This Mother's Day, as we celebrate the importance of motherhood, we ask you to remember the mothers we've lost to incarceration and the children at home who feel their loss every day.
"If she isn't here to love me, who will?" -Joseph
If she isn’t here to love me, who will?” Joseph Gladney, 18, asked himself this question for the first time at age 4, when his mother was thrown into the back of a police car and hauled off to jail. Joseph’s mother wrestled with drug addiction, and it was one of many times throughout Joseph’s childhood he would witness his mother’s arrest. “It was hard to watch, but it was even harder to live without her. We didn’t know where we would be living, and I often blocked most of my memories just to cope with the pain.”
Joseph is one of over 5 million kids who have lost a parent to incarceration, and one of many who have lost their primary caregiver, their mother, to the cycle of mass imprisonment. In fact, women make up the the fastest growing prison population, with the number of female prisoners more than doubling in the 1990s, then soaring from 12,000 to over 90,000 in 20 years. Over 60% of those women are mothers.
There is a true human cost to this trend, one that is far greater than those directly impacted by incarceration: neighborhoods and communities are ripped apart, schools are over-policed, and lasting financial burdens are carried by those left to pick up the pieces. The greatest disruption, however, is to the family circle. When a parent, particularly a mother, gets caught up in the cycle of incarceration, their children suffer immense loss: loss of stability, protection, and motherly attachment, which is essential to healthy development. Our attachment to our parental figures, especially our attachment to our mothers, is a vital force in our ability to learn, grow, and cultivate thriving relationships. “I just wanted her all the time,” Elexia P., 15, said. Elexia also lost her mother to incarceration at a young age. “I would find myself waiting for her to come home, and after she didn’t, I lost hope. I didn’t trust anyone.”
Children face formidable challenges when they lose a parent to incarceration, and, despite children of incarcerated parents being one of the most at-risk youth populations, they are often overlooked. “We want to be treated with support, not neglect,” Joseph went on. “Even if we have a relationship with our parent, they can’t physically be here to help us. We need the support of our community: Hug me. Motivate me. Tell me I’m going to be OK, and just maybe I will be. Elexia and Joseph have both faced immeasurable hardship as a result of their mothers’ imprisonment, but they have grown to become thriving young adults, thanks to the intervention Project Avary. “We work to help children impacted by parental incarceration to heal from the trauma,” Project Avary Executive Director, Zach Whelan, said. “There is a lot of shame, stigma, and isolation that comes with having a parent in prison, and often these children are carrying out an invisible sentence alongside their parents. We help them heal and support them in fostering connections, so they can become healthy and happy young adults and not fall into the same cycles of harm as their parents.” Project Avary is committed to ending cycles of incarceration and provides a 10-year commitment of year-round service to each child in the program.
“I’m so grateful for Project Avary as they have been there for me when my mom couldn’t be. But love climbs walls and even when my mom is not around, I can still feel her there. I love her,” Joseph spoke of his mother. “I believe it’s important we celebrate our mothers, and all the people that serve as mother figures in our lives, that we say thank you to all those that have let us know that we're loved, we're worthy, and that we matter.”
Join us this month in a continued celebration of mothers: those near, far, here, and gone.
Join us as we bring back family camp, an important and invaluable opportunity to give our youth and their caregivers the chance to build healthy relationships and attachments.
Join us as we continue to grow strong, resilient, and thriving young adults.