The InterNational Prisoner’s Family Conference, By Carolyn Esparza – Guest Blogger

The 8th Annual InterNational Prisoner’s Family Conference will be held May 4 – 6, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  

Just eight years ago, this conference was only an idea bounced around with a few friends until we took a deep breath and made a very bold step of faith to activate that idea solely on the “Field of Dreams Principle:” Build it and they will come!  Today, not only does the conference have an international presence, but unlike a typical (stuffy and often boring) corporate conference, the InterNational Prisoner’s Family Conference is a powerful, action oriented, encouraging and supportive community.

From a single Facebook page, THOUSANDS HAVE BEEN EMBOLDED TO STAND UP AND BE COUNTED!  Not only does the our Facebook End Mass Incarceration page have over 8000 “likes,” today, but dozens of similar pages can now be found boldly addressing the many injustices prison families experience.
For far too long, with absolutely no valid reasoning, families with incarcerated loved ones were relegated to second-class citizenship, often treated with as much disdain as the prisoner.  Children and family members were shamed into isolation, withdrawing from the mainstream community, suffering alone in painful silence.  In some ways, this factor alone led to the revolving door of inter-generational incarceration, adding fuel to the ever-growing mass incarceration epidemic in our country.

Having had several life experiences and a professional background that told me talking about something bothering you makes problems easier to manage, it seemed that putting people with similar circumstances in the same room could ultimately reduce the unwarranted stigma and resolve many difficult challenges facing families affected by incarceration.  In fact, such a gathering had the potential to improve the quality of life for the entire prison-family.  Today, eight years later, we know we were right!

In eight swift years that initial idea has been affirmed time and again, as the conference has grown into a community of like-minded people, strengthened by others like themselves, as well as community members who care deeply and genuinely want to help.

In eight short years, we have “matured”!  The conference has grown from a solely information sharing venue into an action oriented body.  Today, prison-families who have availed themselves of the conference experience are being empowered as their voices are being heard through the advocacy arm that has evolved from this conference.

In 2012, the first-ever Prison Family Bill of Rights was drafted by conference attendees to be used as an advocacy tool.  In 2013, the National END MASS Incarceration movement began at this conference, taking the prison family voice to the social media – a powerful means for raising the prison family voice.

At the 2013 conference, it was with some surprise that we welcomed our first international attendees.  In 2014, even more international attendees attended.  And in 2015, with the strong commitment and persistent work of Francis Ssuubi of Uganda, the conference officially became INTERNATIONAL, when attendees from nine countries on three different continents came together to launch the first ever International Network for Children with Incarcerated Parents.

Inspired by the more visible support, in 2015 over eighty attendees signed an agreement to launch the “Advocacy in Action Coalition” under the auspices of the conference.   The Coalition Task Force drafted a resolute White Paper, now being used for talking points with lawmakers to achieve critically needed criminal justice reforms that will strengthen and humanize all members of the prison family.  

This, our 8th year we are pleased to expand our conference even further, as we welcome college and university students for our first Student Social Justice Forum at this conference.

Perhaps because this conference has filled such a critical void, we have experienced very few growing pains as the conference has evolved from a purely informative venue to an action-oriented body that embraces advocacy.  Conference attendees have been strengthened and inspired, leaving each conference with fresh ideas and a strong desire to actively pursue avenues to continually improve the quality of life and strengthen the voice of the prison-family.

For details about the conference and a listing of the 2016 presenters, visit

(The conference is a project of Community Solutions of El Paso, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization serving the prison-family.)

 Carolyn Esparza is a licensed professional counselor with over thirty years experience working with the criminal justice system.  As the founder and director of Community Solutions of El Paso, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving prisoners and their loved ones, she initiated and chairs the annual InterNational Prisoner’s Family Conference.   She can be reached at 
or  (915) 861-7733.