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Christiane Joy Allison

Christiane Allison of Wasilla is a writer and advocate who has devoted herself to freeing her husband from prison. Her picture books are designed to help children understand what is happening to family members who are incarcerated or otherwise caught up in the criminal justice system.

    2018

  • Project Award
  • Literary Arts/Scriptworks

Shedding Light on Prison's Darkness with Children’s Books

Everything in Christiane Allison’s life changed with the death of her toddler and the subsequent conviction of her husband for murder. The child died in Clayton Allison’s care in 2008, but Allison says her husband is not to blame for Jocelynn’s death. She suspects their child suffered from a previously undiagnosed medical condition. The case took seven years to get to trial. After being convicted of second-degree murder in 2015, he was sentenced to serve 30 years.

“I was furious,” Allison said. “After seven years of waiting, I think most of what was left was fury.”

Clayton Allison’s conviction since has been reversed.

Jocelynn had been ill much of her life, but the underlying cause wasn’t determined. After the child died, Allison was diagnosed with a hereditary disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. The disorder, which affects skin, joints and blood vessel walls, could explain the severity of the child’s injuries, the Alaska Court of Appeals said in a July 2019 ruling. The court found that Clayton Allison was improperly barred from presenting evidence on that point at his trial.

Since the trial, Allison has devoted her life to advocating for justice reform and using her talent as an author to bring comfort and awareness to others. She’s been jotting down stories her whole life, for fun, for herself, for school.

She went looking for a children’s book that tackled the issue of wrongful convictions. She wanted a way to explain what happened to her niece and nephew. Such a book did not exist, so she decided to write one. Her first book, “Why Can’t Uncle Come Home,” came out in 2018. She believes it was the first children’s book in the world about wrongful conviction.

After completing the manuscript, Allison took it to several publishers who thought the topic was too dark for children.

“The reality is that kids are going through that whether they think it’s dark for them or not,” Allison said. “You’re basically intentionally leaving the children with no resources.”

Allison was purposeful in making the incarcerated character in her books an uncle instead of a parent. “Children are impacted by the incarceration of aunts, uncles, grandmas, grandpas, close family friends,” Allison said. “They are impacted by the incarceration of a huge community of people around them and they don’t have to be directly blood-related to be impacted for the rest of their life.”

The book has received positive feedback from families in similar situations. Through her Individual Artist Award, Allison was able to produce the second children’s book in her series, “Timmy and Kate Go to Visit,” which seeks to help children going through the prison visitation experience.

“I watched my niece just completely struggle with walking through the metal detector because it was super tall, big and intimidating,” Allison said. “The guards were helpful in trying to show her that even when it goes off it’s not something bad or scary, but she was not going to go through unless Dad was holding her hand.”

Families are impacted by convictions in every way, and the separation from that loved one is akin to death more than people realize, she said. “You suddenly lose access to that person in dramatic ways,” Allison said. “For children without options of visitation, they lose that access completely.”

Going through her husband’s trial and police interrogations was a terrific challenge. “It is probably the most traumatic event of my life,” she said. “I had PTSD so severely for two years after that that I nearly died.”

In addition to her children’s books — an important part of Allison’s advocacy — she’s spent years documenting her experiences through a blog. Her husband came up with the blogging idea after he struggled to find information to prepare for what living in Alaska’s prisons would actually be like.

“When he got wrongfully convicted and ended up inside, he was like ‘I don’t want everybody else to have to learn this the hard way,’” she said. “‘I’d rather everybody else sees what I’m going through.’ I wanted to give him a channel to do that.”

During the 4 1/2 years her husband spent in prison, Allison lost everything: her home, vehicles and most material possessions. When her husband’s conviction was overturned in 2019, he was able to come home just in time for their 14th wedding anniversary.

“It felt for the first time that someone actually cared about what happened to my child instead of someone just wanting to push forward their own agenda,” Allison said.

The Alaska Court of Appeals, in reversing the conviction, ruled that the trial court judge was wrong for not allowing Clayton to present evidence about the rare genetic disorder that impacts Allison, and may have damaged their daughter as well.

State prosecutors say they intend to retry Clayton Allison.

Regardless, Allison and her husband will continue advocating for criminal justice reform and supporting organizations like the Innocence Project, which aims to help those who have been wrongfully convicted.

“We’ve seen too much to go back,” Allison said. “Even if they have done something wrong, we’re throwing them away and deciding they can never ever be better. Our system is making them worse intentionally. We want to work on activism and be the voice for these people both on the inside and out, probably for the rest of our lives.”

Allison plans to write a memoir about her experience with the judicial system. She also writes fiction and will be launching a series of novels next year called “The Infinitus Saga.” The main characters have the same genetic disease as Allison.

With the stress of her husband’s trial, and her own medical challenges, Allison’s ability to work a regular job diminished but she could still write. “Nobody can take my voice from me.”

Victoria Petersen is a reporter at the Peninsula Clarion newspaper in Kenai, Alaska. Petersen is also the founder and editor of The Spenardian, a hyperlocal magazine for Anchorage’s Spenard neighborhood.

Image credits - Gallery images are courtesy of the artist. Artist portrait is by Erik Hill. Image 2 shows Christiane Allison at Goose Creek Correctional Center. In Image 3, Allison and illustrator Liz Shine display awards for their children’s picture book, "Why Can’t Uncle Come Home?"