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Son holding his mother's cheeks.
Photo by Sir Manual on Unsplash

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or suicidal thoughts, round-the-clock help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, the Veterans Crisis Line and Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255, and the Crisis Text Line by texting “hello” to 741741.

Dear Momma,

I’ve decided to write to you because there is something I want to tell you. It’s taken me decades, and it’s not easy for me to say. Vulnerability has never been my strength, as I was taught it was a weakness. I have finally come to realize what you have told me for so many years: “Humble yourself, Brandon.” In that spirit, I will say what I never had the chance to say in person: I’m sorry, Momma.

I’m sorry for taking you for granted. All you ever did was love, and all you ever got in return was rebellion. Looking back, I remember that life was rough. Not once did I acknowledge your pain. My selfishness wouldn’t allow me to think about what you had to endure. On top of that, I made your life more complicated by not respecting your authority, not trusting your guidance.

I’m sorry for every phone call you got from every school I’ve ever attended. Getting suspended was normal for me. I’m sorry that more people knew you as Ms. Smith or Brandon’s mom rather than Teresa. I’m sure you would have preferred to attend a parent-teacher conference instead of a meeting in the principal’s office to discuss my behavior.  

I’m sorry for being ungrateful and for my jealousy of my siblings and my sense of entitlement. As the second-born child, I felt overlooked and neglected even though you  gave me attention and affection. I’m sorry for manipulating you to win your adoration.

I’m sorry for every phone call you got from law enforcement informing you that I had been arrested — starting at the age of 9, and on numerous occasions throughout my teenage years.

My deepest regret is never listening to you. I’m sorry for being so prideful, when you only ever asked me to be humble. Had I just listened to you, things would have been different for both of us. 

You were right, and I was wrong, Momma.

I’m sorry I blamed you for how my life turned out. Sorry that I wasn’t man enough to admit that I blamed you. I’m sorry because I now know it wasn’t your fault. It was my fault.

When you kicked me out, I hated you, Momma. It hurts to say it, but that was my distorted version of reality at 15 years old. It was easy for me to dismiss you when I came home at 4 in the morning from drinking, smoking and hanging out with gang members. 

Every argument we had was intense and toxic, but I should have humbled myself and been empathetic. When you told me that you were afraid, I should have listened. My pride wouldn’t let me. For that, I truly am sorry, Momma.

At any time I could have come home and apologized. You would have let me stay. But I chose to be homeless in the despair and darkness of every park bench, bus stop or abandoned building I slept in. My mind had always been on you, how cruel you were for kicking me out. “How dare you.” I’m sorry for those thoughts and the other thoughts that had been in my mind. 

I’m sure you knew because you knew me better than anyone, but I want to tell you my thoughts at that time. I wanted to die a painful death, a lonely death, and I wanted you to feel hurt because of it. Many would call it “suicide.” I called it “an escape.” I’m so sorry, Momma.

I’m sorry for all of the phone calls you got from me in juvenile hall, camp, county jail and prison. They represent my absence in your life, and I imagine the hole in your heart as well.

I’m sorry for every time you had to explain what happened to me or answer the repetitive question, “Where’s Brandon?” Or, even worse, “When is he getting out?”

I’m sorry that I broke your heart, Momma. 

I know you died from a broken heart, the kind a mother suffers from the loss of her child.  You lost me, but the world lost you, and for that I’m deeply remorseful.

Saying I’m sorry was the hardest thing for me to do, but living my life to honor you comes naturally. I’m returning to my essence. I wasn’t created for evil but, rather, for good. When you brought me into this world and held me in your arms, I know you smiled. I promise to live every day with the purpose of making you smile again.

My incarceration at the age of 18 was a public offense, so I want to apologize to you publicly. I’m sorry, Teresa Ann Smith.

Rest in peace, knowing that you are missed and loved by all who met you, especially me.

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.

Brandon J. Baker is a writer incarcerated in California. He is pursuing writing and public speaking as a way to make amends.