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'The trauma is relatable': Boxer helping Phoenix kids of incarcerated parents cope through the sport

"It's probably one of the best experiences I've had in a long time," one child said.

PHOENIX — Keenan Carbajal knows his way around the ring. He’s a professional boxer, born and raised in Phoenix. 

Now he's using what he's learned and is passing it on to the next generation. He has more in common with them than just the love of the sport.

Carbajal’s grandfather and trainer was sent to prison when he was a teenager.

"The trauma is relatable,” Carbajal said. “Anyone who knows the process of development like, those were like essential years to my growth."

The Learning Center Boxing Gym, located near 16th Street and McDowell Road, is dedicated to helping kids going through the same thing. One of those kids is Alfredo, who goes by Eddie.

"It's a good experience. It's probably one of the best experiences I've had in a long time," Eddie said to 12News.

He's here with his little sister and mom, Carmen Puga, who noticed changes in her kids when their father was sent away. 

"I knew that they had been experiencing some struggles educationally and just developmentally," she said.

Eddie said he was struggling to talk to his school friends about his situation.

"They don't know what I go through," he said.

Statistics show there are more than 2.5 million kids who have one or both parents behind bars. Carbajal said these kids often feel forgotten and like they're doing time as well but on the outside.

"Everybody thinks about the parent, or the wife or husband or whatever. But nobody thinks about the kids. Like what are they going to do? Like they feel lost now," he said.

At the gym, they get trained in boxing, were put through drills and even make new friends. Puga has noticed the difference.  

She said her son is, "…opening up more. He's talking more."

Studies show children of incarcerated parents can have behavioral problems and perform poorer academically, but this space wants to change that with a tutoring center where they can get help with English, math and science. 

"Whatever is going on outside of those doors they know that when they're in here, they're going to learn and they're going to be safe," Carbajal said.

The gym is open to everyone, but Carbajal wants it to be a beacon for these kids; A place to belong where they’re just like family.  

Click here for more information on the program.

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