A Mother's Testimonial
This is how incarceration affects Your family
To my Incarcerated child …. from Mom
It is with great difficulty that I write this testimonial and share my son’s story, of witnessing at the age of 3, his father’s suicide and the trauma caused by actually seeing the flash from a 22 firearm and then seeing his dad’s body drop to the ground in our back yard. As a single mother with 2 children, ages three and five at the time of their father’s suicide, I did not know what to do and all of my family and friends disappeared. People did not know how to deal with suicide as it happened 26 years ago – suicide was taboo, something we did not talk about. All I could feel was guilt, hurt, and sadness. At the funeral, I sat in the front pew by myself in a large Catholic church, in a small town, and at full capacity – my family and his family sat behind me. My daughter was running around the casket with her cousin … I was in a cloud of despair. After 15 minutes, a dear friend of mine Carmen, from out of province, came to sit with me and held me tight.
My son, which I will call Jessie to protect his identity, was never happy as a child after this incident. At 29, he is still trying to figure out his journey to happiness. He spent 7 years in prison and after being out for just 9 days, he is now serving another 10 months and got lucky because the victim (another drug-related offender) did not want to sign a statement. Jessie made bad choices, due again to not being able to handle conflict, his anger, feelings of loss, and drug addiction.
When I go visit him at Stony, I feel like all eyes from passersby are on me, as if they know my story and where I'm heading. Past the grim entrance of fencing and barbed wire at Stony Mountain exists a totally different world for me: passing through a security scanner – shoes, belt, coins into a shallow tray and a dog is waiting to sniff my person to see if I have brought in drugs – I could be at an airport ready to embark on an exotic holiday, however, the full-body search experienced on the other side of that machine brings me back to the harsh prison reality.
The visiting room is 10 metal tables, each with four chairs attached, pinned securely to the floor with a microphone embedded in the middle of the table to hear what we are discussing. The prisoners enter, dressed in nondescript clothing, prison garb. I anxiously look for Jessie, my only son. As he walks towards me, I let my happiness of being able to see him wash over me. I give him my best smile and tears start to run down my cheeks. Prison guards watch our every move. We hug and embrace. I don’t want to let go, so I wish we were not in this filthy regulated environment.
We sit and engage in small talk: What is his cell like? Is the food awful? How about the other prisoners? But I don't like to hear the answers. I feel bad about telling him about my good life because the days are the same in Stony, day after day. I take my small change to the vending machine, buy us drinks and chocolate bars. I watch as Jessie relishes them.
Every time I ask myself, how did it all come to this? How does the offspring of a happy, motivated, hard-working one-parent family come to be in this awful place, not once but twice? Jessie went to a good school. He has a sister that is doing great and has learned to deal with her anxiety issues, she is a happy person. As a parent, it's only human nature to blame yourself, where did I go so wrong?
He was attracted to risk-taking behaviour even at a young age. Some people admired that rebellious streak and his wanting to follow his own path. I supported him in that too, but I was always concerned. I talked to him many times about staying safe and keeping on the right side of the law. In his late teens, he became more defiant. After moving out, from that point on, his behaviour got even worse and to my dismay, riskier. He seemed to be hiding the truth about how he was living and I really worried about him. Jessie was into the club scene, the music, the dancing, the ladies, and the drugs. Those life choices have consequences.
A few times, police came around my house to arrest him, a couple of times in my driveway, as the neighbours watched on. When he was 20, I got a call from a legal aid lawyer telling me my son had been charged. I was shell-shocked by the news – taking ecstasy and other drugs was bad enough but dealing drugs and doing a home invasion took it to a whole new level!
As a family, by association, we felt criminalized too. Usually outgoing and cheerful, my daughter and I became reclusive and evasive, paranoid that word had got out or more people would find out. Personally, I just could not bear the idea that people, in my family, at work, in our community were talking behind my back, our backs. None of my friends had children in prison so there was really no one to talk to, I was simply devastated. Even my partner, at the time, did not want to talk much about it and the message was simply that Jessie deserved his time. As a mother that is not something, you want to hear. These types of situations are terribly difficult to deal with as a couple and a family.
After six and half years of incarceration, he was finally coming out. It was before Christmas, and we were all so excited to be together as a family. I paid bail to make it happen. I was so happy to have Jessie out of prison and at home! Just nine days after getting home, he got arrested again in a situation with a girlfriend and an associated drug dealer. It looks like the consequences of his actions, this time around would result in a sentence of 7 to 9 years. His court was this past April and this time he just got real lucky – the victim (associated drug dealer) did not want to make a written statement to police. It’s all about the legal game, saving taxpayers money, and cutting a deal. My son Jessie got another 10 months as a result of the offer and a 5-year driving suspension when he gets out … more barriers!
I cannot express the despair I felt moving from anger to blame to depression to frustration, a deep pool of disappointment, pain, and hurt. I am still processing but do not feel so raw. I must come to terms with the realization that my son Jessie will be 29 when he comes out again. That is 8 years of his young life. I visit when I can and speak to him on the phone every other day (visiting has been very limited due to Covid). I miss him. I worry about him. I cannot help but wonder what he will be like when he gets out after so much time in provincial and federal prison. Being in prison changes a person. One needs to survive on the inside. Will he have good guards? How will he be able to cope? How will he survive this second time around? Did he learn anything?
Jessie, on his own, has applied to participate in a one-year rehab program. I am so very proud of him for that choice. Even though he was not accepted to the program, this is a big step, a realization that he needs help and can’t do it on his own, a cry for help. He needs to work on his issues now to become more aware and to make better choices.
I live on hope: hope that he will be safe, hope that he will be supported, hope that he will have access to programs, hope that he will not get sick, hope that he builds inner strength and does not give up, hope that he will not come out so traumatized that I will no longer recognize my son or that he is so institutionalized that he will not be able to survive in the community. It is not easy to have faith in big systems such as the federal correctional system.
I will continue to tell him I love him, that he is not his crime, and remind him of his humanity and his spirit, his family of origin. I will continue to look after myself and my family working towards healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
I will continue to stand with my son, and for others who struggle to make it on the outside. I have met many and some do, with support and community acceptance, rebuild their lives. I wish this too for my Jessie!
Regards, Jessie’s Mom
Losing a child to incarceration feels like we are serving time on the outside. Life as we know it has forever changed from one WRONG decision and you can’t take it back.
It’s a grieving process which includes denial, anger, sadness, and at some point we just have to accept it. To add to this; we are humiliated, isolated, and abandoned by a choice, your choice. Then there is guilt which gives us a poor self-concept.
All of these stages of the grieving process can also overlap and cause a state of anxiety and depression.
It’ hard to soak in all the years you’ll be gone. We’ve lost our parenting rights. The state owns you. We have zero say so. Which brings me to;
How could you do this? How does your family feel?
You’ve robbed your family from having you in their life and you’ve robbed yourself from your family and your friends.
I am sad for all those that don’t see themselves or their families as better than this.
We don’t get to see you go through high school, go watch you play your favorite sport , teach you to drive a car, or get your DL.
Years or a life has been wiped away. Your family is more important than that.
We have lost friends over this; either they don’t know what to say or they just associate me as a prison mom.
We suffer humiliation from public stigmatism and media bashing. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard or read, “Where’s the parents? Charge them too!” What??People, we were sleeping just like you!
As a mom, I wonder what did I not do right? I must have failed as a parent. If only I had not gone to bed that night.
HOW THIS AFFECTS YOU
In prison, you no longer get to be a a teenager.
There’s no DL, dating, school dances, prom, graduation, school football games, things you should be enjoying as a teen.
“Life on the outs goes on and life freezes on the in.”
“Time flies but stands still at the same time.”
I remember when you were a baby and I held you in my arms and dreamt of all the possibilities. This is not how I'd ever dreamt it would be, but it is what it is.
I cry more than you know. I sleep less than you think and I pray as much as I can. I'm still dreaming of all the possibilities.
Don't ever give up. I haven't. I've loved you before you were born.
Author - Unknown
Stand Tall Again ...
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