My daughter, Charnal is 23 years old. She was three years old when I went to prison. When I came home she was 21 years old. She is one of over 100,000 children who have mothers in prison. She is very intelligent, articulate and courageous, so I asked her to share with the world what her experience was like growing up with a mother in prison. As I told her about the topics she could explore she began to take notes. I noticed for the first time that she
So Charnal began to ponder the subject matter of growing up with a mother in prison. Then, she began to write:
My mother was locked up most of my life. When I was younger I used to daydream about her coming home and imagine how things would be if she was released. I used to say to myself, ‘When I’m 21 my mother will be home and things will be normal.’
This I found striking because when I was sentenced the first thing I did was calculate how old my children would be when I was released. From 1993 until 2011, it was a grueling countdown.
When we would have mother-daughter events at school, or Mother’s Day would come along, I was always sad. I never knew what it was like to have a real mother-daughter relationship. I was in contact with my mother over the years (sometimes sparingly) but I still never felt as if I really had a mother. I took it so hard you would have thought my mother was dead.”
This is so real and vivid for me because on visits when Charnal was between the ages of 3 and 7 years old she would holler, kick and scream as my family tore her away from me to leave. It didn’t matter that she might be back to visit me the following week.
Over time, Charnal’s suppressed sadness turned to anger. She admits:
I used to get into a lot of fights growing up because my mother was locked up. Whenever someone talked about my mother or said anything bad about her, I would become violent. This didn’t stop until I was about 19 years old and I began to mature a little.
One day on a visit when I learned that Charnal was fighting because one of her classmates said, “That’s why your mother is locked up.” I told her, “You can’t stop people from talking about me.” She replied, “Oh, I can stop them. If I fight them, they will stop.” I was at a loss for words.
Charnal recollects, “My mother’s incarceration didn’t affect me much when I was young, but as I gradually began to understand what jail really is, my life was devastated.”