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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.

I decided to interview a woman I’ve known for more than two years now. I am a transgender male, so I am not a mother and have no children. Yet I’ve tried to be a shoulder for my friend Katrina Hendrix to lean on. So, I have decided to take you on a journey through the tears that Katrina has shed over the last 20-plus years as a mother. 

I’ve watched my friend wonder, hurt and cry throughout the years we’ve known one another. I lost my mother, and Katrina lost hers to sudden death. I was present when she received the letter mentioned below. I hope you can understand that history repeats itself all too often: drug abuse, incarceration, drug dealing and lack of parental guidance have come to this. Tear tracks leave behind stains. Those stains are our scars. Unfortunately for Katrina Hendrix, it’s still a very present and open wound. 

Q: What are some things people around you might not know about being a mother behind bars?

Katrina: I have four children: three daughters and one son. I had all four children by the time I was 21 years old. I had no education or parenting skills then. Now, I don’t get to talk to my children by phone. I don’t know where they all reside. Our relationships are broken due to my being incarcerated twice. 

I was 7 years old the first time my mother was incarcerated. My mother sold drugs, and she was incarcerated off and on for my entire childhood. I didn’t meet my biological father until I was 37 years old. I’m 42 now. My father had been incarcerated for 18 years before we met. As a result, I was in and out of foster care. I suffered physical and sexual abuse and was placed on medication at a young age for this. 

After foster care — and with a mother who was in and out of my life consistently — I started to sell drugs to support the four children I had. I also replaced the psychiatric medication with street drugs. My children’s fathers were never a part of their lives, and they never offered moral or financial support to help me. They were drug dealers, incarcerated — and one was in another state altogether. 

The first time I came to prison, I spent 8 years there. At that time, I simply didn’t have any knowledge about parenting. I had been adopted, and I didn’t make time to build a foundation for which my children could rely upon since I was preoccupied with trying to keep us all fed and a roof over our heads. 

Q: What dreams, longings or concerns do you have for your children and your relationship with them? 

Katrina: I’m just hoping that they will be willing to put forth the effort to get to know me and allow me to know them as well. They don’t owe me that. It’s my fault I’ve not been there for them the way a mother should. I’ve never really had a clear example of what being a mother should be like. 

Q: As a mother behind bars, what are some things that bring you hope or joy? What are some challenges or frustrations? How, if so, have these changed over time as your children have grown?

Katrina: My hope is that maybe I can do it right this time when I get out. I’d like to start over with my children if this is even possible at this point. My children are all adults now with their own lives.

My frustration comes from the fact I have been unable to participate in the raising of my children. I have not been there emotionally, or by phone or letters. It’s just devastating. 

I want my children to be happy even if it’s not with me in their lives. I don’t want them to follow the pattern set in place by my mother and I. Neither of us truly realized the depth of the consequences to follow. For me, these consequences were having children whom I now barely know on a personal level. One of my children is suicidal and suffers from depression, one sells drugs, one is in college, and one just isn’t really doing much, just drifting. 

Q: In your experience with incarceration, what moments have stood out to you as a mother? Maybe it was something your child said or did. Maybe it was happy or sad. What made that moment meaningful?  

Katrina: My daughter once wrote a letter to me, and by the time I got it in the mail the letter was three months old. 

In the letter, my daughter said she wanted to die and that by the time I read the letter she would be dead. 

I wanted to write back immediately, but the handwriting on the envelope was hard to read. I panicked, cried and was almost hysterical. A friend stopped by and offered to help. She got her husband to Google the address so I could get the correct spelling. I wrote back, but I still haven’t heard from my daughter. Last I knew, she was in a group home trying to get a job and get off drugs. I hold on to that memory and wonder what’s going on with my daughter.

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.

Khaȧliq Shakur is a trans writer incarcerated in Texas.