by “Mecca Longwood”
Instructor’s note: This post was originally a presentation done by the author and his mother in class. They have chosen to publish it here under a pseduonym in order to protect the privacy of other family members mentioned. See the end of this post for an account of what happened in class after this honest and moving presentation.
One thing I learned growing up in my household is that women are more likely to be the primary provider for the child; so, when a mother goes to prison, that takes on a whole new meaning, different from fathers in prison. The visits alone could be a terrible experience. You get searched by adults you do not know inside a creepy building, and you have to talk to your mother through a glass on a phone.
I am the one to vouch that when your mom goes away it changes things that may be for the better, but at the time I didn’t see that. My brothers and I were separated in order to lighten the burden from my grandmother and my aunt, which made it harder to stay in touch with them. Things may have been different if mom was around, or maybe this is who I was destined to be from the start, but I have here the women who can give you the hands-on experience from being on the inside of the jail. My mother is here to tell how it can affect the mother as much as the child.
The day you were first arrested, did you think that would be the last time you would have with your children?
Mother: No! My thought was I will beat this they don’t have nothing on me for real.
The day in court when you were sentenced and I was in the court room crying and you were escorted to the holding cell how did you feel?
Mother: My soul was ripped from my chest. I had not a clue what had just really happened, but I knew my son was crying out there and i couldn’t do anything about it.
Do you remember the first time I visited you in DC jail? At the conclusion of the visit did it hurt you to see your children leave the institution and you had to stay?
Mother: Like fire to my soul, and I use the word fire because it burned like hell. No one really knows the pain of a mother being taking away from her babies like a mother unless it has happened to them, whether it be by death or a jail sentence.
When your children were graduating elementary and middle school, when you received the pictures, did that allow you to reflect on what you were missing out on?
Mother: That is the most heart breaking time of the sentence. It is a sentence all of its own.
How did it feel to have to watch your children grow through letters, pictures, and phone calls?
Mother: It is the worst to see through photos from year to year but it was better then nothing at all. Phone calls were OK — at least I could make the calls — but some people could not call home to speak to their children so I was blessed for that.
How did it feel to hear that your children were getting out of control and ended up in foster care?
Mother: Helpless to the situation.
You had my little brother while you were incarcerated. Did you feel he would struggle to figure out who mom is?
Mother: No, because i have a strong family foundation and I knew that it would not be a situation. That was not a fear.
Were you ever afraid that, since you left my brothers so young, they would forget who mom is?
Mother: Sometimes I did, but i knew I would have them all back under one roof. I always kept in touch whether through writing or calling and sending photos.
When you were transferred to [another state] did you think you would ever be able to see your children physically again?
Mother: No, I knew my time was coming up short and I would be home soon.
What effects do you think with you being incarcerated had on your kids?
Mother: Mentally I think we all was f###ed up but they are cut from a very strong cloth and we all are surviors, so they survived it all with me.
Do you think by you not being here with us for the nine years had an effect on how your children turned out later in life?
Mother: Yes, indeed I do! my mom and sister did a very good job with you, but I know I would have pushed harder and gave you many more opportunities. And once again this does not take away from my mother or sister.
Do you believe that missing all that time away from your children that you owe them a lot, because they been through a lot without you?
Mother: At first I did, but quickly I realized that I can not bring that time back. I can only move forward. We all have to go through some things to get where we are going and now I am home and i make the best out of what we have. Now that I am home.
Do you think it was easy for them without having Mom around?
Mother: No, I think mothers are very important in the upbringing of their children. Mothers will understand no matter what. No one can raise your children better then you. People will treat and raise your childen different and if they turn out f###ed up then you have youself to blame. If not you will always feel like some one else f### your kids over. When the real f###ed up person was you from the start.
If you had the chance to take it all back and think of your children before you committed your crime would you still do it?
Being a mother in prison is something that can make or break a child depending on the guidance they receive while the mother is incarcerated. Once you are away from your mother and are being brought up by another guardian, you’re being brought up how they were raised, or how they think you should be raised. That can differ from the way your mother wanted you to be raised and she has little say so when it comes down to major issues if there is a discrepancy between the mother and the guardian.
The phone calls can start to weigh heavily on the person receiving the calls because of the expenses, and the child could get confused about what they should be doing and who they need to please. A mother cannot be replaced, only the roles of a mother. So when a mother is taken away from her child due to criminal activity the mothers need to stop and think about their child before any action takes place. Once the handcuffs are on, the police don’t give a mother any time to tell her children goodbye, so the end could be at that very moment. Some mothers do not think about the consequences until it’s too late.
Instructor’s note: The author’s mother, who has been gainfully employed in the years since her release from prison, took a day off work to come and co-present this piece with her son. Afterwards, the author and his classmates anonymously wrote their reactions and reflections and then shuffled the papers and read out each other’s words.
Some students wrote of their own parents’ imprisonment, drug use, or neglect. Others wrote of their own brushes with the law or fears of imprisonment. One student wrote of her mother’s intolerance of her lesbianism and revealed that this presentation inspired her to continue working on their relationship nonetheless.
This allowed us to revisit standpoint theory, which rests on the fact that what you can see depends on where you stand and holds that those standing at certain margins or intersections have things to say that others can benefit from hearing. All were grateful to the author and his mother for sparking this sharing and learning process.
See Relationship Behind Bars for another student’s reflections on visiting a mother in prison.