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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.

To my 9-year-old daughter on her birthday,

We have not seen each other or heard each other’s voice in more than seven years, but I can still hear your voice when I close my eyes. I have no details of your life and do not know whether your childhood has been perfect or a struggle. My own childhood was great, but at your age, I struggled to find my true self. 

Growing up in Haiti, I was able to explore beaches, castles, lighthouses, old forts and my backyard. I was a tomboy who loved to hang out with my dad and brothers. There was not a tree I could not climb or an adventure that I would turn down. My brothers would help me build my own fort or turn a patio into a boat. At around the age of 8 or 9, I went to a school where I made friends and played sports: soccer, baseball, kickball and basketball. My favorite was kickball. Life was an amazing adventure. 

In our family, the women blossom early. This made sliding into the base hard. I got braces around the age of 11 or 12 and that made me awkward. They were the old, sharp braces so sports got harder and even climbing trees got harder. I struggled to transition from the tomboy I was into the woman I was becoming. This struggle continued until I was almost 18 years old. There are times I wonder if you will struggle as much as I did with myself.

As a child, I had an unwavering faith in my God and my family. Then things happened to introduce doubt, and I’ve kept struggling to find that firm faith I miss so much. God is mysterious but our relationships with him should not be any more complicated than the one we have with our earthly fathers. 

Baby, I am so sorry that you have grown up without your father. This may impact your relationship with God because you don’t know what it is like to have daily access to your dad. I know I had that with my dad and I miss it so very much. My hope is that you will find your relationship with God and allow him to be the constant rock in your life. When you let go of that it is so hard to get it back. 

Baby, I sit here in prison accused of the worst thing. I wrote to you several years ago to help explain why you are growing up without me. Nothing has changed, but the state laws have. This means there is hope of my coming home. But as I said in the last letter, I won’t know whether I will be home when you are 9 years old or when you are a grown woman. I wrote a book about your many names, and I hope you understand that your name is not who you are, it is something we call you. You are who you are no matter what name you respond to.

Each week since you were a baby, I have written to you. Some weeks it was just a simple note, but I always wanted you to know that I have never forgotten you for a single second. There is no way I can know if you have received any of them. In all these years, I have never gotten a reply, but I can’t stop writing to you. Someday I pray that you will want to see me and I want you to know I will be ready. I treasure and hold dear the time you lived inside of me and each moment we had during your rare visits to see me.

You are now and will forever be my daughter. I wait for the day when we can have conversations and share each other’s lives. Until that day, I am here and I do love you.

I love you to Mars and back,

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.

Dorothy Maraglino is a writer incarcerated in California. Writing is how she processes the world around her and devotes most of her time to short works that share the realities of prison.