“Every scar tells a story,” says Jennifer Jones, founder of Beauty Marks for Girls, a nonprofit that provides mentorship, leadership skills, and a creative outlet for young girls whose mothers have been incarcerated.
Jennifer’s personal experience navigating the incarceration of her mother as a young child inspired her to launch the nonprofit in January of 2019.
Today, the South Carolina-based nonprofit aims to support young girls through various scholarship, wellness, self-love, and enrichment programs.
Growing up, Jennifer shared that she and her mom had a very strong bond. “My mom and I were extremely close. She was the perfect mother in my eyes. Loving, nurturing, my best friend.”
Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worst during Jennifer’s teen years when her mom struggled with drug addiction, affecting the family dynamic.
“During her incarceration, I walked around for many years feeling confused, angry, unidentifiable,” said Jennifer, 35. At the time, it was difficult for Jennifer to navigate the obstacles she faced as a young daughter of an incarcerated parent.
For many years, Jennifer recalls feeling embarrassed about her childhood trauma and her mother’s incarceration. There were many times when Jennifer wished she had a safe space where she could share her frustrations, fears, and dreams.
After several years of healing and forgiveness, Jennifer developed a new relationship with her mom, celebrating her 10 years of sobriety and maintaining communication with her.
“I never left my mother’s side. Even while she was incarcerated, she encouraged me, listened to my classroom assignments, and pushed me to finish college. No one can go back and change the past, we can only press forward to change the narration of a storyline’s ending,” Jennifer said.
Jennifer believes it is more important than ever to provide positive role models for young girls with incarcerated mothers, and to help them find a creative outlet to express themselves.
“I have watched our girls walk with their heads held higher, excel in their classrooms, break out of their comfort zone, and learn the importance of self-compassion. Seeing them now, compared to their first day in our program, these young ladies have proven to be the leaders we saw in the beginning,” said Jennifer.
According to statistics compiled by Beauty Marks for Girls, 5 million children in America have at least one incarcerated parent, which translates to nearly 1 in 14 children.
“Even though I am counted as one of the millions of children who have experienced speaking to their parents through a glass shield, I’m also counted as one who overcame it, I have my scars to remind me that I survived,” said Jennifer.
Jennifer shared that children of incarcerated parents are also three times more likely to be juvenile justice-involved.
“This cycle of intergenerational incarceration is one we strive to combat on a larger scale through Beauty Marks for Girls,” said Jennifer, who added that the loss of a parent due to incarceration can have lasting financial, physical, and psychological impacts on a child as well.
Jennifer’s lifelong mission is to continue providing support to young girls, support the mother-daughter bond, and make educational opportunities readily accessible to mitigate and minimize the negative impacts of the situation as much as possible. She hopes that her nonprofit will continue to create a safe space and a positive outlet for young girls navigating parental incarceration.
“There is so much potential in every girl I serve. Despite the odds, I want them to know their true worth, tap into their own identities, and help provide them with the opportunities that they all so rightfully deserve,” said Jennifer.
The nonprofit’s focus is centered around mentorship and relies heavily on mentors that support the girls and commit to weekly sessions with their mentees.
“Connection is vital to a girl whose mother is absent. Building a strong community around our girls is something we take very seriously.”
To support the girls’ emotional-well being, Beauty Marks for Girls offers free wellness and counseling sessions. The goal is to also build a strong support system through various community outreach and scholarship efforts.
“We provide free care packages and food assistance so that participants can focus on their studies without worrying about basic needs. Through these activities, mentorship, and college scholarships, we hope to set them up as leaders for life.”
One of the many programs Jennifer has implemented is the Women of Essence Program, an educational awards program that recognizes women in leadership within the community.
“The ultimate objective of this program is rooted in the concept of exposing mentees to women who are leading and leaving an incredible impression on the world.”
She has also launched a summer enrichment program known as the Miss Apprentice Program, which helps young girls develop a sense of character, responsibility, and community.
“Studies have consistently shown that rates of criminal behavior among teens and young adults drop when their communities provide them with other ways to spend their time and earn money,” shared Jennifer.
Along with leadership and mentorship, the nonprofit also provides young girls with exciting opportunities such as career shadowing, college preparation, skill-building, and more.
Jennifer knows firsthand that parental incarceration can leave lasting scars. For Jennifer, the goal at Beauty Marks for Girls is to look at the obstacles as opportunities and provide a supportive community in the midst of tremendous transitions that have been placed on young girls’ shoulders, she explained.
“We want our girls to know that we believe in their potential and understand that they are worthy of the investments placed in their futures.”
Jennifer would like to see more resources and support allocated to guardians who are often left navigating the incarceration of a family member.
She explained that many guardians take on the responsibilities of caring for the girls, providing clean clothing, and ensuring that they also have visitation opportunities with their mothers.
“All guardians in our program are relatives…We work hard to show our guardians that we stand and support them. But they need so much more support,” she added.
When Jennifer is not busy brainstorming ideas for her nonprofit, she can be found teaching and inspiring a group of incarcerated women at a local women’s correctional facility.
“I absolutely love prison ministry. It’s the spark in my love for Beauty Marks for Girls. Serving in my local prison was one of the biggest fears I had to overcome…It reminded me of too many days having to be pulled apart from the person I loved the most, my mom.”
Jennifer was inspired to serve at a local women’s correctional facility when she turned 30. She felt a strong calling to support women who had been incarcerated.
“That year, my wishlist changed. I didn’t want another purse, another designer shoes, nothing. I wanted healing. True healing. So guess where I went for my birthday? Yes, to a women’s correctional facility.”
On her first day at the women’s correctional facility, Jennifer didn’t know what to expect. She nervously introduced herself to a circle of women who seemed just as nervous as she did. But when she started sharing her story and conversing with the women, she was happy she committed to it.
“Little did I know that those next 12 weeks would change my life forever. I felt different leaving every week. It was as though something that had me bound started to loosen. I later found out from my mentor that this encounter was a sign of healing. I was glad I went back.”
Jennifer is happy to have found her calling and passion for supporting young girls and their dreams through Beauty Marks For Girls and beyond. She hopes to continue to create a safe and creative outlet for girls to express themselves.
“Parental incarceration and childhood traumas are topics that most prefer not to address,” said Jennifer. “My prayer is that we all will address our childhood experiences and help to prepare our youth for what is to come — to help them avoid taking unproductive paths. Our girls are looking up to us and they need us to be emotionally whole.”
-Written by Monica Luhar