Parenting after Incarceration

After being away from my children for 18 years I came home anxious to rebuild my relationship with them. Over the years when I was in prison my children visited me annually. I wrote them constantly and spoke to them on the telephone infrequently. Visits and phone calls were just too costly.

When I went to prison my son was 10 months old and my daughter was 3 years old. By the time I was released my son was 19 years old and my daughter was 21 years old, with a child of her own and one on the way.

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I jumped in with both feet trying to do everything I could to prove my love to my family. Right away, while I was still in the 90-day transitional house, my daughter wanted me to throw a baby shower for the new baby. I recruited the help of my older sister and my nieces, and we invited friends and family to come and help us welcome Aaliyah to the world. I wasn’t able to do much except purchase the food because I had limited time outside of the transitional house.

Shortly afterward I traveled to Virginia to visit my daughter where she was living at the time. I remember being excited when she announced, “We are going out tonight.” I was looking forward to us building a friendship, an adult mother-daughter bond, having fun together, talking about everything.

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When my daughter’s friends came over I began to prepare myself, and she said, “Oh Ma, I thought you were going to baby sit.” Stunned, I said, “Of course.” Later that night I found myself on the couch in my daughter’s apartment with her two children and two of her friend’s children bouncing off the walls. Not long after that I threw my daughter a birthday party that ran me about $800. I was still in transitional living at the time, basically homeless.

Then, I made a move that broke the camel’s back. My daughter was going through a rough patch and asked me to keep my infant granddaughter for two weeks. I quickly agreed because every time my daughter asked me something I instinctively said, “Yes.” I wanted so much to please her and show her I was a good mother.

When she brought Aaliyah to Washington, D.C. I was living in a transitional housing program and using public transportation to get to and from work. I had to leave home by 5:00 a.m., catch two buses across town and drop off Aaliyah at the home of one of my friends who had agreed to babysit for a small fee. Then, I had to get to catch another bus to get to work by 7:00 a.m. It was wintertime too.

My anxiety was through the roof because I was always paranoid about being late for work. I was in my initial stages of reentry and I found myself locking my keys in the house, and losing my transportation card repeatedly. I was overwhelmed and felt like I could be on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

When I told my daughter that I had to bring Aaliyah home after one week, she let me have it. She told me that she felt like she hated me. It was as if my absence was the source of all of her problems. She reminded me about how she stood by me over the years when I was incarcerated.

I was devastated, but I decided that I would still return Aaliyah home to her and never again put more on myself than I could bear in an attempt to make up for lost time or prove my love to my daughter. I knew then that nothing I did would ever be enough.

I decided to get out of my own way and allow our relationship to take its natural progression. I still struggle with my desire to improve my relationship with my children, reestablish myself in the community, and maintain my inner peace and happiness. It’s demanding at times, but I strive to take it easy on myself and overlook the judgment of others.

Video: Invisible Children Documentary

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About Lashonia Etheridge-Bey

Lashonia Etheridge-Bey is a Public Speaker who can candidly and articulately speak to the consequences of youth violence, the effects of incarceration and the challenges of reentry into society. Read Lashonia's Full BIO Here 


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