluation and may never get them back. Well researched and smoothly written, Bernstein's book pumps up awareness of the problems, provides a checklist for what needs to be done and also cites organizations like the Osborne Society that provide parenting and literacy classes, counseling and support. The message is clear : taking family connections into account "holds particular promise for restoring a social fabric rent by both crime and punishment." (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


An important book —its pages at once heartbreaking and instructive. -- Robert Coles

Meticulously reported and sensitively written, Bernstein's book draws upon a decade of research and astounding personal interviews. --

Remarkable….Bernstein sets out to explore the crisis, which she suggests will be "the civil rights issue of the 21st century. -- San Francisco Chronicle

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: New Press; First Edition edition (October 14, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565849523
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565849525
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #686,621 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Its always easy to blame individuals for society's ills, it's been the American way for at least in the second half of the 20th Century.

Maybe that is not always the case. Maybe our complex country -- especially its justice system -- is a lot more nuanced. Author Bernstein offers a glimpse into some truly horrifying machinations that go on in today's America, all in the name of protecting our communities. Some 2.4 million children nationwide have a parent behind bars. That is more the entire population of Denver, Colorado and its six-county suburbs. Offering intimate portraits of a numerous kids who are affected by the mass incarceration of non-violent felons in the 90s, she then connects the dots to show that through community neglect, governmental policy and condemnation by self-righteous citizens, we are neglecting our own.

All is not bleak in Bernstein's world though, the resilience of many of the spotlighted kids is dramatic and emotional and she showcases some efforts and individuals (including cops) that are emerging to help change this social abomination. Another way to look at the problem is to ask ourselves when a huge number of our country's youngest members - more than the population of a major metro area - are affected by a horrible problem not of their making, how can this be only their burden to bear? Now is time for us to apply the precept of reaching out to and helping "the least of these brothers of mine." And "All Alone in the World" is call to action.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "All Alone in the World" November 28, 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Important, compelling, and sad book about the millions of children who have parents in prisons ("A six-year-old crouches behind his bed as armed strangers ransack his home, breaking through floorboards and throwing his parents to the ground. Downstairs, two police cars wait: one for his parents, one for him...."). Nell Bernstein and Soros Foundation deserve our thanks, and these children deserve our support. Ari Kohn
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars With an Inmate Parent October 25, 2007
The solid if sad truth of what it is really like having a parent arrested and your life disrupted. Honestly and professionally told. I would recommend for teachers and school counselors because these children are in your school no matter where you are located. The more you understand the more you can quietly support the children.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For Parents, for policymakers December 18, 2005
The SF Chronicle says it better than I could so I am pasting part of their review below:

"Chapter by chapter, Bernstein takes us through each lamentable phase of the incarceration cycle, from arrest to sentencing, to visitations and foster care and finally re-entry. She interviews scores of experts -- police officers, criminologists, sociologists and dedicated service providers, many of them reformed offenders who would never have been released from prison had they committed their crimes today. But Bernstein...derives her best expert testimony from the families themselves, whom she treats not as victims of an unjust system but rather as experts and resources, the best available analysts of their own experience and needs.

Bernstein ... lays out 18 policy suggestions [in her conclusion]. Most of them are pure common sense -- remove financial barriers to communication (like the hiked-up fee for collect calls from jail), keep prisoners near their families so they can receive visits, and of course revisit our failed drug policies. What her suggestions have in common, besides being relatively easy (and cheap) to implement, is that they are focused on the basic premise that crime is reduced by keeping families together, not ripping them apart.

In terms of elegance, breadth and persuasiveness, "All Alone in the World" deserves to be placed alongside other classics of the genre such as Jonathan Kozol's "Savage Inequalities," Alex Kotlowitz's "There Are No Children Here" and Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's "Random Family." But to praise the book's considerable literary or sociological merit seems beside the point. This book belongs not only on shelves but also in the hands of judges and lawmakers. "
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wake-Up Call June 23, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
We have failed to measure the true cost of our policy of incarcerating offenders and Nell Bernstein describes the costs that we have yet to pay. The damage done to a whole generation of young people who have grown up without their incarcerated parents are coming of age, and we need to recognize and address the problems that the punishment policy has caused.

Ms. Bernstein has introduced us to these children and the sadness that they will carry for the rest of their lives. She makes us care. She has also given us a well researched review of the system and the problems that have been created by society as well as making suggestions on how to prevent or diminish the damage that we are doing.

A must read for anyone who cares about the health of our society.
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3.0 out of 5 stars More help for the kids is most important March 15, 2014
Ok read but we need to concentrate more on the children who are the victims not by their own choice.
Luckily there has been a book directed at the younger children of the incarcerated. Publisher
"Goldest Karat" has on the market a coloring book entitled "The Prison Coloring Book" for kids
to learn some of the terminology of their incarcerated parent. Please go to and/or to see and purchase these books. Check them out
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great
All Alone in the World: Children of the Incarcerated needed for a college class. Great price and service. very trustworthy
Published 17 months ago by Donna B. Kalil
5.0 out of 5 stars Very moving and informative book.
This book was very well written. It is amazing how dysfunctional our system is when it comes to taking care of our children. Read more
Published on January 9, 2012 by DMI
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read especially if you are interested in working with...
I read this book for my Sociology of Childhood class. I loved it! It actually helped me to decide what demographic I wanted to work with for graduate school and my career overall. Read more
Published on January 8, 2011 by Naeema
5.0 out of 5 stars All alone in the world
The book All Alone in The World toys with your emotions by portraying the predicament of innocent children whose parents are in prison. Read more
Published on April 8, 2010 by thedream314
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing book
This book is an amazing in depth look into the lives of children with incarcerated parents. The stories are heart-felt and real, and the book then becomes a real eye opener to the... Read more
Published on February 8, 2008 by O. Semenova
5.0 out of 5 stars Why are these children judged and sentenced with their parents?
A sensitive portrait of the realities of being a child whose parents, one or both are incarcerated.

Well written and tugs at the heart strings! Read more
Published on May 13, 2007 by eho845
1.0 out of 5 stars Typical blame-the-system claptrap absolving criminals of any...
This book tries to tug at your heartstrings by portraying the plight of blameless kids whose parents are in prison. Read more
Published on November 12, 2005 by California Reader
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