Over 10 million children in the United States have experienced parental incarceration in their lifetime

From the Founder / CEO, Ebony Underwood

When I first took the bold step of publicly sharing my personal story, I was terrified. My palms were sweating. My voice was shaking and my heart was racing. Then something magical occurred. Every time I spoke publicly,  I began to meet people just like me. What happened next, I could never have imagined.  My personal story about being a daughter with an incarcerated father serving life without parole would become the catalyst for uncovering a vulnerable subpopulation of American children and young adults that have been historically invisible. Daughters and sons from all walks of life, after hearing me speak, would say to me without fail,

“Thank you so much for sharing your story. This is my story too. I just never had the courage to share.”

Unfortunately, my story was not unique and due to the trauma, shame and stigma of mass incarceration, millions of children were silently coping with this painful experience. Mass incarceration is a tsunami that has ripped across the United States destroying communities and ripping apart families. With the formation of WE GOT US NOW,  we said, no more. 

WE will no longer be silenced by our pain. 

Fueled by the momentum to reform the criminal legal system, WE GOT US NOW courageously addressed mass incarceration. We boldly organized the voices of children with incarcerated parents. We utilized a strengths-based approach to build a nationwide community. We became the authors of our own narratives and released the pain that millions of us suffered in silence. We set the table for strategic partnerships, created safe and inclusive spaces that uplifted our community, tackled misinformed harmful narratives, and brought credibility to qualitative data with facts from lived expertise. 

Our journey began in the criminal justice reform movement. Today, our work has evolved. We now sit alongside the criminal justice reform space working as a conduit for systems change by providing technical advisement that safeguards justice-impacted children and families.

Utilizing our lived expertise as a vehicle for change, we recommend supportive solutions for system accountability that centers on child well-being and work to create better outcomes for children and young adults impacted by parental incarceration. Our efforts have been instrumental in amplifying our stories, shifting narratives, changing policies and reunifying families, including my own father - who, after 33 years in prison, received a compassionate release. My family and I are extremely grateful to have the opportunity to make our family whole again. The unfortunate truth is that with 50 years of policies that have had detrimental consequences, the uphill battle for reunification, family integrity and social mobility remains for millions of children with justice-impacted parents. With that in mind, my audacious goal is that WE GOT US NOW’s deep understanding of the problems and ecosystems that impact our community will inspire and advance multi-sector work aimed towards a trajectory of holistic well-being, specifically, for children and young adults with incarcerated parents across all 50 United States.

As WE GOT US NOW embarks on a strategic vision to scale in 2023, our objective for this impact report is to highlight our work over the last 5 years, provide detailed insight into what public policy propelled us to take action and illustrate why our work must continue to be a necessary and important mainstay in the field to improve child wellbeing. We believe, as long as there are jails and prisons in existence, there must always be an echo chamber of support to ensure that children from justice-impacted families are never forgotten and receive the most just, equitable, and supportive future outcomes. 

In Solidarity ~ Ebony Underwood

"Technology is the doorway, and Storytelling is the key" - Founder / CEO, Ebony Underwood

"Technology is the doorway, and Storytelling is the key" - Founder / CEO, Ebony Underwood

Who We Are

WE GOT US NOW is the nation’s leading organization advocating for the wellbeing of children and young adults with incarcerated parents. 

We represent an invisible population of children & young adults with justice-impacted parents.

There are over 10 Million of us Nationwide.   

We endure the Collateral Consequences of mass incarceration in the United States.  

Our Stories are often Unknown & Untold, Our Traumas are Misdiagnosed & Overlooked, Our Futures are often Misrepresented and Our Experiences are Unheard…  

We will No Longer be Silenced by our Pain

Ignited by the movement to reform the criminal justice system, Ebony Underwood, a daughter of an incarcerated parent who experienced firsthand the devastation of decades of separation from her father, was determined to center the voices of children and young adults with incarcerated parents.

In 2018,  WE GOT US NOW was officially launched.

Built by, led by and about children and young adults with incarcerated parents, WE GOT US NOW was established to recognize ALL children and young adults who’ve experienced having a parent(s) in local jails, state prisons and federal correctional facilities. We work tirelessly to create awareness about this sub-population of vulnerable children by focusing on four guiding principles, to engage, educate, elevate, and empower. We apply our guiding principles through public education, narrative change, technical advisement, civic engagement, leadership development, well-being and policy reform. 

In our work to reform the criminal justice system, we've helped to move the needle by centering, identifying, organizing and mobilizing our once historically invisible population, building strategic partnerships with allies, and advocating for policies and practices that have been committed to keeping our families connected, creating fair sentencing, and ending mass incarceration. 

Over the past five years, we’ve successfully built from the ground up a nationwide network with a new, innovative approach to advocacy for the needs and well-being of children and young adults with incarcerated parents that has developed into a vetted, proven program that has impact, value and meaning. 

2022 We Got Us Now Actionist Cohort

2022 We Got Us Now Actionist Cohort

Engage: We seek to engage the historically invisible population of 10 million children and young adults with incarcerated parents, so they know they are not alone, and organize and mobilize their collective efforts to help advocate for systems change 

Educate: We seek to educate our community, allies and stakeholders that include, policymakers, academia, researchers, tech giants, advocates, legal scholars, healthcare professionals, funders, entertainment/media and journalists, about the numerous collateral consequences that stem from having a parent incarcerated  

Elevate: We work to elevate our community, allies and stakeholders with accurate, up-to-date, informed best practices 

Empower: Utilizing our lived expertise, we empower our community, allies and stakeholders with supportive solutions that help us collectively and individually take action for the well-being of children and young adults with justice-impacted parents

5 Years of Making Impact

Supportive Solutions from Children with Incarcerated Parents

Supportive Solutions from Children with Incarcerated Parents

Kelly Woolf, WE GOT US NOW Board Member, Licensed Clinical Social Worker / Therapist

Kelly Woolf, WE GOT US NOW Board Member, Licensed Clinical Social Worker / Therapist

SPEAKER: Anne Mosle, Vice President of the Aspen Institute & Executive Director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute

SPEAKER: Anne Mosle, Vice President of the Aspen Institute & Executive Director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute

Ashley Jackson, WE GOT US NOW 2020 Actionist

Ashley Jackson, WE GOT US NOW 2020 Actionist

Across our public policy research for this impact report, we analyzed over 50 years of legislation that fueled the decades-long separation of families via mass incarceration. With the increase in draconian, mandatory minimum sentencing policies, the prison population increased 500% over the last 40 years. It is clear how destructive narratives perpetuated alongside the institution of these inhumane, draconian policies spun out into a full-on racialized war against Black and Brown communities with devastating rippling effects on their families and children, who were deemed less relevant. In 1987, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines determined that family ties and responsibilities were not relevant in sentencing a parent outside the guidelines. This subtle proclamation gave little to no consideration for children with incarcerated parents, ultimately erasing our needs, our pain, and our humanity. It wasn’t until 20 years later that we saw an overt mention of children with incarcerated parents in the Second Chance Act of 2007, as policymakers passed legislation that funded reentry research to support relationships between incarcerated parents and their children. It is imperative to recognize that it took 37 years - from the first mention of the War on Drugs in 1970 to the millions of people incarcerated in 2007 - for those in power to recognize the harm that mass incarceration placed on our families.  To this day in 2023, children with incarcerated parents remain in close proximity to the collateral consequences of mass incarceration.

Isolation has become a Public Health Crisis

Fifty years ago, a set of policies were instituted under the guise of the War on Drugs that surged the rate of incarceration in America and led to mass incarceration. These policies created detrimental consequences that resulted in the United States ranking highest in the world for incarcerating people, with over 5 million people under legal supervision, and nearly 2 million in jail or prison. Incarcerated parents make up 50% of the prison population. There are currently almost 5 million children under the age of 18 in the United States currently living with a parent behind bars. The epidemic of children that have been impacted by parental incarceration is sizable. 10 million children – a number that equates to 3% of the United States population – at some point in their lives have experienced parental incarceration. This vulnerable population of children has been subjected to dehumanizing experiences in an effort to merely remain connected to their incarcerated parents.

There are currently almost 5 million children in the United States who currently have a parent incarcerated, and 10 million who have experienced parental incarceration at some point during their lives. 

Transactional Love

With the surge of mass incarceration, millions of children began to feel the severe impacts of the inhumane separation from their justice-impacted parents. In 2000, more than half of incarcerated parents reported never receiving a personal visit from their children.  Today, in 2023, the love and connection for children and their incarcerated parents is continuously monetized, devalued and diminished to a transactional relationship through exploitative, predatory communications systems via costly phone calls that charge exorbitant fees, online communications systems that further the elimination of in-person visits, and the cost of transportation to correctional facilities hundreds of miles from where children and families reside making distance an expensive barrier to keeping families connected.

The collateral consequences of mass incarceration have created devastating emotional harm to millions of innocent children. This harm is a combination of trauma, stigma and shame

Trauma  The unnatural, unspoken and often abrupt experience of separation by incarceration, between a child and their parent, can be emotionally and physically devastating. The unhealed and often misdiagnosed trauma from this experience has left children to silently suffer and cope with the impacts of separation by incarceration alone and often compartmentalize the experience as a means of survival, despite these devastating circumstances.

Stigma Dehumanizing narratives about people when they are arrested and incarcerated can cause a tremendous amount of stigma for a child with an incarcerated parent. Perpetuated narratives across news and media outlets that suggest incarcerated individuals are inherently evil people, who should forever remain a public safety risk, unworthy of redemption, love or reunification with their families is reaffirmed with extremely harsh sentencing policies, such as life sentences without the possibility of parole. These narratives, coupled with race, as a defining characteristic of incarcerated individuals, create disproportionate racial and ethnic disparities that have become significant amongst Black, Brown, and Native American communities in the United States. This has led to a generation of millions of children and young adults with incarcerated parents who are often too afraid to speak out and share about the injustices they face due to the debilitating stigma that's associated with having an incarcerated parent.  

Shame The shame for children and young adults with incarcerated parents emanates from ongoing false narratives that suggest our relationship to our parents makes us genetically inclined to be at-risk, bad actors destined for imprisonment.

Isolation has become a public health crisis which is something children with incarcerated parents have dealt with both physically and emotionally.

In the era of mass incarceration, justice-impacted families experience increased social determinants of health that include, economic instability, insufficient educational opportunities, lack of employment, housing instability, and access to adequate healthcare. Children with incarcerated parents experience the weight of these circumstances and the effects can often be detrimental to their long-term health and well-being.  At WE GOT US NOW, we seek to drive greater awareness about the barriers that our constituency faces. We understand from lived experience that despite these mammoth hurdles, our families do survive, but do not thrive. Our work addresses ways to resolve these barriers because we know that a family’s wealth is depleted when they come into contact with the criminal justice system. Therefore, economic rights are imperative to ensure children with justice-impacted families are thriving. Without a sustainable network of support, the consequences for children and their justice-impacted families can lead to an environment challenging multiple generations.

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Erasing the Stain of Mass Incarceration 

Childhood into Adulthood 

The stain of mass incarceration is that there is no magic button at the age of 18 that will erase all of the trauma, stigma and shame from this experience. If anything, our experience only crosses a new developmental time period as we now move from adolescents with incarcerated parents to young adults with incarcerated parents. Young adults continue to cope with the harms caused by the collateral consequences of mass incarceration. WE GOT US NOW has implemented programming that is strengths-based and supports the health and overall well-being of children and young adults impacted by parental incarceration.

Not A Monolithic Issue

The experiences of children with incarcerated parents are not a monolith. Having a parent in jail is very different from having a parent in a state prison, and having a parent in jail or state prison is extremely different from having a parent in a federal correctional facility. The correlation between all 3 of these experiences is that the pain is the same. Children, more often than not, want to remain connected to their incarcerated parents. Oftentimes due to proximity, cost of travel, and/ or lack of adequate transportation, children are unable to maintain a solid connection with their incarcerated parents. WE GOT US NOW works to ensure that local, state and federal policymakers are informed about the importance of keeping our families connected.

Debunking Harmful Narratives  

Combat Deficit-Based Language

WE GOT US NOW aims to combat deficit-based language and narratives, by promoting and uplifting a thriving constituency of children and young adults impacted by parental incarceration. Deficit-based language and harmful narratives emanate from narrow studies that collect data from small samples and create a perpetual stain from mass incarceration that stalks the lives of children and young adults impacted by parental incarceration, causing a large part of our population to hide in the shadows.

Examples of harmful narratives WE GOT US NOW works to debunk and shift from public discourse about children with incarcerated parents are: 

Children with incarcerated parents…

  • will be more physically aggressive as children.
  • are more likely to be at risk for high school dropouts.
  • will have an increased likelihood of mental health problems and behavior problems.
  • are more likely to have significantly lower earnings in adulthood, greater mental health problems, and a decreased probability of going to college  

MYTH: Children with incarcerated parents are more likely to become incarcerated.

The most harmful narrative about children with incarcerated parents is the research that falsely states, “Children with incarcerated parents are more likely to become incarcerated.”  This is a myth that has been blanketed to represent all children and young adults with incarcerated parents. According to Annie E. Casey Foundation, “the notion that children whose parents are imprisoned are several times more likely than other children to be incarcerated when they become adults is widely accepted as fact in scholarly, political, and bureaucratic circles. There is no solid evidence, however, to support this assertion.”



Interpret with Caution

According to our research, experiential data and knowledge, this type of deficit-based labeling has caused a stereotype to be placed on the entire population of children and young adults with incarcerated parents. These harmful narratives are relentless given that some part of our humanity is always under attack. For example, research studies examine everything from our behavior, psycho-social development, cognitive development, peer relationships, and educational trajectory and view it under the harshest microscope. Yet, across research, journalism and media outlets, little to no attention or investment is made to amplify our strengths, resilience, milestones, achievements, uniqueness, hopes and dreams. The energy to perpetuate harmful myths does not match the energy to uplift us and amplify our whole lives. WE GOT US NOW recommends that deficit-based harmful narratives be interpreted with caution.

Actionist Leadership Program

Our flagship initiative, WE GOT US NOW Actionist Leadership Program, has trained and developed over 25 directly impacted emerging leaders from across the nation utilizing our carefully curated strengths-based action-to-advocacy model that includes, leadership development, advocacy training, media training, public speaking and civic engagement. 

Beyond our personal stories, WE GOT US NOW has committed to holistically investing in the personal and professional development of our Actionists. We cultivate a pathway for our emerging leaders that includes tools for social connection, community, emotional health and well-being, one-on-one coaching and workforce development that develops them into 21st Century subject matter experts equipped with tools that support their advocacy on a national stage, as well as, within their respective cities and states.

Actionists Cities | States

Cities:  Albany NY,  Arlington TX,  Athens GA,  Atlanta GA,  Baltimore MD,  Brooklyn NY, Charlotte NC,  Detroit MI,  Fairfax VA,  Harlem NY,   Hartford CT,   Houston TX,  Long Island NY,  Los Angeles CA,  Malvern PA,  New Orleans LA,  Oakland CA,  Philadelphia PA,  Prince George’s County MD,  South Central CA,  Washington DC  

States: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington DC 

Advocacy Campaigns

Public awareness is fundamental in achieving our goals for greater awareness about the issue of children and young adults with incarcerated parents.

For so long, our constituency has felt the impacts of parental incarceration alone. Too afraid to share their experiences due to trauma, stigma and shame, WE GOT US NOW provided a safe and inclusive platform for children and young adults with justice-impacted parents to share their stories, advocate for policy reform, and inform the greater community about the collateral consequences of mass incarceration on children and young adults with justice-impacted parents through our advocacy campaigns. Our ability to provide deep insight and education through our public awareness advocacy campaigns has made significant impacts in shifting narratives, policy change and building a nationwide community of constituents, allies, supporters and strategic partners.

Policy Wins

WE GOT US NOW has been instrumental in passing 5 pieces of legislation at the local, state, and federal levels. Our criminal justice reform portfolio is focused on the mission to keep families connected, create fair sentencing and end mass incarceration. 

WE GOT US NOW is about taking action and advocacy that creates change. For us, policy reform is the catalyst for significant change. We believe, to ensure that our families remain intact and our constituency is recognized, uplifted, and supported, that practices and policies must be instituted that center the voices, concerns and lived expertise of justice-impacted families. After 50 years of collateral consequences from inhumane policies, we must collectively work across systems and sectors to end systemic discrimination of justice-impacted families. 


Malika Saada Saar,  YouTube Global Head of Human Rights (Partnerships)

WE GOT US NOW has alchemized the criminal justice space by centering the voices of children of the incarcerated--and in so doing, made clear the deep trauma and violence of mass incarceration and its impact on the parent-child bond."

David George, Associate Director, Release Aging People in Prison Campaign

WE GOT US NOW empowers the leaders of tomorrow. Their work centering children of incarcerated parents not only uplifts an often overlooked population of people harmed by the criminal legal system but also strengthens the movement for justice. My dear colleague and friend TeAna Taylor was part of the inaugural Actionist cohort at WE GOT US NOW. Just a few years later, TeAna is the Co-Director of Policy and Communications at the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign, one of the largest grassroots advocacy organizations in New York State. TeAna leads campaigns for justice and empowers hundreds of other justice-impacted people to change the system. TeAna's leadership is a testament to their love for people, devotion to their incarcerated father, and also illustrates the amazing foundation, teachings, and support that WE GOT US NOW offers.”   

Terrence Bogans, Program Officer, Art for Justice Fund

“WE GOT US NOW is one of the only organizations in the country dedicated to building the leadership of young people with parents who are incarcerated.  Under the leadership of Ebony Underwood, the organization’s advocacy centers the voices of those who are directly impacted by mass incarceration, and its work remains a critical part of the criminal justice reform conversation.”

Kara Gotsch, Deputy Director, The Sentencing Project

"Children of incarcerated people must have voices in the public debate on mass incarceration. WE GOT US NOW works to ensure those voices are heard. At the height of the pandemic, when the health and safety of incarcerated people was overwhelmingly jeopardized,                             WE GOT US NOW's Actionists served as critical messengers to lawmakers, communicating the plight faced by their parents who were uniquely vulnerable to infection and serious illness because of poor prison conditions. That education and advocacy was critical to advancing federal emergency responses, including early releases from federal prisons." 


Partners, Not Just Participants             

The Future & Beyond

Subject Matter Experts

At WE GOT US NOW, we see ourselves as Partners, Not Just Participants. Our advocacy approach is grounded in centering the voices of children and young adults impacted by parental incarceration as subject matter experts on the issue of children with incarcerated parents. We personally understand, there is no one better than us to advocate for us. As our moniker states, #WEGOTUSNOW and our mission is to ensure that we are at the forefront of policies, practices, systems and sectors that will help to directly improve the lives and well-being of children and young adults with justice-impacted parents. We lead with our personal lived expertise, and couple it with professional development, training and coaching to build a network of emerging leaders advocating against the harms that children experience as a result of having a parent incarcerated. 

When forming strategic partnerships, we see ourselves as trusted partners and collaborators who bring a depth of cultural understanding to the content we produce, discussions, panels, workshops and events we curate, and technical advisement and solutions we provide. There is much to learn from the breadth of value and knowledge we deliver to stakeholders ​​with shared values who understand our mission.

Help Us Take Action

Reimagining the Future 

Generational Goals 

As WE GOT US NOW moves forward into the next chapter of our evolving work, our desire is to build upon our success, but we cannot do it alone. We believe it is the responsibility of our society as a whole to take action in support of this vulnerable subpopulation of children. We believe, as long as there are jails and prisons in existence, there must always be an echo chamber of support to ensure that children from justice-impacted families are never forgotten and receive the most just, equitable, and supportive future outcomes. 

Ways to Support 

  • Honor, Uplift & Support WE GOT US NOW as partners, collaborators, subject matter experts with lived expertise across multi-sector work that supports the well-being of children impacted by parental incarceration with time, space, and funding
  • #KeepFamiliesConnected  by ensuring that we protect the right to family integrity for children with justice-impacted parents across all 50 states
  • Mandate the RIGHT to In-Person Visits for Children and justice-impacted Parents in your city and state
  • Mandate the RIGHT for justice-impacted Parents to be in closest proximity to their children in your city and state
  • Abolish harmful, exploitative language. For example, using “father” instead of “felon and inmate" or "mother" instead of "convict or prisoner." These individuals are our parents and they are human beings, not just labels. Being mindful of how we refer to others is one simple way we can all begin to eliminate the perpetual harms that justice-impacted families face.  
  • Donate To ensure the work of WE GOT US NOW continues, your support is always needed

Click DONATE to make a tax-deductible donation today

  • Help Us, Find Us and Our Allies  Children and young adults with incarcerated parents have for decades been a  historically invisible population. If you know of a daughter or son who has  experienced a parent being incarcerated, send them our way. We are always  searching for our community, and want them to know they are not alone. Additionally, if you or someone you know wants to be an ally or supporter of our work,

Take Action & Join the Movement NOW to get activated.  


WE GOT US NOW would like to acknowledge Ebony Underwood,  Dr. Alexandria Pech, PhD, Jasmine Fernández, Ashley Jackson, and Mekahel Burney who spearheaded the vision, research, and analysis for this impact report. 

Extra Special thanks to WE GOT US NOW Actionist leadership network for their strength, courage, and resilience; WE GOT US NOW Board of Directors Dr. Luo Brewster, MS, PhD, Nkechi Taifa, Esq,  Manny "Digital" Montilla, Chaka Zulu, Kelly Woolf, Licensed Clinical Social Worker/Therapist for their input and insights; WE GOT US NOW community members for joining the movement and their continuous support; and to our creative partner, BLDG 357, who moved this report from vision to finished product. 

WE GOT US NOW would like to graciously thank our colleagues, allies, and partners who work alongside us to advance the well-being of justice-impacted families, including Annie E. Casey Foundation, Ascend at the Aspen Institute, Art for Justice Fund, ASU Center for Child Well-Being, Anna R. Haskins, PhD, Bryan Stevenson and Equal Justice Initiative, Burke Foundation, Carol Burton, Chesa Boudin, Children’s Haven, Children of Promise, Civil Rights Corps, DBI-Nola, DC or Nothing, Developing Despite Distance, Dr. Alex R. Kemper, MD,  Dr. Craig Garfield, MD, MAPP,  Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, MD, MSc, FAAP, Dr. Reginald Fluellen, PhD, Dr. Whitney Hollins, PhD, Echoes of Incarceration, Emani Davis at The Omowale Project, Essie Justice Group, Fair & Just Prosecution, FAMM, Fathers and Children Together, FICPFM, Free Hearts, Galaxy Gives, FWD.us, Girls Embracing Mothers, Hena Ali-Bernard, LCSW, MS Ed, Hour Children, Howard University and Dr. Bahiyyah Muhammad, PhD, Incarceration Nations Network, Isabel Coronado, Jeanette Betancourt, Ed.D, Jermeen Fluellen, Judy Krysik, J. Mark Eddy, Judge Cathy Serrette, Julie Poehlmann-Tynan, PhD., Just Leadership USA, Justice Roundtable, Katherine Nahid Ebrahimi, KidsMates,  Linda Freeman at GEN2050, Libra Foundation, Miriam Gohara at Yale Law School, Legal Services for Prisoners With Children, Love in Chains, National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated at Rutgers University-Camden, National Council of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Nell Bernstein, Oak and Acorn Brand, PEN America, Photo Patch Foundation, Pops the Club, Prison Policy Initiative, Project Avary,  Project What,  Rehabilitation Through the Arts, Samantha J. Boch, PhD, RN, Sesame Workshop, ScholarChips, SFCIPP,  Speak Ya Truth, TAG, Tanya Krupat and Osborne Association NY Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents, The Jordan Brand Black Community Commitment, The Ladies of Hope Ministries, The New Press, The Place 4 Grace, The Sentencing Project, Walls to Bridges, William R. Underwood, Worth Rises, Yasmine Arrington at ScholarCHIPS.

A Very Special Acknowledgement of Gratitude to our Ancestors - children, parents and families separated for centuries in the United States. You are our inspiration. We sit on your shoulders and pay homage to your relentless commitment to igniting hope for the reunification of children and families in the midst of traumatizing separation through chattel slavery, jim crow laws, and mass incarceration. We honor you and will forever hold your memory in our mission.


@2023 WE GOT US NOW, INC is a (501) (c) 3 non-profit organization registered in the United States.

WE GOT US NOW TM is a trademark of WE GOT US NOW, INC