The glitz of pageantry and the grit of prisons represent two separate worlds that are seemingly irreconcilable. But this year's Miss America, Lauren Kaeppeler of Kenosha, Wisc., was in Philadelphia on Thursday to unite the two.
Kaeppeler appeared at City Hall with the Pennsylvania Prison Society to help present a report, "The Effects of Parental Incarceration on Children." Her own father served 12 months in a federal penitentiary for mail fraud when she was 17, and she competed on the platform of helping children with incarcerated parents.
"No matter the crime, no matter the reason your parents are in prison, children feel the same," she said, recounting how embarrassed and isolated she and her sisters, aged 11 and 14 at the time, felt.
She said that having to drive eight hours to see her father and facing barbed wire gates, invasive searches and inmate letters and phone calls cast a constant shadow of shame. "I felt like there was a limitation on my life, a gray cloud over my name in my community and a gray cloud over the possibilities for my future."
The report, generated by a joint state government committee, makes concrete recommendations to help remedy some of those emotions for children in the 100,000 households with incarcerated parents in Pennsylvania. The state's prison population has increased 535 percent over the past 30 years.
State Rep. Cherelle Parker and Sen. Stewart Greenleaf joined Mayor Michael Nutter and members of Philadelphia's City Council to announce that many of the suggestions would be written into policy.
"We have to find a way to make it work," Parker said. "All branches of government are going to have to work hard on this issue."
The report focuses on making it easier to keep children connected with their imprisoned parents, through several methods:
Assisting with transportation to help diminish the cost and difficulty posed by distance.
Making child-friendly prison visiting areas and allowing alternative communication like video chat and e-mail.
Forming and urging participation in support groups.