Bay Area Proud

UCSC Student Draws on Personal History to Support Children of Incarcerated Parents

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It was 2012, and as she headed north from San Jose to San Quentin, Alyssa Tamboura had it all planned out.

She hadn't spoken to her father since he was sent to prison 10 years earlier, but on that day, Tamboura knew just what she was going to say.

"I'm going to give him a piece of my mind. I’m going to tell him how his incarceration ruined my life," Tamboura said.

Tamboura was just 9 years old when her father was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Like so many children of an incarcerated parent, Tamboura said her life spiraled out of control.

"My childhood was really rough because of it," Tamboura said.

And that is what she was going to tell her dad in the San Quentin visiting room. Except, she didn't.

"He walked over to me and before I could even say anything, he just wrapped his arms around me and said, 'I'm really sorry I left you. I love you and I take full responsibility,'" Tamboura said.

It was a moment that changed not just their relationship but the direction of Tamboura's life. It also explains, in a round-a-bout way, why on a recent Friday, hundreds of books were scattered across her backyard with thousands more still stacked in her garage.

Tamboura, a 27-year-old senior at UC Santa Cruz, is the founder and director of Walls To Bridges, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting families of the incarcerated, particularly the children.

"The kids who are growing up like I did," Tamboura said. "I wouldn't have this passion and this drive for making a difference in their lives if I didn't go through what I went through."

And, in 2020, with COVID-19 shutting down in-person visitations, that meant Tamboura was going to have to get creative to keep families connected.

"I had this small idea," Tamboura said. "What would happen if we sent books to children on behalf of their incarcerated family because they are not connecting right now."

Her "small idea" is quickly growing into a big one. A pilot program at San Quentin has proven so successful, with hundreds of books heading to children, Tamboura is expanding her program to every prison in the state.

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