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 son, you are my son. My soul system revolves around you. Fires burn within me like the heat of a kettle. Without you, I am a broken vessel.”
That is how I would start a piece if I were going to write a poem. I became incarcerated when my child was 11 months old and I was 17 years old. When I was in the county jail, my mom would bring my baby to see me and he would bang on the glass. It felt as though he were banging on my heart. It was from then on that I knew I would try my best to raise my son even with this literal barrier between us.
I am in prison now and visitation is in person. Although this is a big blessing, it doesn’t make raising my son any easier. My son is now 7 years old, and I am 24 years old. No matter how strongly I voice my opinion, what I say does not go. My son’s father and I have no contact at all, and I can only see and speak to my son through my mom when she has him. I make suggestions and my mom tries to the best of her ability, but the final decision is ultimately up to my son’s father.
This hurts me as a mother because I should have some say in my baby’s life, but I don’t. I am told rather harshly that I am in jail and my opinion doesn’t matter. If I had wanted to be a mother I wouldn’t be locked up.
Nobody takes into consideration that I got locked up doing what I thought a mother should do to take care of her child by any means necessary. No one remembers the fact that my son’s father didn’t want to be a full-time dad until I was no longer able to bear the brunt of parenting.
Who is there to remind my son of how much I love him? Who was there to watch him when I was taking my baby to night school with me? My mom and I needed help. But now I am locked up and treated as if I am a deadbeat. I am spoken to as if I never cared in the first place. I cry, but who wants to listen to a grown woman bawl over the phone?
When my mother brings my son to see me I am completely enraptured and in love with my child. He knows that I’m his mother and he calls me “Mama,” but how do you think I feel to hear him call another woman “Mommy” because she is who my son grew up knowing? That small affection hurts me the most.
I get out of prison this year and re-entry will be another headache. I know it is going to be a fight for my son to be with me. Sometimes, I catch myself thinking that I don’t have the fight in me, but I snap out of this because the mother in me wants to raise my son to be the best man he can be. I feel that without me, he just won’t be the same.
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.