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Sesame Street Creates Muppet with Father in Jail

Sesame Street Creates Muppet with Father in Jail

by Christopher Zoukis

Sesame Street has a new muppet character: Alex, whose father is incarcerated. “My dad’s in jail,” he says in an online video. “I don’t like to talk about it.”

Alex is featured in Sesame Street’s online teaching kit, “Little Children, Big Challenges,” which is a series of resources for children and their parents dealing with adversity, from bullying to divorce. The fuzzy blue-haired muppet is depicted as facing a wave of questions from his peers about “carceration.” Sofia, a neighbor, explains that incarceration “is when someone breaks the law, a grown-up rule, and then they have to go to jail or prison.” Alex says of his father, “I just miss him so much.... Sometimes I just feel like I want to pound a pillow and scream as loud as I can.”

Jeanette Betancourt, vice president for outreach and educational practices at Sesame Workshop, said the video is intended to give support and comfort to children like Alex.

“We are not looking at the cause of the incarceration of the parent, but the impact of the incarceration on the lives of children and their caregivers,” she stated. “We’re tackling this very difficult topic, but also acknowledging this very invisible community ... we’ve heard quite a bit from adults who experienced this as children and who never talked about it out of guilt or shame.”

Around 2.7 million children in the U.S. have a parent in prison, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Melissa Henson, communications director for the Parents Television Council, a family-based research group, applauded Sesame Street’s new muppet.

“There is no reason to penalize the child who had no part in that wrongdoing,” she said. “Rather than make them feel stigmatized or isolated, it’s better to give them those beneficial resources.”

In July 2014, John Oliver, host of the “Last Week Tonight” comedy program on HBO, performed a skit involving muppets during a show on prisons in which he cited Sesame Street’s newest character. “Just think about that,” he said. “We now need adorable singing puppets to explain prison to children in the same way they explain the number 7 or what the moon is.”