Answered by a friend who prefers to remain anonymous.
Q: When you went to prison you were 23 years old and pregnant with your daughter. Can you tell us about your experience giving birth while incarcerated and sending your daughter home?
A: I was in a Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia, so thankfully I was allowed to give birth in a hospital and was not shacked or handcuffed while I was in labor or delivery. (Many women give birth while shackled to a bed). I had a community volunteer who sat with me since I was on community custody outside of the Prison Camp. I remember he got in trouble for feeding me brownies. I stayed in labor for 23 hours. After giving birth, I returned back to the Prison Camp. My family traveled from their home in Washington, DC to West Virginia and went to the hospital to pick up the baby. They then brought her to the prison to visit me. As the visit drew to a close, I took my baby and moved to the opposite end of the visiting room, refusing to give her up. Eventually the warden came down to the visiting room and convinced me to give up my baby to my family who returned with her to DC. I felt torn, sad and overwhelmed. At that moment I wished my baby girl had stayed in my stomach. That was 32 years ago and just talking about today hurts deeply.
Q: After giving birth to your daughter you ended up serving 20 years in prison. How was your relationship with your daughter when you were released?
A: My daughter was happy that I was home, but she blamed me for abandoning her. It was as if I intentionally chose to leave her. When my daughter was growing up my mother did not allow me to tell her that I was incarcerated. I was forced to tell my daughter that I was in school. It was kind of easy to keep up this charade since I was in a Prison Camp with no bars and/or barbed wire fences. However, eventually I was sent to a more secure facility and the truth came to light. By the time I was released, my daughter was 20 years old. Our relationship was painful, challenging and overwhelmingly difficult. I tried time and time again to overcompensate for being absent. I gave my daughter money whenever she asked, oftentimes placing myself in a state of financial hardship. Eventually I realized nothing I could do would suffice. My daughter was determined to hold me hostage to my past. At one point she even became physically abusive.
Q: I know that you have been home 13 years now. How have things progressed over the past decade with you and your daughter?
A: After the verbal abuse and anger became too overwhelming I had to distance myself. I had a nervous breakdown and ended up in therapy. I managed to stay away from my daughter for long periods of time. Therapy helped me to learn to stand up for myself and realize that I did not have to accept negative treatment from my daughter. Today, I have grown tremendously spiritually and mentally. I talk to my daughter from time to time. I find that she is more receptive than ever before about advice that I give her concerning life. Lucky for me I have come to a place where I can say “No” when I choose to and “Yes” when I choose to without feeling guilty. I found peace with the situation. I reach out to help mothers in my situation who may have to endure the challenges I have overcome with family reunification. That’s where I find my strength.