Director's message

 By Nora Callahan,
Executive Director,
November Coalition


New shoes for Mother's Day

Mothers make the world go 'round, an integral part of the circle of life. The importance of mothering and legal precedent strongly suggests that the role of female nurturing is to be guarded above all others. I am a mother. I gave birth to two children, both times nearly losing my life in the process. My father remarked after I presented him with his first grandchild, "Had you been born a few decades earlier, you and this baby here would have died." We choose the road of motherhood without much thought to what is going to be required of us along the way. Did I ever think about the risks involved? No, I only thought about being a mother.

My own mother will be 79 years old at the end of July, and my mother's son is a prisoner of the drug war. I know for certain that when she dreamed of motherhood as so many young girls do, her dream did not include a child behind prison bars years later. As many say, the pain of childbirth is only the beginning of the pain of motherhood. Pain is part of the circle of life. Some people get far too much pain, and my mother is one of those people. Her pain becomes mine, and that is part of the circle too.

Stir too much pain into a family, and it brews a recipe for despair and breakdown.

Our prisons now hold two million people, many of whom are parents suffering the effects of separation. How many mothers wait for reunion on the outside of the walls? Nearly a million, and then there are the million fathers. We receive a lot of mail from grandparents, those inside of prison and those on the outside. Children are in prison, parents are in prison and the family lines up at the prison gates on visitation days to squeeze in a few moments of precious time between distant contacts. Years go by, and a resilient hope keeps this circle of family life intact, but barely viable, weaving its way into and out of battle-weary hearts. Imprisonment crushes the family collective and smothers hope.

Imprisoned children know that their actions have caused their loved one's pain. "I've broken my mother's heart" is a lament we hear often, or "I'm doing 25 years, but my mother suffers more than I do."

When prisoners are abandoned, they usually try to "understand" this abandonment. Those who abandon their imprisoned loved ones are wracked with guilt. Millions of people! We are speaking of millions and millions of shattered people. This is part of the drug war ­ like any war. It's fallout, the collateral casualties of war.

But wait! Prisoners get out one day - most of them. They go home if they have one, and this is where our complaint with today's sentencing laws scream for examination and immediate reform. They make no sense. They're unjust, counterproductive and too expensive.

A father wrote from his prison cell, "They gave me 20 years for a first time drug law violation. My kids don't understand the years; they figure that bodies must be buried somewhere. Their dad got 20 years, he must have done something unimaginable, unspeakable." We must begin to count our children's dark suspicions as part of the cost. If adults can't fathom the time, how are these children to understand today's so-called "justice"?

We continue collectively to challenge our legislators to explain to these children what this imprisoned father cannot. Will his children love him 20 years from now? Know him? Relate to him or fear his odd 20-years-in-prison ways? We can answer those questions, and this becomes part of our complaint as well. If you are going to let us be together some day - why can't it be sooner? These sentences are too long, clearly unjust, and they don't fit the crime.

My mother has ten years 'down' herself. Ten years in prison, for I know that her heart is with him. Ten years of waiting for him to come home. That's enough! But our government would have 17 years more.

If legislators were to reflect on the historical honor placed on our mothers and then truly embraced the flagpole of "family values" they rally around, they would rethink and amend these destructive laws. Judges really do sentence these mothers to 'emotional prison' when they sentence their sons and daughters unfairly. These laws are wrong, and legislators dishonor the women who bear the children that fill their prison factories.

Prison Realty, a private prison corporation, advertises its stock options by proclaiming, "One out of twenty Americans will serve time in prison." Mothers! Do we labor, sacrifice and nurture to have 5% of our collective effort fill the neo-slave factories of the new century before us? There is no honor in raising up slaves for the state, and that is what 5% of us are doing this very hour. If not our children, then our grandchildren will fill the new prisons and ones to come from future, unchanged plans to maintain the unprecedented rate of prison construction.

Mothers, I know that you gave little thought to what your role was going to require of you later in life. I've had occasion to speak to many mothers in your ill-fitting shoes. Sending our children, cousins, uncles and aunts into gulags filled to capacity as soon as they open, is wrong.

Forget it. These ill-fitting shoes simply have to go!

These aren't shoes we want to pass on to our daughters. Call or write our office and together we will find others in your community who will stand with you to oppose these laws. There is no honor in injustice or to stand silent in the face of it.