Through the Eyes of a Child: Witness and Victim
I will always love my mother. Sometimes I’ve hated her, grieved for her, empathized with her and fully cared about her well-being. Even as I have compassion, at times I loathed her.
How can I hold such a far-flung range of feelings for the woman who birthed me? It’s plain and simple: The Criminal Justice System seeded it!
The damage to our relationship is ever present. Yet, I have learned over many years that this was by design, because she too — by no fault of her own — was trapped in a vicious cycle. While the harm appears irreversible, we have made the difference, striving for wholeness and healing day after day.
My mother, 65, and I, 50, have conquered enormous pain and traveled a long distance together. We may not always see eye to eye but we can both see the progress!
I am a first-hand observer of the criminal justice system, witness to my mother being arrested, jailed and tried on numerous occasions; followed by incarceration six times.
In the courtroom everyone, except my mother, had a purpose for being there. The judge presided over the trial. The prosecutor ranted about justice prevailing over criminals; the public defender laid down a meager defense laced with ambiguity. In my household, they were all PUBLIC PRETENDERS! They all were there to do a job and would not be there if it had not been for my mother and the crimes for which she was accused. At that time, I blamed her solely.
Sentencing was usually swift and succinct. And off she would go, handcuffed and whisked away to a backroom never to be seen again – until the next time.
I cried, I sobbed, I wept and no one seemed to care. My presence in the courtroom was more of a nuisance than a victim who deserved compassion and needed answers. Where did my mother go? Why was she being taken away in chains and handcuffs? When would she be back? Who would comb my hair and take me to school? How long would I have to live with my grandmother? Would I ever have a normal childhood?
I dreaded going home after court. I was the bright and articulate child that spoke at school assemblies and participated in plays, speeches and honors programs. It was incomprehensible to politely share my plight. What would I say to my friends and how would I explain my mother’s absence?
Having no father was an accepted fact of my life. So knowing that my mother, the sole parent, was absent was profound. It consumed me and created great strife in our relationship. At the end of each incarceration, the tension was thick! I was polite but stoic; distant and callous. She was now my nuisance. Enveloped in my own grief and too young to see the forest for the trees, I had no space for compassion.
I called her “Sue” instead of Mom. She despised it. We would bicker over this very issue for decades. Even today, she’s Sue to me. For her, it appears to be a lack of respect for her position as my mother. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The State of California has a Department of Rehabilitation but it has done nothing to heal and lift us up. Our challenge has been to rise above all the conditions that stigmatize, degrade and punish whole families with few viable options.
There are so many children (in all stages of life) that need to understand they are not alone and should not be ashamed of their feelings. We have been left to undo all of this for ourselves.
The writer is a human resources manager for a major telecommunications company who says she is within the struggle to end mass incarceration but refuses to be embroiled by it.