Canadian mother found solace from her son's incarceration on the World Wide Web

MWSIPThumbnailThe story begins with a question: where do mothers go for support when their sons go to prison?

For former Calgarian mother and Canadian executive director of Mothers With Sons In Prison, Susan Black, that very question led her to discovering a "one of a kind website" that connects mothers from around the globe whose sons are serving time in prisons.

 

"There is little support specifically for mothers who have a son in prison. There are organizations that provide family support but only Mothers With Sons In Prison, or MWSIP, provides a venue for mothers to communicate with other mothers," Black says.

A downward spiral

Most mothers, like Black, encounter the "physical, emotional and spiritual struggle" of having a son in prison after already having lived through several troubled years of watching him spiral through a devastating pattern of petty crime and drug addiction.

"My son had joined in with a gang in Calgary when he was 14, and they ransacked my apartment. I confronted him with it by calling the police," Black says.

"I'll never forget one police-officer who said to me, 'Even dogs don't defecate in the place that they sleep, and this is what your son has done here.' We ended up having to move out of the home because the police warned (us) that our house would be targeted again."

For Black's son, the downward spiral was just beginning.

Despite several attempts to set him on a different path — including a long-distance move to stay with an aunt and uncle — he continued to stay in the "same mindset".

For Black's son who is now 29-years-old, this resulted in 15 years in and out of prison.

Guilt, shame, and a longing for answers

"When I found out he was going to prison I collapsed to the floor and I cried. What did I do wrong?"

"You grieve for him and the loss that has been taken away. He was a good boy before the drugs," says Black, her voice breaking.

"I'd always be wondering – is he going to be beat up in prison? Is he going to get fed? We provide our kids with food, shelter and safety and I didn't know if he would have these things.

"It was shocking and it put me into a daze. When I had to work I just tried to push it out of my mind. I'd put on my pantyhose and be the business woman."

"At home, I just cried. You just cry."

Hope on the Internet

For Black, the question of where to turn for help was answered through a search on Google.

"I just typed in the words — mothers with sons in prison, and the website came up."

Mothers With Sons In Prison is a volunteer-run organization founded by an American mother, Lynn Hamilton, who writes on the website about a need to "raise global awareness of the silent cries, and deep emotional trauma of mothers who have sons who are incarcerated."

Hamilton writes that, "the emotional aftermath is often overlooked by the judicial system and the public alike."

The website offers mothers in this predicament message boards where they have "an empathetic ear to help soothe their initial feelings of fear, anger, shock, confusion and isolation," Black says.

The tough get going

Mothers With Sons In Prison is currently expanding its outreach capacities.

"We are organizing 1-800 numbers [toll free] to accommodate mothers who cannot afford access to the Internet, and are preparing to launch face-to-face mothers meetings," Black says.

"We're kind of like the Energizer bunnies. A 'no' means nothing to us. We just keep going and going and going. We have to for the other mothers — they need to know that there is a place they can be."

Mothers and sons: a special bond

MWSIPPhotoTony Kokol, former inmate of Bowden Institution, holds a picture of his mother who lives in Edmonton.

Photo by: Melissa Molloy
Tony Kokol, a former inmate of the Bowden Institution, knows all too well what his prison sentence meant to his own mother.

"Every crime is a selfish decision. Any time someone is committing a crime, they are not thinking about their mother. That's the last person they are thinking about," Kokol says, his dark eyes downcast, reliving the painful memories.

"But when that hardened tough guy is in prison, his mother is the first person he thinks about. Once the dust settles, and the door slams and he is in that cell and the sound of the ring of the metal door gets quiet — and he is sitting on the edge of the bed with his head in his hands — it is his mom he is thinking about."

A missing piece

Correctional Services Canada Media Relations Officer Christa McGregor says that "inmates are encouraged to have positive family relationships" while incarcerated.

"One way of accomplishing this is by having private family visitations," McGregor says.

For the broken-hearted mother though, Mothers With Sons In Prison fills a very specific void.

"We are not an organization for the prisoners. We are here for the mothers. MWSIP is a place where there is empathy and no judgment," Black says.

Still, MWSIP also provides services that will ensure communication between mother and son while he is locked away — including "transportation for mothers who have no means of visiting their sons and care packages," among other services listed on the website.

Mothers helping mothers

When Black hears from a mother who has just found the organization, she immediately thinks,

"I want her to know that we are there for her. No matter what mood or predicament she is in. If she doesn't have Internet, she can call a 1-800 number, and she can visit the website.

"There are organizations that provide family support, but only Mothers With Sons In Prison provides a venue for mothers to communicate with other mothers."

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