Rebuilding Bonds After Incarceration: Things Are Nothing Like We Imagined They Would Be

My daughter was three years old when I became incarcerated. By the time I was released she was 21 years old. I think we both had illusions about how things would be when I came home. I thought I would be spending all of my spare time with my children. I thought I would be babysitting my grandchildren and maybe even living with my children. I thought we would get to know one another and build a bond for once in our lives. To my surprise I

have spent most of my time working, going to school, developing life skills and striving to make a difference within the reentry community serving the reentry population. I barely babysit. I barely even see my children. In short, I suck as a mother. This other stuff: working, school, rebuilding my life etc… is so much easier than facing the emotional drama of repairing the damage suffered by the separation from my children during the 18 years of my incarceration. When I asked my daughter to share her thoughts on my release I learned that in many ways her thoughts mirror my own. Things are definitely nothing like we imagined they would be. This is what she wrote:

I was doing my internship at the nursing home when I got that the call that my mother made parole. I remember I just started crying I was so excited. I told everyone! Everybody had their advice to give me before my mother came home, but the realist advice was from one of my mother’s friends. She told me “Things may not be what you expect them to be when your mother comes home.” She wanted me to keep that in mind because she was worried that we might end up at odds. I didn’t really pay attention to what she or anyone had to say because after almost two decades I was focused on the fact that finally I was getting my mother back. That’s all that mattered. I knew I would never let anything come between us; it was like gaining a new best friend. My mother came home at the period in life where I needed her most, at a period in life where every girl needs there mother the most. I was 7 months pregnant with my second daughter. It was a very exciting time for me. I wanted so much for my mother to see my children grow up. I remember wanting to move to D.C. but my husband wasn’t ready to make that move. He told be in so many words that he didn’t think it was a good idea to just pick up and move just to be with my mother who had just served 18 years in prison. He further stated in short that the reality was, I didn’t know my mother and she didn’t know me. I guess I was kind of naive when it came to the whole situation. I felt like we were building onto the relationship we had while she was in prison, but in reality I wanted to make up for the lost time. When my mother came home and she started to get settled I did exactly what her friend told me not to do. I had major, unrealistic expectations of how things would be and when they weren’t that way it made me angry, sad and I became very depressed. I thought since my mother was home I would finally have a mom. I felt like now she would be able to be there whenever I needed her, I had an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on. In reality she was coming back into the world a whole new world from when she left and didn’t have time for me and what I was going through at least that’s how I felt. Even though I was in Richmond and she was in D.C. I still felt like she was only a phone call away.

Eventually I realized that my mother was institutionalized, but it was still hard for me to rationalize her behavior especially being a mother myself. When you’re suffering from a situation it’s hard to be understanding because in reality, no matter how much empathy you have for a person, without you actually going through it you will never really know what they are going through.  I’ve just learned not to have any expectations from anyone because you will always be let down. I’ve also learned to just cope with the situation. Sometimes it feels like my mother is still locked up. What I haven’t done is given up hope that one day we will have a real mother-daughter relationship. Today I have come to terms with the fact that it may not ever happen. I have learned from the negative and I try my best to turn it all into positive. No matter what, I will be the best mother I can be, breaking all chains.



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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