I took a young man to visit his mother who is serving 36 years in Federal Prison. Jamilla, the mother, has been incarcerated for 15 years. Her son Carter is now 18 years old.
I was motivated to take Carter to visit his mom because over the past two years I have developed a bond with him and it has been painful to watch him suffer emotionally. Prior to this trip, Carter had not seen his mother in almost a decade, due to the great travel distance from where he lives. Despite how much time his mother must serve, and despite how much time has passed since he last saw her, Carter has had deep longings to see his mother.
It cost $1,300 to fly to Texas for this young man to visit his mother. The flight was three hours in each direction. We spent so much time getting lost and trying to navigate through this trip that it almost felt like we were contestants on Amazing Race. It was quite a task.
I was excited and overjoyed that finally Carter would get to see his mother. He spent 12 hours with her over a three-day span of time, and it was impactful for them both. Spending time with her son left Jamilla inspired to see each day through. In prison you need all of the inspiration you can get. Sometimes your situation can seem hopeless. Seeing your family keeps you encouraged.
As I took the flight and drove through backwoods streets of Texas, I began to understand the challenges family members face as they strive to keep children connected to their incarcerated loved ones.
I saw first-hand how difficult it is to come face to face with the shattering sadness of a motherless child. I saw my own daughter’s face in Carter’s face more times than once over this past weekend. I saw my son as well. I was incredibly heartbroken when Carter walked into those prison gates. It seemed to be too much for a child to bear.
Seeing the women behind the barbed wire fence and knowing their pain was overwhelming. All I could do was pray, give thanks, and strive to steady my anxiety.
Each day when I dropped Carter off at the prison, I kept my focus on him and my reason for being there. When he walked out of that prison after his last visit I could physically see the burden of pain he was carrying. The smile and upbeat energy that was present after the first visit was gone.
I was caught off guard by the magnitude of his sadness. I knew that he was hurting deeply as a result of his mother’s absence, but I thought seeing her would make him happy. I was naïve. He was so very dejected. I don’t think I’ve ever touched sadness that was so poignant.
I almost wished we could have stayed another day, but reality set in, and I understood that no amount of visits would eradicate his pain. He was extremely quiet as I prodded about the visit, giving simple responses to my questions. The last thing he said before totally withdrawing was, “This visit seemed shorter than the others.”
As much as I enjoyed being able to facilitate Carter’s visit to see his mother, there was nothing enjoyable about witnessing his hardship. There was nothing enjoyable about my time spent in Texas, but I have found solace in knowing that in those few moments Carter spent with his mother, time seemed to be moving too fast, but it must have also seemed to be standing still.