Relationship Behind Bars

By Ashley Lowery

Instructor’s note: Ashley wrote this powerful piece in response to the prompt to write a descriptive essay about “a place that shaped you.”

Tom and Jerry, Spiderman, and Batman are all childhood cartoons that I enjoyed; however, I was unable to watch these cartoons on Saturdays. Instead, I was hugging my mother from a jail cell. More than a fourth of Baltimore city mothers are incarcerated. As a result the children are left to be cared for by family members or even the department of social services. By my mother being incarcerated, I only have vivid memories of visiting my mother in different jails. The ordeal of visiting my mother consisted of mentally and physically preparing myself, arriving at the jail and getting searched, and then sitting in a waiting room only to see her through a metal gate for a short period of time; this describes my relationship with my mom.

Deciding on an outfit to wear was a hassle. I had to make sure I didn’t wear any sleeveless shirts or shorts above the knee. If I had a sheet I should have just put on that. I remember being frustrated that at such a young age, I had to adjust my life just to visit a woman who made repeated bad choices in life. On my way to the jail, stopping at red lights made me want to turn around and forget about the whole thing. I continued on my journey because I knew it was the right thing to do, no matter what she did, because she is my mother.

The barbwire approaches me as a friend around the facility. I get out of the car and stand in line with the baby mothers of the male inmates, the girlfriends of the females, and the parents who look like they are too old to be standing in any line for anything. Its finally my turn, I step to the dark tinted plastic window and recite the name of my birth mother and her birthday. Next, the correctional officer instructs me to put my identification card into the window. The windows are so dark I can barely see who’s talking to me but the voice says “how old are you?” as if my birthday was not already stamped on the ID. I comply, and then I receive a green card with my mother’s name. I place all of my belongings in an old, rusted, smelly quarter coin locker.

As I walk through the courtyard, passing the high windows of inmates knocking on glass, I see a cage like room that looks like a room for insane solitary confinement prisoners who need to be alone. Frantically, I walk pass the male side and up the ramp to the women’s side. I open the gigantic door that is three times my size and slams loudly behind me. Walking down the hallway I feel the eyes of the other visitors watching me. Following the walk down the hallway, I present my green card to yet another window only to be instructed to have a seat on a small blue couch, the size of a nurse’s couch in a high school office. I sit patiently on the couch reading a scripture on the wall, positive things that the people in here should have read before they decided to do what they did. After reading, I examine the grimness of the facility, with its blackened floors and beige base board. The corners look like a mold breeding farm. The artificial plants in the waiting area have dust on them. Thirty minutes pass. I hear “Johnson” and I know that it is finally my turn.

Finally, I hear a buzzer that lets me know that I can proceed through the door. I hear 10 different noisy conversations at once. I stagger down the hall anxiously and all I see is glass windows covered by metal. As I approach the meeting room, I hear my mother call my name and I sit on the bench that is the width of a children’s seesaw. I look at her face and it resembles a famous George Seurat pointillism painting, little dots formed to make a complete picture. We play catch up on life outside and inside and, before I know it, it’s time for “Johnson” to leave.

I consider the relationship I have with my mother as strained. I was not able to experience situations and events with my mother due to her incarceration. Not being able to have cherished moments and experiences with my mother was tough. The reality is that many children grow up with an absent parent. For us, expressing thoughts, feelings, and concerns is imperative in order to move on with life.

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3 Responses to “Relationship Behind Bars”

  1. Ensayn Says:

    Thank you Ashley for this heartfelt post, For me, and people of my age group visiting a parent in jail was not the norm. However, many people of my age group are the missing parent either in prison, or frankly, dead. Since this is a challenge that many of your age group are facing, it seems to be creating a serious social problem, since many will act out their familial issues via crime and violence. Could you give me your take on why you think many in this age group will act out in criminal activity/violence, rather than focusing in school to gain education as an escape or joining the military? I mention the military since many men in my father’s and mother’s era used it as an escape to the overt violence due to racism.

    Thank you,
    Victor “Ensayn” Amenta
    The World of Ensayn Reality & The AfroSpear

  2. Ashley Says:

    i feel as though my peers act out in violence instead of going to college or the military because they are not forced to. Not having a parent, adult, or elder tell you what to do gives you the opition to make choices on your own. Some choose to go left while others choose right. In the streets if someone at home is not showing you love and letting you know that they care about your wellbeing then they will find someone who will. you wouldnt eat a burger if it makes u sick would you? you with look for another opition like chicken nuggets or even a salad.

  3. EDM Says:

    When I read stories like this it makes me realise what people go/went through. I hope the realtionship with your mother gets better.

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