I feel like I coined the term “prison baby”. But I know, at the very least, I embody it.
I even googled the term, just to see.
The definition, for the most part, was regarding a child that is actually born in prison.
I wasn’t born in a prison, but I have spent my life surrounded and intertwined in the system.
I grew up visiting jails and prisons. The sum of my traveling, as an adolescent, was done while visiting my mother either in jails or prisons.
My mother never knew when to stop. Never knew when enough was enough. And the RISK was always greater than the reward for her.
She was also risking me. She didn’t realize till it was always too late. Realizing then, that I was in fact, a big part of the equation.
She signed me up to live a life of solitude alongside her. Without a vote from me.
So I adapted.
I can fit more conversation in a 15 minute recorded phone call than anyone else I know.
I have been patted down more times than I care to remember. The first time at 12 years old.
I have walked through so many metal detectors and had my pocketbook searched more than is fair for someone without a criminal record.
I have sat still with my hands on the table during visitation just to be sure no one thought I was doing something illegal.
I have choked back tears just long enough to make it out of my mother’s view after leaving visitation.
I have hidden my own emotions to protect my mother’s.
I have hugged my mother in front of arm guards. I was always sure not to hug her too long, because that wasn’t allowed.
I have seen my mother shackled.
I have attended every “family day”. I have smiled and shook hands with inmates and listened to them tell me how proud my mother is of me.
I always made sure to look my best, because I wanted her to be proud.
Letters. Dear God, I have written letters. I have written about my days, fears, failures, wishes, loves lost and found. I have written it all down and mailed it to a place where I know a stranger has to read and approve the content before it ever reaches my mother.
I have stood outside the gates and fences and searched for my mother’s face when it was finally one of her release dates.
I have watched my own life continue and change while my mother’s stood still.
I have sent Christmas boxes, yarn, and books. I know what’s okay to send and what will be sent back to me with a “return to sender”.
I have held onto I love yous because you never know when that next phone call is going to come.
I have swallowed anger knowing there is nothing I can do about some of the prison conditions and unfairness.
I have saved all the things my mother had crocheted or drawn for me while in prison because I knew that was the only thing she could give me.
I have watched my mother age behind bulletproof glass.
I have listened while she talked about the newest girl she has a crush on or who likes her. I have laughed with her at the ridiculous notion of keeping any of those relationships once she was released.
I have graduated college without my mother.
I have brought children into this world without my mother.
I have learned how to be a mother without my mother.
I have always tried to soak up every minute of freedom my mother has because there is always a pressure on heart knowing that it’s only temporary.
I have had to justify to others why my mother is still my best friend.
I have had to learn to forgive quickly.
I have waved goodbye to my mother from the parking lot as she looked out from the small cracked corner of her cell window.
I have been judged by my mother’s actions. Even as a child.
I have had to tiptoe around conversations regarding my mother. I have had to feel a sense of dread come over my entire body when I meet someone new and they say “tell me about your mom”, not because I am ashamed but because I know they won’t understand.
I have had to teach my children that good people can still make bad choices.
I have had to remind myself that my mother loves me, even if she isn’t around.
I have felt powerless.