Yolanda Adams has a song I love called What About the Children? “Remember when we were children…” she sings. I love that song. It always makes me think about the hundreds of thousands of children (including my own) who have incarcerated mothers, or mothers who have been formerly incarcerated. It gives me hope that someone, maybe for a moment, will remember them.
I’m in the process of planning a panel discussion with four young people who have mothers in prison. The goal is to raise awareness about the emotional and psychological trauma these young people endure, with the hope that we can gain resources and support services for them. I spoke to one young man whose mother is serving 30 years in prison. He is 16 years old. I gave him a sheet of paper with a range of emotions listed and faces drawn beneath each emotion to match each feeling. I asked him to choose some emotions and tell me what he feels. He replied, “All of them.” I pushed: “The audience won’t have the paper, so if you had to pick a few what would you pick?” He said, “Miserable. I feel miserable.” He said that at times he felt like his life is not worth living. “I’m too young to feel like my life is over,” he continued.
This young man has not seen his mother in seven years. He cried into his hands as he talked about the fact that his uncle, who is raising him, never tells him he loves him, though he often says the very words to his own children. He said courageously, “I want someone to tell me they love me.” I wanted to jump up and hold him against my bosom, but I stilled myself, wanting to allow him to release his pain.
I deeply desire to be there for this young man because I know that with support, encouragement, and love you can overcome almost anything. Knowing that someone believes in you and expects you to succeed is often the thing that catapults people to success. So now I have to suck up my own sadness and put on the face of optimism and hope. Despite the fact that this young man is suffering emotionally, his future is bright. Despite the fact that he is experiencing pain beyond belief, he will grow up to do great and wondrous things.