Stories from Mothers of Incarcerated Youth
By Madeleine Susi, CFYJ Communications Fellow
As Mother’s Day approaches, we set aside time to celebrate and honor those who have played a maternal role in our lives. For many people, this day is filled with gratitude and joy as they are able to spend time with their families. Still, for many children and mothers, today surfaces feelings of isolation and pain.
According to the 2019 Prison Policy Initiative Report on Youth Confinement, over 48,000 youth in the United States are detained in facilities away from home on any given day; nearly 4000 of whom are detained as minors in adult jails and prisons. This means that tens of thousands of mothers will be separated from their children today due to incarceration. While many of these women are fighting to improve conditions for their incarcerated children and to end the stigmatization of families caught up in the criminal justice system, they are still forced to endure separation on a day dedicated to love and togetherness. We are particularly sensitive to this in 2020, as COVID-19 leaves many children behind bars, particularly those pending adult sentences or those sentenced already as adults. We know their loved ones' worry is elevated as the prisons are showing high rates of infection with the virus. .
Today, in order to honor women who are not often given the recognition that they deserve, we would like to share some stories told by mothers of incarcerated youth:
- Corrinne Broadbridge tells the story of how her 14 year old son, Chris,was sentenced to prison in Florida after being processed through a broken criminal justice system. 14 year olds can be charged as adults in every state for certain crimes except in California and Connecticut. During her visits to Chris over his next six years in prison, Corrinne sees many children that have no mother, father, advocate, or any visitors at all. Read more here about Corrinne’s insights and struggles as the mother of a child who was wronged by the system.
- Michelle Hannemann describes all the emotions that she has felt during and after her 15 year old son was tried and convicted as an adult in Wisconsin. . Anger, helplessness, and resilience are all words that Michelle uses to recount the years that her son spent awaiting a sentence, the time he spent in incarceration, and every moment of injustice in between. Read more here about Michelle’s experience as a mother whose child went through the adult criminal justice system.
- Veronica Williams expresses the irreparable damage caused by a broken system that sentenced her son to 4 years in prison and life on the sex offender registry. The stigma that comes along with her son’s sentence has not only inhibited his ability to move forward in life, but also his family’s ability to peacefully exist within society. Veronica speaks out about where the system is broken and what we need to do to fix it. Read more here about Veronica’s story as a mother whose son was unfairly tried in the criminal justice system.
- Heidi Nuttall looks back on the day that her 14 year old son was sentenced as an adult to 40 years in prison and the anguish she felt during that time. Heidi, her son, and the rest of her family were ostracized from their community due to the stigma that surrounded contact with the criminal justice system and incarceration. Read more here about Heidi’s feelings of hope and hopelessness as she reflects on her son’s sentence and other children who may be facing similar situations.
- Sylvia Bullock, also known as “mother in chief”, to Marcus Bullock, wrote him every day of the 8 years he spent in a Virginia prison, for a crime he committed at age 15. In an interview with NPR, Sylvia shares how difficult it is to be separated from your child: “During the time that Marcus was gone, Sylvia said she thought about her role in the community and her role as a mother."You know, here you are trying to help everybody else, and you can't even minister to your own," Sylvia said. "Because I felt like, what could I have done differently and how did I not see it?"
Though today is meant to celebrate those who have played a maternal role in our own lives, it is important to remember those who may not be able to be with their children today. The criminal justice system has separated thousands of families and we must continue to fight for juvenile justice reform. For more information on the injustice that still exists in the juvenile justice system today, visit http://www.campaignforyouthjustice.org/