I had dinner with my God-Mother today. When I was incarcerated she was my prison mother. She practically raised me. She shared a website with me of a non-profit foundation known as CAN-DO. They advocate for clemency. “Honey the stories of these women will just make you want to cry” she said.
We looked at the site together, and as she scrolled through the content I saw pictures of beautiful smiling women of various nationalities, most of them are serving LIFE sentences in Federal Institutions throughout America. My God-Mother then voiced a roll call. “Look at this honey,” she said, “Alice Marie Johnson-LIFE; Danielle Metz-LIFE; Sharanda Purlette Jones-LIFE; Rose Summers-LIFE. And look, here’s Ramona Brant.”
We were incarcerated with Ramona Brant in FCI Danbury, CT. A woman of large stature, Ramona was always kind and quiet. She was a church going person who never seemed to adapt to LIFE in prison. She carried herself with such poise as if she was leaving any day.
My God-Mother and me talked about what it must be like to serve life. We have such empathy for each other. I went to prison at the age of 19, but the truth of the matter is that I was a lost little girl. My God-Mother served 19 years. She was sentenced to 20 years to life. She was paroled at her initial hearing. I served my first 10 years alongside her and grew to love her like my own mother. Today she is closer to me that my own blood relatives.
My sentence was 20-60 years, but, admittedly, serving a lengthy sentence knowing you are eligible for parole is nothing like serving LIFE with no possibility of parole. My God-Mother said, “I think I would have just become numb.” As for me, I know that I would have been fighting until my death, believing with my whole heart that I would go home some day.
I know that many women like myself pour themselves into rehabilitation and assisting other women. With ambivalence, they watch other women leave and sometimes they watch those same women return. They yearn for freedom and a second chance to be a mother to their children, be a part of society, but simultaneously they must maintain their sanity and strive to be the best person they can be while incarcerated.
The mere thought of being in prison with no possibility of release is so disheartening. As we talked, I wanted to shift my energy and practice an attitude of gratitude because I’m so grateful to be home, but I found myself stuck in grief and sadness for the women we left behind. I can only hope that they are finding reasons to smile every now and then, maybe even laugh or chuckle. Most of all, I pray that they somehow know that they are not forgotten.