When I was incarcerated I sought to help guide my children in any way that I could through letters, phone calls and visits. More than anything I wanted them to know that they were loved. When I came home I thought things would be different. I thought our relationships would be stronger. It seems that my lack of parenting and social skills has impeded my relationships with my children. It seems that I have not been able to measure up and be the mother I thought I could be. Seeking to find a balance between rebuilding my life and rebuilding my relationships has proven to be the single greatest challenge for me after returning from 18 years of incarceration. Not finding a job, being on parole, or
Interestingly, my children have their own set of issues that developed as a result of my absence and life doing what it does.
A lot of people wonder what it means when we refer to gender specific reentry concerns for women. One of the major gender differences for those who are incarcerated and experiencing reentry is that, unlike men, women are not so easily inclined to detach from the parenting role as men tend to be. When women are incarcerated they strive to parent their children even from a distance and despite huge barriers. When women are released from incarceration they desire to parent their children even in the midst of the daunting task of reentry.
Lately, my daughter has been reflecting. Her most recent writing is about her life as a teen-aged girl navigating life without her mom by her side. This is what she wrote:
I remember the day my father sat me down and told me what my mother did to end up in jail; then, he asked me if I wanted to go see her. I remember saying “no”. I didn’t want to see my mother like that anymore. I was in my early teens, and my mother was incarcerated for over 10 years by then. My mother and me were not in contact at the time due to differences with her and my father.
This was around the same time my father got married to a lady who appeared to be a nice person; then, right before my eyes she turned into Cinderella’s evil step mother. She was very abusive mentally, physically and emotionally. My father believed in beating his children and so did his wife. My father was determined that I would not be like my mother. He used to tell me that all the time, and any little thing I did would cause him to beat me, or get mad at me. Eventually he cut all ties with my mother and her family. He even cut ties with his own family.
At the end of my 8th grade year my teacher called home for the last time. My step mother was very upset. She was tired of my behavior. She began to beat me stomping, kicking, and fighting me as if I was someone out on the street. The only way I could respond was to fight back. That was my last straw. When I started to fight back my step mother got very mad and began to beat me with a metal lamp. I ended up in the hospital. ‘Still 7 years left before my mother comes home’ was all I could think about, ‘then, things will be normal’.
After that I moved around a lot, “sleeping from pillow to post” as they say. Only I was no gypsy. People just couldn’t deal with my bad attitude and behavior. By the time I was 16 years old I relocated to Richmond, VA with my best friend and her mother. I ended up pregnant at 17 years old. I remember when I told my mother I was pregnant. We were on the telephone with 15 minutes to talk. She cried. She feared I wouldn’t finish school. I was already a year behind due to all of the moving I did. I remember feeling like ‘here’s another person doubting me.’ My mother was thinking about her own challenges and wanting me to be different from the person she once was: a teen mom, high school dropout, addicted to marijuana. Well, I finished school. It was challenging, but I did it and I was very proud of myself. My mother and father were proud of me too.
As me and my best friend grew apart things didn’t go well for me at her house anymore. At 19 I moved out on my own. At that time I was all by myself living in Richmond VA: no family, no nothing. I had lots of friends though. They were like family. In a way I can relate to how my mom has adopted the women she was incarcerated with as her family. They were all she had at one point. I was in Richmond, VA for 6 years, so I rarely spoke with and/or visited my biological family in Washington, DC I had become a loner. A lot like my mom has become. Now that I’m in DC, I still don’t visit family members as often as I should. Ironically, my mom doesn’t either. I guess this is one of the effects of the separation we have suffered due to my mother’s incarceration.