This time of year, between mid-May to mid-June, invites us to think of our parents, our mothers and fathers or other parental figures, or to be reminded of our own experiences as parents. With Mother’s Day just behind us and Father’s Day coming up shortly, we wanted to take this opportunity to share some stories of several clients, currently and formerly incarcerated, who are parents. Many lives are affected by incarceration.

“I have three kids, all grown. Being away for 24 years was hard on everyone because I could not raise them. My kids were adopted by someone else because I was incarcerated. It’s hard for me to parent now because they have other parents. I was able to attend my oldest son’s wedding and reception after I was released. We do have a good relationship. I had to get to know them as grown adults, they got to know the different person that I am now. It feels good to be wanted by my kids, they are all I have now. Other relatives of mine passed away while I was incarcerated.”

-Sonya Jackson, pictured in green with her grandchildren and their other Grandmother.

“Unfortunately, I’ve been incarcerated my entire adult life. My poor choices in my teens have caused me to miss out on my father, great grandmother, sister, aunt, and grandfather’s funerals. I was pregnant when I committed this crime. I have missed not only milestones but my son’s 17 years of life. I’ll never let go of a card he wrote in at the age of 9; that he wishes I could come to his game. 2026 is the year my son graduates high school. My role as a parent has been nonexistent, unless it’s to inform me of what my son isn’t doing right. It pains me to not be able to be a better example for my child, especially at his age. I feel responsible for the intergenerational trauma I’ve continued within him.

– Female OJPC client at Ohio Reformatory for Women, Marysville, Ohio.

“I’m thankful to be able to be present as a parent after being incarcerated. Something that I always imagined doing, had a dream of doing, thankful for the opportunity to fill that role as a father to my child because I was released. I’ve learned my lessons to be able to parent with efficiency…everybody tries their best to parent their child as they see fit. I’ve been through trials and obstacles and that has equipped me to teach my children things that other parents might not be able to: like hope, perseverance, accountability, and second chances.”

– Thomas Chapman, pictured with daughter Cecelia, age 10 months

“By being incarcerated for 35 years I have missed out on things others take for granted. I wasn’t there when my children graduated high school, college, got married or my grandchildren were born. I have never had a handmade card from the grandchildren. I haven’t tucked them in bed, read them a story or helped them do their homework. I have never had a holiday meal made to celebrate that I am a mother.
My role as a parent no longer exists. I initially had contact but lost my role as a mother and was replaced by grandma as she took care of them, cooked, cleaned, went to events and even disciplined them. Mother’s Day for me now is just a day I get up, cook for a group of women and try to remind them they have flat time so have the opportunity to be a mother again.”

-Female OJPC client at Northeast Reintegration Center, Cleveland, Ohio.

 “Since I have been home for 4-4.5 years, I have been able to go on vacations with my parents. I have written a book with my mother called, “Done All the Time” about my time of incarceration. This was a bonding experience for us and we do lots of press for it together.

I now have three sons of my own and have a different look on life than I expected. I was incarcerated at age 19 and only had to worry about myself. Coming home to a stepson and having two biological sons since then, now I am responsible for others. I’m trying to teach my boys integrity, respect, and to always pursue knowledge and believe in what you do and not just do what others tell you to do.”

-Qa’id Salaam, pictured top with his mother and Channel 5’s Courtis Fuller. Pictured bottom with one of his sons.

These stories share some of the challenges and heartbreak of being a parent while incarcerated. They also share the realities, both hopeful and hard, of parenting post-incarceration. We are grateful to all our clients who were willing to share their honest and raw experiences.

As we celebrate and remember our own parents, or ourselves are celebrated, we invite you to make a donation to OJPC in honor or memory of a parental figure, or in honor of one of our clients. Thank you for your support!