My Child Went To Prison

“This happens to other people, not to me,” said a mother we recently interviewed, whose twenty-21-year-old son is in prison.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2009, both males and females between the ages of 25 and 34 who were arrested for a variety of non-traffic offenses, numbered about three million. While only a fraction of all arrestees received jail or prison sentences, it’s clear that a great many parents have suffered during the imprisonment of their offspring. More than one percent of all American adults are incarcerated. And three times that number are either in jail or prison, on probation or on parole – more than seven million, all told. The largest number of these, proportionately, is in the 25-34 age bracket.
The impact on a parent whose child is in the slammer is devastating. Two mothers we interviewed individually used the word “shock” when they recalled first learning that their child had engaged in behaviors that would lead to an arrest, with long-term incarceration likely.
The questions we posed to both of these parents were:
• When you found out your child would go to prison, what were your thoughts and feelings?
• How did you deal with your child’s incarceration for its duration?
• Did you blame yourself? If yes, why? If not, why not?
• How have you come to a measure of peace and acceptance about this event?
• If you had a crystal ball to look into your child’s future before you ever got pregnant, would this situation have dissuaded you from having children?
In each case, the parents did blame themselves. The first mom blamed herself for some unknown failing, and constantly struggled with shame.  Our second mother joined Alcoholics Anonymous as a consequence of blaming her own drinking for her son’s difficulties. “I began to understand my part in his problems.” This gave her “something to work on,” which offered strength and the “courage to deal with the road ahead.”
It is extremely difficult for a parent to come to any measure of peace and acceptance when a child goes to prison. Our first interviewee said that even with the passing of time, and although her child is no longer in prison and is living a successful life, it’s still gut wrenching to think about or discuss this topic.
Interviewee number two said she had come to a measure of peace and acceptance. “More young people than ever are in this situation, and I don’t feel parentally as alone,” she explained. Also, she evaluated her child’s situation philosophically by considering that he developed both mental and emotional skills that he might have been unable to “hone in freedom.”
This mother also said that if she could have seen into the future about her child’s imprisonment, she would not have had children, whereas the first parent said that foreseeing this painful event would not have stopped her from bearing her offspring. Both parents stated that “good and bad” came out of this situation.  “There were many lessons here about things and people we don’t have control over; how difficulty can be transformative,” and how  humans beings can live through things we never thought we could.
In a March 29, 2010 online article by Jessica Barksdale Inclan, she divulges that her 23-year-old son had been arrested at an anti-war rally and charged with nine felonies, one of which was carrying a concealed weapon. Alex had been arrested before for political protest, so his mother wasn’t completely shocked by the second arrest.
Jessica understood that society needs people who can shake things up. In fact, a parent in Jessica’s wider circle commented that Alex was so brave to “put himself out there.” But, the question on Jessica’s mind was whether her son was protesting “war on foreign soil, or waging a war on some internal demon?” Clearly this mother was in pain and struggling, even though her son had not committed a horrible crime, but an act that some perceived as courageous.
The authorities dropped the charges against Alex. The “concealed weapon” turned out to be a toy slingshot. But Jessica still had questions: “Mothers love their children even if they can’t be proud of them. But how far can that love stretch? What would it take for me to look at my son and back away slowly, leaving him to his own life?”
Her conclusion: “That’s a question I don’t want to answer.”
Our conclusion: With three million young people arrested for crimes such as robbery, murder, manslaughter, aggravated assault, motor vehicle theft, forgery, embezzlement, rape, arson, drug issues and driving under the influence, would-be parents might want to think twice before making children.

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