The Heart Break of a Child with a Parent in Prison

I know a young man named Carter who is 18 years old who lives in Chicago and his mother is in prison serving a LIFE sentence. She has been in prison most of his life. Even though he seems a little melancholy much of the time, for the most part he is a well-rounded individual. Carter doesn’t fit the stereotype of a child with a parent in prison.

I have read that the children of prisoners are prone to truancy and tend to use drugs. Carter is a committed student; in fact he will graduate from High School this year. He doesn’t do drugs and he is respectful, thoughtful, and kind. I’m no psychologist, but I would guess he suffers from bouts of depression, and I know he stresses a lot for a person his age.

Recently Carter was diagnosed with heart disease. When he told me about his condition my first thought was that his heart is literally broken. I’m one of those people who attribute almost every ailment to stress, from arthritis and hypertension to acne and ulcers; I have seen what stress can do to one’s body. I’ll never forget the time when I first became incarcerated and my hair fell out. Another time I broke out with hives on my arms even though I’m not allergic to anything. There were moments throughout my incarceration when I suffered with migraines so severe I couldn’t hold my head up and I couldn’t keep any food down. It was bad.

Video: Mothers in Prison and the law

When I learned of Carter’s illness I thought about the sadness and anxiety he must endure and wondered if it could possibly be affecting him physically. His mother has written me about 20 emails and a long letter and has called me several times. I find myself at a loss of words every time we communicate. That’s rare for me. I almost always have something to say. I’m a talker. More importantly, I’m a doer. I’m action-oriented, and I often find myself searching for ways to solve issues when people present them to me.

I decided that I would send Carter to visit his mother. She’s in Dublin, California. I had no idea how I would manage it, but I read once “when you have a goal that you want to accomplish sometimes you can’t worry about the how.” You have to see yourself achieving your goal, overcoming obstacles and visualize your success. Then, you convince yourself that it’s really doable.

Thankfully, I have been able to raise the funds to send Carter to Dublin, CA. Most of the donors were formerly incarcerated women. I am both grateful and amazed at the success of the fundraising campaign. I think Carter was even more surprised than me. He sent me a card and said, “Thank you so much for everything. I Love you more than my own family. You are always here for me and you are not even my own blood, and that hurts so much. I just feel like I don’t’ have no one out here that’s why I be stressing so much… I just want you to know I’m ever appreciative for everything, I swear. Thank you and I love you so much.”

I couldn’t help but remember the times when someone was there for my children while I was serving my sentence. ‘Now,’ I thought, ‘I guess it’s time to pay it forward!’

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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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