Mother’s Day Is Painful When Your Child’s In Prison

54,000 juveniles are incarcerated every year in the U.S., the highest such figure in the world

Inmates make a phone call at Maricopa County's Tent City jail in Phoenix, AZ. — REUTERS
May 14, 2017 at 9:26 AM ET

“I am very depressed and have been crying all week!!!!! This is my 3rd one away from Todd and it has not gotten any easier……guess it never will…SO HAPPY MAMA’S DAY……EVERYONE,” said one woman in an online support forum,

The woman, identifying as Sherron, is one of the thousands of mothers gathering online to mark Mother’s Day, while their children sit in prison.

The website’s section dedicated to parents with children in prison has a staggering 265,000 posts dating back to 2002, when the forum was opened. Since then, its active status has reflected a persistent crisis of American mass incarceration, and Mother’s Day has served as an opportunity to gather, share stories and advice, as well as poems and other uplifting materials.

“Some days i feel like i am going to loose [sic] my mind others fine i know mothers day is going to be unbearable,” said one woman, who said that it was her first Mother’s Day with a child in prison. In response, a long-time user suggests that she take advantage of the holiday to tell her son “of the day he was born and how your heart swelled with love at the first sight of him.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, more than 2.2 million Americans are incarcerated, the highest rate in the world. Among those are 54,000 juveniles, with an disproportionately high representation of young black men. Despite federal statues prohibiting it, several states imprison hundreds of thousands of young people alongside adults. It is a costly and undeniably damaging practice that exposes young people to a high risk of physical and sexual abuse, and raises their chances of reoffending, studies show.

But families, and especially mothers, are fighting back, pooling together resources, in forums where they are safe from the social stigma of having children in jail, and in on-the-ground, nation-wide activist movements. They testify at local, state and federal hearings and lobby the government to improve conditions for detained youth, to raise the age of transfer into adult prisons and to end solitary confinement of juveniles.

“The voices of … the politically astute, system-savvy, devastated, and hope-driven voices of mothers with children in youth prisons offer an uncompromising view of the destruction incarceration wreaks,” read a 2016 study entitled Mothers At The Gate. That destruction is “not only on those behind bars but upon all those who love them.”