Stock photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

Welcome to PJP’s newest special project, “Love, Mom.” For this collection, we have invited mothers to share their perspectives and experiences surrounding incarceration. We hope that this project will give you, our reader, a better understanding of the impacts of incarceration on families across the country. To view more pieces from the “Love, Mom” collection, please click here.

My name is Sarah Moore. I was raised in Schenectady, New York. Both of my parents were veterans for this country and they did their best to raise five children.

I was 25 years old at the time of my arrest. I am 38 years old now. My sentence is 22 years to life.

During my first year at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, I was angry at myself and at everyone who came into my vicinity. I frequently received infractions for being “out of place” and not following orders. To me, the prison itself was out of place, and I felt that I wasn’t supposed to be in a place where strangers told me what I could and could not do.

On top of the tickets and sanctions, I barely got to see my son J., who turned 2 years old just two months after my arrest. After spending about a week in foster care, J. ended up living with my family. Between 2010 and 2012, my mother brought J. up to the correctional facility maybe twice. I can attest that it was not the distance, nor the 2.5-hour drive, nor the gas money that kept my family from coming to visit me more frequently.

At the time, I hadn’t considered the effects of incarceration on my family, and I neglected everyone else’s feelings. J. is not the only one hurt by my callous actions. If I had not woken up and decided to change, I would still be in that state of mind.

I was taken aback once when my mother told me, “Sarah, all my kids are grown. I don’t feel like raising another child!”

Yet she did her job as a mother: She sacrificed, loved and took care of her responsibilities.

This brings me back to a conversation I had with my sister while I was in the county jail. She said, “You know what, Sarah. When Mommy left the jail, she walked out easily. But as she walked to the mailbox to mail your stuff, she broke down crying, covering her face and crouched over.”

My mother had always been serious, stoic and not a scene-maker, especially in public. That moment impacts me even now.

There is a program at the prison called Hour Children, which brings children here to see their mothers during a summer event. When J. was around 3 or 4 years old, I reached out to this program to learn about the parenting classes and programs they offered.

For a moment, I was excited about their summer event until I realized J. was too young to participate — he had to be at least 6 years old. With that, my dreams went down the drain and I gave up hope on seeing my baby.

As the years went by and J. became older, I met a nice woman at the Schenectady County Jail. This lady led the Narcotics Anonymous meetings inside the jail, but she also practiced family law. When J. was 4 years old, the lady wrote to me asking if it might be a good idea for her to bring J. to see me. I hurried and wrote her back and agreed. At first, my family was leery since this lady was a stranger, but she ended up bringing J. up a couple of times that year.

The lady then wrote to me to see if I would let my son stay the night at her house. I said yes to that too, but when she sent me the pictures of J. at her house, he did not look happy at all. I was stressed since I didn’t know how to be a mother. I felt powerless and physically incapable to do anything for my child. The woman eventually asked me to give up all my parental rights and let her adopt my baby, which was when my relationship with this woman came to an end.

After a while, my frustration became overwhelming, and I stayed in trouble. But I continued to reach out to my family and sign up for college and other programs to keep myself busy. At times I felt like giving up, but I never did.

God also seemingly had another plan about Hour Children’s summer event. My baby was able to attend his first summer program when he was just 5 years old.

During this summer event, J. stayed with a host family for five days. Our visits lasted from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and we got to participate in the activities designed for each day. Other mothers also had their children visiting them too. While our kids played together, we mingled amongst each other.

Seeing my son inspired me to look forward to seeing him again, and I ended up staying out of trouble. I was able to sit with myself and think about what I wanted to be like. I thought about what I didn’t like about myself and the situation I had put myself in. This simple pleasure of seeing my son has encouraged me to do what I have to do, not what I want to do all the time.

My son encourages me to be the better me, and I’ve developed an open receptive relationship with now 14-year-old J.

I’m able to keep money on my phone account so we can talk. One day he mentioned to me: “Ma, I want you to call me every day!”

That was like a slap to my face — I knew he enjoyed talking to me, but I didn’t know that it bothered him if I missed a day.

P.S. My mother Jennifer F. Moore passed away on February 14, 2021.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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Sarah Moore

Sarah Moore is a writer incarcerated in New York.