Inmate # 1374671 also known as my mother. This number was assigned to my mother by the Texas Department of Corrections in 2006 when she began serving an 8-year prison sentence. I was 22 years old. Even as a young adult woman, I was greatly affected by my mother’s incarceration. For example, it was devastating that she was absent during holidays and birthdays; that she could not be at the hospital when my little sister severely injured her arm; not seeing her in the audience as I sat on stage during my Masters degree ceremony. I disliked the fact that I could not call her everyday even if just for encouragement as I tested for the grueling CPA exam or to discuss with her my overwhelming first days of law school—just so I could hear her say “You can do it.”
Then were the visitations and seeing her decked in prison whites; only being able to hug her for a few seconds. I will never forget hearing her ask a prison guard could she use the restroom or the consistent sickening feeling within my stomach each time I had to leave her behind the barbed wire.
Fortunately my family has a strong belief in God that was instilled in me at a young age. I am far from perfect; however, I prayed daily for God to give me strength and lead me in the right direction so that I would not fall victim to societal flaws. Spiritual growth has taught me I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). By God’s grace, I managed to maintain an optimistic perspective on life and keep my priorities in line. I possess an immeasurable faith in God and giving up has never been an option.
Yet, notwithstanding my own experiences, even more heartfelt were my observations of younger girls during visitation and their interactions with their mothers. I remember overhearing a little girl, who appeared to be about 8 years old, tell her mother enthusiastically about an awards ceremony where she was going to receive a certificate for making good grades. Then her mother began to cry and the little girl, now crying herself, said, “Don’t cry Moma. The certificate wasn’t a sad thing.” She did not understand her mother was not crying because she thought the certificate was “a sad thing,” but that her mother was crying because she could not be there. Evidencing the strength of the mother-daughter bond was the way the young girls would gaze into their mothers’ eyes and hug them tightly. To them, the women they were visiting were much more than a 7-digit inmate number. These women were their mothers. And like myself, these young girls loved their mothers no matter what.
I believe that everything happens for a reason. The reason for me having to experience the incarceration of my mother and the blessings I have received of being able to further my education and network to build relationships with great people was without a doubt so that God could position me to establish Girls Embracing Mothers, Inc. This organization will cater to young girls whose mothers are in prison by offering various programs to empower them by providing a support system in a caring, inclusive, and learning environment; to inspire them to succeed by encouraging them to use life’s stumbling blocks as stepping stones; to promote personal growth and development to expand their perspective of the different life choices that can be made.
Moreover, GEM will help sustain mother-daughter relationships by offering opportunities for visitation to lessen the impact of maternal separation due to imprisonment. GEM wants to educate young girls that the cycle, which often accompanies incarceration can be broken. After all, my mother and I are living proof.
My mother has since been released from prison and our mother-daughter bond is stronger than ever. She dedicates countless hours to GEM and openly shares her testimony with others to encourage them and show them the power of second chances. The transformation I have witnessed in her speaks volumes of her strength and inspires me to continue to strive to be the best I can be.
I want to be an advocate and maximize my effect of this pressing societal problem. One of the lessons I want to instill in the recipients of GEM is that in order for a GEM to brilliantly shine, it must go through heat, pressure and change. This process releases the glory of God. Stay encouraged. It is my prayer that GEM will touch the lives of young girls with mothers in prison in a way that will have a substantial impact on steering them toward successful life paths.
Very truly yours,