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Column: A Mother’s Day Wish for a ‘Son’ in Prison

Last year, just before Mother’s Day, I received a beautiful card from an inmate my husband and I had been writing to over the previous two years.

“You are my mother in every sense of the word,” he wrote. “You have truly blessed my life. I can never express in words how much I love and appreciate you just for being in my life. It is so nice to finally have a mother to send a Mother’s Day card to. Your loving son, Ken.”

Before I started corresponding with Ken, I had a strong bias against those who were incarcerated because both my husband and my grandfather had careers in law enforcement. But now I am proud to call Ken my son.

Most of us are fortunate enough to have had a mother to send a Mother’s Day card to, and a father to send a Father’s Day card to.

But Ken never really had either. Abused and neglected by both parents, he entered the foster care system at the age of 9 and eventually lost track of his brother and sisters. Sadly, to this day, his parents show little concern for any of their children, and Ken has spent 12 years in prison hardly ever hearing from them.

Ken is a juvenile lifer. Without any change in his sentence, I will never visit with him outside of prison. It is exquisitely painful to know that he has little hope for a brighter future or society’s forgiveness. When I hear him talk of his dreams of having a family, the weight on my heart is crushing.

I understand that at 15 he was angry and lost and lacked a moral compass. I will never forget that he was convicted of homicide as an accomplice, and the heartache I feel for him is deeply compounded by the pain I know others endured because of what happened that night when he was still a child.

But today, Ken is no longer that misguided, self-destructive teen. Today, he is a model inmate who looks for opportunities to help and serve others.

He shuns the gangs so prevalent in jail, and he recently mentored a mentally challenged man who was bullied by other inmates. He raises orphaned baby birds he finds in the yard and is known as a peacemaker with a knack for defusing tense situations. He makes beautiful wildlife paintings on leaves he finds in the prison yard.

This Mother’s Day, if I could have one wish, it would be for our society to consider the possibility that we have erred in prescribing a “death in jail” punishment on juveniles. If we lived almost anywhere else in the world, Ken would serve a long sentence, but he would also have a chance one day to prove that he is still a human being, capable of change, and worthy of a chance at redemption.

As his mother, that’s all I could ask for.

And I pray that one day I will get a Mother’s Day card from him without the Department of Corrections stamp imprinted across it.

Cindy Sanford is a registered nurse in Bloomsburg, Pa. She wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine.