COCONUT GROVE (CBSMiami) — The open seas have often been the setting for special moments between Sundari Harris and her mentor, Paulette Pfeiffer, a woman known by most she works with as “Tinkerbelle.”
“I feel like a mentor is someone that’s there for you when you need them,” said Harris. “You look up to them.”
The Miami skyline hasn’t always been their backdrop. The two met in South Carolina, when Harris was just seven years old. Her father had just gone to prison. It’s not likely he will ever be released.
“I was sad sometimes,” said Harris, who says she felt that her father’s incarceration was her fault. “It was hard, and I feel like a lot of times, that’s why I try to be in a relationship, because I try to be in that relationship that I was missing.”
Tinkerbelle filled a void.
An interpreter for international narcotics trials, she often thought about the children of those involved in the cases she worked. In 1978 she began mentoring 12 children of inmates, spending time with them, nurturing them, and taking them to visit their parents in prison.
“My limit was, how many can I really bring home,” said Tinkerbelle. “How many can I take to the theatre? How many can I take roller-skating? Twelve was the limit.”
That was the beginning of more than two decades of mentoring 147 children. Her husband, who the children affectionately call “Grandpa Neil,” is also there for them, taking them on boat rides and other activities.
“It’s been great,” said Harris. “Her and Grandpa Neil are very inspirational, and they’ve been there with us at all of our graduations and everything. My family is not that close, so they are like our grandparents.”
Even after Tinkerbelle moved to South Florida, she kept in touch with Harris and her sister, and eventually persuaded her to move to Florida as well.
Now 22-years old, Harris is the first in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree. Tinkerbelle connected her with a job at AmeriCorps, and she now serves on the advisory board of Tinkerbelle’s organization, Silent Victims of Crime, representing children of prisoners.
“I’ve learned not to be so quick to shut other people off, and to see what you can find in common with other people,” said Harris. “Even though they may look different from the outside, or however they act that you might not like, there’s always something that you might find in common, if you just look for it, and try to understand what people have been through.”
Tinkerbelle, whose parents were Holocaust survivors, thinks that is one of the most valuable lessons life has to offer.
“Until I was 12 years old, I didn’t know that I was the child of a Holocaust survivor,” she said. “I didn’t know that I had a brother who died of starvation in my mother’s arms… I think a lot of it has to do with who you are with, who decides that life is OK, no matter what.”
Harris dreams of opening her own salon, all the while continuing to help more children in the midst of a scary time she knows all too well.
“There’s a lot of hatred everywhere in the world, but there’s a lot more love,” said Tinkerbelle.
Nationally, there are about 3 million children with parents in prison, many of whom, without positive reinforcement and influences, are likely to continue the cycle of incarceration.
For more information on Silent Victims of Crime, visit http://silentvictimsofcrime.org.
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