Saturday, December 08, 2012


My sister shared this video of one of her second-grade students reuniting with her mother, who's been stationed in Afghanistan for the last year. It's a lovely moment: the moment of realization, then the silence, the rightness of being near each other after too long apart.

It makes me think of the mothers I work with in the jail. A World Apart, Christina Rathbone's excellent book about women in a Massachusetts prison, describes another reunion after two years of separation between mother and son:

“...she ran over and grabbed Patrick, sobbing, almost unable to breathe. Pat burst into tears too, and clung to her. Across the room, her father started to cry, the officer in charge of the visiting room that night started to cry, and one by one the inmates and even their visitors started to cry along with them.”
The male inmates sometimes talk about their children, but not with the same longing the women do.  Many of the mothers describe a physical craving to be near their children, a hunger for the sound of their voices and the smell of their hair.

They worry endlessly about their children's well-being. Have they eaten enough today? Is he doing all right in school?  Will she be mad at me when I come home? How can a toddler understand I didn't leave her on purpose?

They talk about how much they want to keep their children safe from all the terrors of their own childhoods: the sexual abuse, the neglect, the beatings. For some of these women, their relationship with their children is the only non-abusive relationship they've ever had.

The mothers' pain is one side of the coin.  The other side is the children's pain, which I can only imagine.

The United States has the highest imprisonment rate in the world.  That affects not only the people who are locked up, but their families.  Every time we imprison a person, we take away a part of a family.  We should think carefully about whether it's worth it.

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