The Prison My Son Put Me In

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I am serving time.

No, I’m not a felon. I’ve never committed a misdemeanor. In fact, my last petty crime was over 37 years ago for a Milky Way bar, aisle 4, in a Safeway. Even though I was never caught, time has caught up with me, indirectly. My oldest son, who just made 24 years old, is serving his fourth term for crimes for which the penalties are devastatingly severe, not only to himself, but to our entire family. As the mother of a convicted felon, I am serving time.

As we are entering his last 100 days (God willing), I find myself introspective as I think of the past 7 years that have been affected by my oldest male child.  As a mother, sometimes these situations can become emotional, testy, laborious, and downright heartbreaking, as you choose to view these young men ONLY  with your loving eye—sometimes coddling them, and  feeling sorry for them, even though they have clearly done wrong.  I plead guilty both counts.  As mothers, our walk thru this quagmire of life, lessons, and legacies is much different than what fathers experience.  Often we fall short and fail in coming to accept truth right away regarding our flesh and blood. 

prison cell

Credit Image: ChicagoGeek on Flickr

My son has always been my heart, I’ll admit it.  Our relationship began with a bang as he was my "surprise birth-control child." He entered the world loud. With 8 months of colic with him at the helm, it was a time of heightened feelings and exhaustion.  Yes, it was frustrating, but this child of mine tapped into something deep within me; I think I felt sorry for him, and with that something extra, I fiercely became his “overprotector." Dad couldn’t handle the noise, or the upheaval, and I couldn’t take the unrest, so I strapped my son to my breast, often 14 hours a day to keep him soothed, and to keep my home…quiet. 

As my son grew, he revealed himself to be timid with a gentle soul.  Lanky in stature, he blossomed into a confident, athletic, oftentimes cocky young man who was always trying to figure how to "get over, get thru or get past" a situation.  He was clever, charismatic and kooky, and managed to become a pied piper for his peers and siblings.  I knew he had a gentle heart, but as time passed, his heart and soul began searching, struggling and striving to define himself apart from his father—mainly (and most expeditiously) from his Islamic upbringing. 

Needless to say, in his quest to "fit in" with others outside our family, he made choices that changed the trajectory of his existence. Before the ink dried on his diploma, he was assigned a number, an orange suit, a job, and a bunk.  He was now a convicted felon with time on his hands, but also a lack of maturity that kept him from seeing his wrongs in full view.  My son was in an ego-driven denial.  He lied when he was released on his first bid, and chose not to let us know he was released. But within 30 days he was reincarcerated, this time facing 8 years for a violent crime. 

My heart achingly took in all of his scrambled-up humanness, his sad eyes, his confused mind, his passive boy-like self crying quietly within for help, all the while handcuffed and shackled to a hardwood courtroom chair.  It was desperate sights like these that broke my heart and broke me in, leaving me to question the "justice" of the situation, because that was my baby, right?

As time crooked from one year to the next, I found myself attempting to mother from outside the bars. I questioned whether I was being ‘fair’ to him. How could I see him for who I knew he was but also for the immoral person he had become?  How do I love him without judging him? Did we do something that led him astray? Would he still love us, his parents?  I questioned everything I thought I knew and carried a burden in my heart.  I believed he needed to be punished, but would languishing in a jail cell bring him back to a moral center? All I could think of was all the prison shows I’d seen on television and sob.  It was exasperating to wonder about these questions, daily.

To assuage the guilt I felt was mine, I attempted to send the comforts of home,  hoping that packaged meats and noodles and soap, at a premium, would at least partly fill up what he may have thought was lost. I thought it would be one less thing for him to "suffer" thru. Perhaps it was just one less thing for me to suffer through and think about.

My son's imprisonment brought to the surface the hurt and shame I felt when my own father was locked up on my first day of high school. My story and his story became family secrets, and in that way, a part of my own life was being held hostage as life hit the repeat button. On top of all of this, his father and I argued and fought over our perspectives.  A mother’s tears clouded better judgement, and his father, besieged with his own pain constantly reminded me that "big-boy rules" applied, and that our son had failed to follow the rules. What followed was a three-year sentence and more time to serve for all of us.

As the moment neared for him to reenter society, I was encouraged.  For a whole year my son was "out," but unbeknownst to me he was still carrying around the same baggage of immorality that told him it was okay to "get over, get thru and get past" for his gain.  This was confirmed by my son being re-arrested and receiving an additional three years.  I was devastated, angry, and choking on my emotions, but this time something was different.  This time presented a shift in my perspective.  I told myself I would not suffer any longer behind his selfish, ego-driven pathetic ways.  I even questioned if was he more comfortable behind bars, because there he would not have to take ownership, or be 100% responsible for, his life.   I wrote him (and told myself) that I was done. I had to get to a place where I was willing to let him go, because holding on to the boy I thought I knew was no good for either of us. 

Letting GO and Letting God!!

As the seasons passed, my husband and I became veterans of the game. Like the leaves that fell from the trees, something inside us was intrinsically altered too.  I grew weary of my son and pushed his depressing reflection from my mind.  I was tired being the super grandmother.  I was tired of collect calls, prison letters and the crumbling foundation of his character. Over time my heart hardened and I no longer wanted to hear his voice, and its belief that he could dare have a bad day because of his situation.  I didn’t want to be subject to his surliness, and I didn’t want to be the mother to make it all better. This was no longer my job!  HE and only HE would have to discover a way to rise up and find a way out of his head and into his heart. 

We may not have been perfect parents but I know we taught him right from wrong, and now it was time for him to right his wrongs.  If he did not want to grow up and take his place among responsible and dependable men, this would be solely his cross to bear.  The coddling ended. The blinders were worn away.  It was now time for me to refocus my attention on a spouse who suffered because of my denial, and to repair the wounds left behind on the siblings who saw my son only as a super hero. 

Mothers are called to teach and nurture.  What we must understand is that we cannot adjust that script regardless of the conditions that our children face.  We can become part of the problem, even hindering their progress, and the improvement of those left behind because we are too cowardly to face the facts.  At this point in time, and after these 100 days are served, if my son—my bright, shining-star sun with doe eyes and smile of an angel—cannot manage to keep himself liberated, it is not I who can make him free.  He will have to want that freedom more than the air he breathes, make the sacrifices to get his life in order, and step up to raise his own son.

Our children come thru us, and don’t belong to us.  When they do wrong we must be willing to serve them our best version of leadership, examining them with our intellect and not our emotions. I don’t know what road lies ahead, but he is a child of God, and God will judge his actions, as he will ours as parents.

I will keep you posted on the countdown.

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