Thank you for serving your time as the mother of an incarcerated child. Nearly 2 million moms today wondered if they would get a phone call from their baby locked away in a penitentiary, whether the phones would be turned on, or if there is a Lockdown today, or if visits are allowed. Today’s moms are thinking the thoughts you grappled with over so many years of my life: Is it my fault? Is there anything I can do? How do we get a “normal” life?
You simply embraced it, as there was no other option. You would carry my drawings around in your big ol’ pocketbook and show off to whoever would listen- which usually meant the girl working the counter at Walgreens, or somebody sitting in the waiting room with you to see the doctor. I’m proud to give you new things to chatter about when you go to McDonalds to get your Senior discount cup of coffee. “My baby son got a scholarship to go to law school!”. Who would have saw that coming, after years of reading prison mail and homemade Mothers Day cards? You, actually; with all of your palms, tarots, and Numerology… You always knew. Its just odd that you understand so little of it.
I have this memory of a photograph of me and a Pittsburgh Steelers birthday cake when I was 4 years old. I was in the foster home, and you came to visit, and you always knew I liked the Steelers. But I don’t know if it really happened, as I have come to not trust such vague PTSD recollections, and neither do you. It’s strange not having a sure footing on where you come from, but I don’t hold that against you now.
When the Feds ordered you to serve 6 months in the Penetentiary, it further entrenched my need to fight for the powerless people who get used and abused by the System. I wanted to punch that judge in the face, spit on your public defender, and throw the rich scam artists (who avoided prison, of course) off a bridge. But eventually, I came to shrug off what was done to you, a telemarketer making dirt at the lowest rung of some scheme, and chuckle: me and my mom, doing time together. I knew the ladies would love you, protect you, and enjoy having their palms read. Your Scrabble skills kept you busy, and you met a lot of struggling people. It became your clearest window into understanding who I am and what I do.
We will never be “normal.” That ship sailed long before I got out of diapers. Your baby is different, and you always knew it. Always accepted it. With you, there isn’t multiple sides to me- as those who identify me as either an artist or a criminal justice activist. There is no mystery about how I can come out of prison after 12 years and succeed. I’m just me. And you’re just you. We have our flaws, our challenges, and our mysterious parts. And yet we keep on with our lives, even if we only see each other every few years. The Love is not dependent upon time or space.
You inspire me to remember how many moms are out there, not judging, not loving any less, that child who may have done a terrible wrong. And if we can all just learn a little something about Acceptance, a lesson about Forgiveness, we could overcome a civilization that is being built upon a caste of the condemned.
I hope that someday your granddaughter knows that Gramma always believed in Papi. And Gramma told Papi: “You can be whatever you want to be in life.”
Mom, you aren’t a part of my world out here, like you weren’t a part while I was Inside, but know that it means a lot to make you proud. All the failures; all the mistakes- you suffered them all like only a mother could. We have never celebrated anything together in all the years, but I want you to be in New Orleans when I get that Juris Doctorate. We can at least be that normal.
Happy Mothers’ Day to every last momma, especially the ones who are struggling with the task.