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I'm a Prison Mom Part 3

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The years continue to pass and my son remains in prison. Not looking for sympathy just wanted to provide another insight into prison life in the US...

I'm a Prison Mom Part 3

...so far. This is part 3 in an unknown amount of articles. Somehow it's cathartic to write about it. There are so many of us. We don't discuss this in our daily lives yet our loved ones on the inside are always on our hearts. In Illinois alone, there are almost 45,000 inmates in the IL Dept of Corrections. This doesn't even consider the additional number of inmates in federal prisons (FBOP) in IL.

My son is doing as well as can be expected. He is just over halfway thru this. We have become immune to many things since this all started. We are polite and quiet to all CO's (correctional officers). In the waiting room where you sign in there are often visitors who either weren't aware of the dress code or ID requirements and are sent out to travel down the road to the small town Walmart in hopes of finding something that conforms to the dress code. The CO's have all the power: they determine how rigorous the pat-down and search process is and whether you get to visit at all. They also control your loved one's life so it pays to be polite. Whatever happens in the waiting room eventually can filter down to how they are treated.

We visit often and are fortunate that he is only 113 miles down the road, that we have cars, gas, money and time to visit. Many people don't.

Has anyone heard of video visitation in the prison system? Sounds great, doesn't it? The prison system installs a video system so that families can have a video visit either at home or at a special kiosk nearby. The pluses for this system:

  • Ease for the families - especially true for long term sentenced inmates. As the years pass, your relatives and friends age and it gets harder and harder to get to the prison to visit. Also, if you visit with little ones, it is hard to keep them content with nothing for them to play with and in many prisons they are not allowed to do anything but sit in a chair, they are not allowed out of their seats.
  • Cheaper than driving sometimes hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles if your loved one is in the federal prison system (FBOP). Many prisons are located far from cities. Few have mass transit available nearby as they are in small towns and more rural environments. Crime is more prevalent in the cities so more inmates are from the bigger cities versus the farm towns.

There are only negatives if this REPLACES in-person visits. I live in a rural area where there is no mass transit and most people own cars. The prison where my son is doesn't have video visitation and we would use it only as an extra way to visit, not to replace an in-person visit.

Our son is one of the fortunate ones. At a recent visit he told me that he was very lucky that he came from a good home. He went on to tell me that many of the guys in his prison came from single-parent households where the parent was either addicted or doing something illegal, were abused as children, products of the foster care system or simply were homeless and on the streets from a young age. Some of the guys have been "down" so long that their families have died or their their families have disowned them. Many don't have commissary money so my son goes to many meals simply so he can give his food away to someone that is hungry. Life "inside" without commissary can be bleak. Many guys have a "hustle" where they do tasks/chores or provide a service in order to get commissary.

I'm also a volunteer prison visitor for our statewide prison activist group. In this capacity I go with others to visit prisons to try to reform the system. I go quite often as they don't have a lot of healthcare visitors. You meet and talk with so many prisoners. So many issues: some small and some insurmountable. In one visit I met a guy in his 50's now who was sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) when he was 14. He'd been down for >40 years. Now with the new legislation that juveniles can't be sentenced to LWOP, he was up for possible parole. But...he was scared - he had been in prison for almost his entire life. He had held prison jobs and was currently a tutor (highly respected position). However, he has never held a cell phone, driven a car, worked on the outside, paid bills. His family was either dead, or had long since forgotten about him. He was located in a prison many miles from what used to be his home and he had no contacts. While legislation is great that helps to release some prisoners, more support is needed on the outside. Just one of the more frustrating aspects of this adventure.

So - I'm going to see my son tomorrow. There is a Christmas tree in the waiting room now and the mural is almost done in the visiting room. It's just another Christmas in prison.


11 Likes, 3 Followers, article_pluralized, 182,487 Visitors, and 9,627 Posts.

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I am glad you continue to share and I know it cannot be easy. The curious and prying eyes, some whom are only that and not at all concerned or aware of the very real pain behind it...

I read frequently about prison ministry (and I am not referring to a religious thing as much as a humanitarian ministry...I have no religious affiliation). I have a few books that I have enjoyed. I did my literature review for my MSN on a prison diversion program that has healthcare workers and police departments working together to attempt to keep the nuisance types of offenses committed by undertreated mentally ill individuals out of the prison system and funnel them into a system more in tune with their unique needs. I had no idea how awful for-profit prison systems are until I did my literature review. I had no idea how much of our inmate population is made up of the mentally ill and how completely detrimental the environment and how totally at risk they are there. I also had no idea how many good souls end up on the inside, behind bars, for a one-time mistake or lapse in judgment.

This is verbose and I apologize. I just wanted you to know there ARE people out there who have no connection to the prison system watching with concern and wanting to do more. I am sending you love and light.

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Thanks for your very kind and knowledgeable words.

It isn't easy but I want people in general to be aware that when someone goes to prison, it affects us as a community. Over 95% of current prisoners will be released back into society at some point or another. So, as a society we should care what happens because research and just common sense tells us that if we release people from prison who have no education, no job skills, no therapy in accepting responsibility - they will re-offend.

I've visited nearly every prison in IL now and I can tell you that at least in IL - we need to do something. I would think that all the rest of the states have this same issue.

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God bless you and your son. Thank you for sharing your story. People don't know until someone is brave enough to share. (((Big hugs)))

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Just wanted to add the Part I - When Your Child Makes the News for all the Wrong Reasons:

So this article is more about handling BIG public embarrassment versus the little embarrassments of life with children. We've all experienced the toddler with the tantrum at the grocery store and have scurried around picking up items and hoping for a quick check-out line. And many of us have taken our children to see Santa Claus and/or the Easter Bunny and all they have done is cry and want to do anything but sit on their laps.

Then there is US - those of us that live in the world of adult children embarrassment; very public and very real. Our kids are the ones that appear on the front pages of our local (and sometimes national) newspapers, make the top story on the news channel and cause our friends and acquaintances to whisper "gee, I'm so glad my kid didn't do that...." (whatever "THAT" is). 

Our children are those that when you see them on the news or paper, think "oh my goodness, they must come from a horrible family" or "I'm so glad my son/daughter has never done that!"

We go through our days with a smile plastered on our face, our chins high and pretend not to notice the whispers, snickers, and snide comments. So, just in case some of you might someday join US, here are some tips:

1.When your child's antics hit the papers, news, etc., try to find out the complete details. Don't EVER make comments to the papers or news. Your comments will invariably be taken out of context and can make the situation worse. At the very least, it will not help nor will it garner any sympathy.

  1. If it is a legal matter, it is always better to go with a private attorney versus public defender. This is one of those "you get what you pay for" situations. None of the nurses I know are independently wealthy so coming up with the case instantly can oftentimes be problematic. Some solutions:
    1. Savings accounts
    2. College tuition accounts
    3. Loans
    4. Cash in retirement or 401 - be prepared for big tax penalty

Your relationship as a couple is important and you must nurture that relationship. Talk things out. You may not agree on the same course of action, you may not know the correct course of action. If you have a not so good parental relationship, talking things out is even more important. If at all possible, present a united front in front of the child.

Feel free to love your child, but dislike their actions. They still need support from their parents. This can be a very stressful time for the entire family. Sometimes counseling is needed so that the family can move through this and get to the other side. 

In the end, what helps one family get through a very public embarrassment might not work for another family. There is no one size fits all. As the event or circumstances evolve, families experience a myriad of emotions. 

And...that's okay for US! 

And...don't forget we used to be YOU!


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And here is part 2:

I was browsing the blue side of AN recently and came upon my article from a couple of years ago when this was so raw and open. Thought I would give an update. Did you know that the US has the most incarcerated citizens per capita of any civilized nation - says something about us as a nation, doesn’t it?

I’ve learned a lot over the past 2 ½ years since I wrote the first article. Here’s some of what I’ve learned:

Lawyers are expensive! When we started this journey, it was recommended that we hire a private attorney. So, off we go to interview. We interviewed a total of five practices for a total of seven lawyers. We called more but several didn’t return our calls or emails so we quickly crossed them off our list. We were quoted anywhere from $5000 to $130,000 for a plea deal. Rehashing the details took its toll too. In the beginning, we cried in their offices, towards the end, we could recite the details without a tear.

It really truly matters WHERE you commit a crime. If you commit a crime in a large city, the punishment is similar in most instances. However, if you commit a crime in a small, rural county where crime is uncommon, the penalty will be much more severe. 

Visiting in jail, behind glass is impersonal at best. You go in, sign up for a time, then return to your car to wait - whether that be 15 minutes or 2 hours, you sit in your car and wait your turn. When the time arrives, you sign in, and get assigned to a phone. You know now to bring in bleach wipes to wipe down the phone, and immediate area as it is always filthy. Your loved one is led in, handcuffed and shackled and he picks up the phone and you start your very stilted visit thru glass. During your visit you are surrounded by four other visitors who may or may not be happy to be there - you hear arguing, yelling, cursing, crying, sobbing, anger, sadness, many emotions flood the tiny visiting room. All too soon the 15 minutes is up and you must leave.

Our judicial system is S_L_O_W - it takes months (and can take years) before a trial or plea bargain is negotiated. Trials are expensive, plea bargains are expensive too but more in terms of emotions:

  • Plea bargains are like games between attorneys only the pawns are real life people
  • The accused’s attorney throws out a number, then the DA counters with another number and back and forth you go.
  • The families/prisoners go along for the roller coaster rider: first its 18 years, then 15, then 12, then ? and finally the number is set.
  • Truth in Sentencing - another topic for discussion. These laws were enacted to prevent early release for certain crimes. It means that what you are sentenced to is what you WILL serve - there is no “good” time, no way to reduce the sentence.

Aw - so probably the worst day of my life was sentencing. You go into a very austere, wood-paneled courtroom, filled with people you don’t know, media is sometimes present, the victim (if any), and the accused’s family. They bring your loved one in chains and handcuffs, shuffling along like in the movies only this is REAL. They look pale and disbelieving. 

The judge reads the charge and then states the sentence…”I sentence you to x-amount of years in the Department of Corrections” and bangs his gavel. As his Mom, I’m just numb, the tears flow, not just sad little quiet tears either, but big, messy loud sobs. My son is led away by the bailiff still pale and disbelieving. Our lawyer leads us to a quiet room so I can stop my sobbing and manage to get to the car without falling. 

Its over - no more courts, no more lawyers - we are onto the next step in this journey - prison. 


The Caging of America

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