A few weeks ago, I found myself sitting at my desk in a whirlwind of emotion and in need of letting some things go. I have been physically and emotionally drained for months now. I am partially convinced that this is a normal annual occurrence that normally takes its toll on my body the most intensely around this same time of year every year. By February and March I am usually a bit more irritable, bored out of my mind, and ready for the sun to come and refresh all of the life that just laid dormant for the winter.
Have you ever been sitting in a completely quiet and empty room and found yourself lost in wonder and contemplation? I mean, lost so deep that it feels like life is so raw and intense and full of ways to break your spirit? I probably sat there for a long while just letting my mind wander before I snapped back to reality. I was looking out the window – perhaps I was wallowing, or perhaps I was just relishing in sane human emotion after heartbreak – but I kept feeling this deep pit in my stomach telling me to just let it all out. I sit at my desk all day on the computer, so instead I pulled out a piece of paper and a pen, and I started writing to my mom in prison. The letter sat on my desk under a pile of other papers for a couple weeks before I finally decided to toss it in the trash.
When I write these letters, I never really feel like I am writing to my Mom. Our relationship is so estranged that the word ‘Mom’ feels like it has a different meaning. Like, I understand what the word means to other people, and I know that I am an absolutely wonderful mother to my own children, but as it relates to the woman that birthed me, I identify with it differently. Mom feels like a label. Like it’s her name.
What else am I supposed to call her?
But it doesn’t feel like a term of endearment, nor do I see her as the same kind of person as several of the amazing Moms that I have had the pleasure of looking up to throughout my short time on this planet. When I write these letters, it feels like I am writing a letter to the person that caused me pain and changed my life indefinitely, but not to a person that I know. I am going to be 27 years old this October. I was taken from my mother at the age of 7. Let’s put that into perspective. At this point in my life, nearly 75% of my life has been spent without my mother. When I say without, I mean no calls, no texts, no visits, nothing. Poof. Like she didn’t even exist, yet I knew of her absence and the pain it carried. And the one quarter of my life that I did spend with her, I was from the ages of 0-7… so you tell me, how much of that time frame in your life do you remember? Because I remember some good times, and some bad times… but mostly I remember the LACK of times we shared together. I remember all of the times she wasn’t there. My childhood is tainted by flashbacks of being so sick from missing her on holidays that I’d have to lay in bed most of the day. I remember scanning bleachers of basketball games looking for a face that never came. No documentation ever came forward with her making any effort to get me back or to even set up visitations.
Growing up, I felt like I was the only kid experiencing what it was like to have their mother in prison. And in my case – my mother was a single parent, so I had to be placed in a completely different home altogether. I didn’t know anybody like me. My best friend all throughout Junior High had happily married parents that went on ornate family vacations every summer, and my other girlfriend lived on a farm with happily married parents who owned horses and a brick fire oven on their back patio. They could offer their deepest regards to my pain and emotions as we matured, but ultimately, no one I knew had a home life that seemed anything other than perfect in my eyes. And no one was ever really able to offer me the deep understanding and empathy that I felt like I needed as a young girl making her way through life. Not that that burden was ever to be beared by my friends, but it just led me down a path of extreme loneliness and separation from my peers that I still struggle with today. I had to grow up a lot faster than anyone around me and I had to pave my own path to success and family that is often much more easily reached by someone with a supportive and loving home life. My aunt and uncle did what they could at the time to give us everything we needed, but there is never a replacement for a mother. It is just different when you have got that bird in your ear reminding you that you have been neglected and rejected by the one woman you want the most. Sometimes the pain is too much to bear, but I suppose it’s never really too much – because here I stand. Fighting my way to every inch I have ever gained.
I was doing some research on this to gain some background on how common it is for a child to have an incarcerated parent and just how it affects the child of the offender. I think one of the most surprising facts about this is that it’s reeeally not that uncommon at all.
It is estimated that 5 million U.S. children have experienced the incarceration of a parent – with the average age of 8 years old. Children of incarcerated parents are more likely to experience poor health and unmet health care needs, greater exposure to mental health symptomatology such as anxiety, PTSD, and depression. They are more susceptible to lower educational attainment, higher rates of aggression, substance abuse, justice system involvement, and more likely to disenfranchise from civic and political participation (Task Force on Children of Incarcerated Parents: Final Report and Recommendations).
The affects that the incarceration of a parent can have on a child is insurmountable. I have experienced hurdles in all of the aforementioned categories and was never offered mental or emotional rehabilitation or counseling to help me cope. If we want to change the direction of society and fill it with children that grow up to be dependable, happy, healthy, and innocuous adults, we must do something about the care that we offer to the families affected by the judicial system. There is responsibility to be placed on offenders, but we cannot forget about the people that their decisions directly impact. I was a child, lost and lonely. I overcame the statistics that are made out of people from families like mine.
I guess my main point is this: If you are struggling with an addiction or a decision that keeps you from offering the love to the children you created, just stop. There is no excuse you could offer that will console or mend whatever destruction your situation is causing. I still feel an immense sense of disassociation with reality and division between myself and those that have never felt rejection, abandonment, and loneliness to this level. I aim for a world where no child ever has to wonder if their mother cares about them, for it is a lonely and desolate journey forward.