The following is by a formerly incarcerated woman in California who writes about her complex emotions as she waits for her incarcerated daughter to walk through prison gates to freedom. The story was originally published in Counting the Years: Real-Life Stories about Waiting for Loved Ones to Return Home from Prison, an anthology in the Think Outside the Cell Series. The publisher, Resilience Multimedia, has generously allowed The Crime Reportto share. For more information, please visit www.thinkoutsidethecell.org.
As I sit and look out at the fences that once held me, I
remember the waiting, the calling of my name and prison
number for release. I had paid my dues, done my time, and
then the day had come for me to walk—or wheel, should I
say—through the gate in those fences.
My heart pounded that day, and my heart is pounding this
day, for I am on the freedom side of the fences waiting for my
daughter to walk out through that same gate. Those fences
hold more than the body. They hold the soul of a person—the
mind and every thought and hope of real freedom.
My daughter has had a drug addiction since she was
fifteen years old—that was fifteen years ago. She informed
me of this long addiction in a letter. How do I deal with her
and her addiction? I learned how to separate myself from my
addiction and leave it behind in the gutter, but has she been
able to do the same for her life? I don't know. I have a fear of
seeing her, of expecting change and getting nothing but the
same old behavior, the same old garbage pouring out of her
mouth, out of her very soul.
I had to take custody of her baby daughter, only a few
months old. First, the baby's father went to prison for not
completing a drug program. Then, my daughter went back
because of a violation that she could have avoided.
“Let go of the street life and its ways,” I cried to her. “You
don't have to protect anyone but yourself.”
As usual, she would not listen. A toy gun and a knife in
the car, both belonging to her homeboy, got charged to her.
So she was sent away for a longer time than necessary.
I sit and stare at that gate and those fences that have held
her all these months. I wonder how she will be when she
walks through the gate. Will there be the hateful yelling,
and the pushing away of the baby she can't deal with? Or
will she have truly changed? Will she be able to demonstrate
heartfelt love and acceptance of her child? Will she learn to
care for and love the child who looks at her pictures and calls
out “Mama?” I wonder.
Here she comes. My heart races; I am actually scared to
death. I don't want her to come through that gate. Hey, someone
stop her; drag her back in, my mind screams.
But she's through the gate and almost at the car.
My other daughter takes the baby to meet her. My newly released
daughter hugs her sister and picks up her baby, who cries out
My face smiles that expected smile of “Welcome home.” But
we both know this is not even close to a welcome home—it
is more “Please stay here and away from me.” I force the fear
down. I watch her approach the car. Her face reveals no real emotion—
no tears, just that empty stare. She looks as though she
knows she is somewhere else but does not know what to do
with her new surroundings. Her look telegraphs that she is
the same as before—bipolar. I remember the arguments and
disagreements we had about her medications. Her illness could
be controlled by taking two lousy pills a day. She refuses to
take them; she denies she has a problem.
My heart is pounding with each step she takes.
She climbs into the car and starts yelling in my ear: She
“hates” me; I am “rotten;” she “can't wait to get home” and
“get away” from me. She says she is going to her friends, where
she knows she is wanted. All the money we sent to her, the letters she wrote saying
she's sorry, the visit I fought to get to see her, even though
my record would have normally prohibited it—all forgotten.
Nothing matters to her except the fact that I was a lousy
mother and her addiction and incarceration are both my fault.
It is the same thing all over again.
Being bipolar can keep people in addiction, in a private
prison of mental torture. And women in prison are often not
given the right medication for their illness; some with mental
disorders have been given a drug that causes spontaneous
abortion. My daughter was one of these women, not knowing
she was pregnant until she aborted.
Yes, my daughter has been through a lot, but I can't feel for
her. All I hear and see is someone who needs help and can't
get it; someone who needs help and won't reach out and take
it; someone who will blame someone else for the rest of her
life and not take responsibility for her own actions.
Our family will suffer along with her, unless I separate us
from her and let her go her own way. I live in fear that, once
again, she comes through that gate maybe worse for the treatment
she received and did not receive.
I will give her this last ride home. Then it is up to her to
not get behind those fences and that gate again. I will not be
here waiting on the outside, tearing my heart out in love and
getting hatred in return.
Her madness and my fear accompany my beloved daughter
whom I love with all my heart and wish she could love me
back—or at least love her daughter, whom she pushes aside
as she goes out the door to the gangsters in the streets who,
she says, “love me so much.”
She was on the way to her homeboy's house the other night
when someone came up to him in the driveway and emptied
the clip of a gun into him. Payback for deeds done in the past
caught up with him, and almost with my daughter, who had
done nothing to deserve payback for those deeds.
May he rest in peace and may she learn to change her ways
before death catches up with her.
My fear of my daughter's release from that prison gate is now fear of the unknown on
the streets. I hate this lifestyle she has chosen. She cannot even see
what it holds for her.
For more information, please visit www.thinkoutsidethecell.org.