Imagine not being able to hug and kiss your child. To care for them when they are sick. To celebrate their successes and comfort them when they fail. What if you missed their first day of school? Their high school graduation? Their wedding? For incarcerated mothers, missing crucial life transitions but also everyday moments is a reality. Especially because mothers are one of the fastest growing prison populations, and women’s correctional facilities often lack the resources and support offered by men’s facilities.
Incarcerated mothers are not allowed to take a hands-on approach in raising their children, and so they turn to letters. By writing letters of guidance or support, mothers can still experience a sense of intimacy, authority, and privacy with their children, especially since prisons are not easily accessible. When mothers are allowed to visit with their children or talk to them on the phone (for a fee), they are under constant supervision. However, letters still serve as a way for incarcerated mothers to exercise their rights.
Letters provide mothers with a space where they can take their time expressing themselves. Some mothers use this time to tell their children how much they love them or learn about their daily lives. Others reminisce with their children or explain what led to their incarceration.
Back-and-forth letters allow mothers and children to get to know each other better through their writing styles. When writing to their children, they can creatively express themselves through handwriting, punctuation, and spelling. Incarcerated mothers are using these letters to facilitate the rebuilding or maintaining of bonds crucial to a child’s development by setting boundaries, and share feelings they may not have been able to before. Through their letters to their children, Incarcerated mothers are able to participate in their children’s everyday moments, help their children cope with their mother’s absence, and guide and shape their children’s future choices, just like any other mother does.
- Listen to Jessica, a formerly incarcerated mother, talk about the letters she wrote to her two sons, Episode 5: Jessica “How She Writes Beyond Four Walls.”
- Read Incarcerated Mothers: Oppression and Resistance.
- Support the We Got Us Now movement and Let’s Free America
- Join Sesame Street in assisting children who are coping with incarceration.
- Support literacy and writing in the Austin community through programs like Free Minds, Inside Literature, Austin Bat Cave, and The Literacy Coalition.