Life of a Mother of an Incarcerated Son

By: Chanel V Tillman

Dante Vann and Chanel Tillman on Dante's release date
Dante Vann and Chanel Tillman on Dante’s release date

A single mother is awakened out of her sleep at 2:00 a.m. to the sound of a ringing phone. She scrambles to find the phone in the dark. When she answers there is a voice on the other end that she does not recognize asking for her by name. It is an officer of the law calling because her son had been arrested. The difference this time is he wasn’t coming home. She almost drops the phone as she braces herself for what’s coming next. What could he possibly have done this time? He has been picked up for carjacking with a deadly weapon. She is filled with emotions and one question plagues her … why me?

It wasn’t the life I chose but the life chosen for me. I felt alone. I was depressed, found myself crying and wanting to sleep all of the time. Prison movies I’d watched over the years were taking a toll on me. The thought of those things possibly happening to my son was a bit much. I would talk to family and friends about it but no one could truly understand what I was going through. I needed to connect with others who were in my shoes.

I created a Facebook group called “Mother of An Incarcerated Son”. This group kept those around me aware of my feelings on daily basis and brought awareness to those who had no idea what it was like to deal with imprisonment outside of prison walls. Although I was not physically incarcerated, I was mentally and emotionally. Every day my son spent behind bars I too spent those days imprisoned.

I opened up emotionally, leaving myself at the mercy and scrutiny of social media. In doing this the group began to grow. To my surprise, other mothers sharing my story began reaching out and requesting to join.

Melanie Brinkley, Melanie Butler, Tanyia Squire, and Tamika Joseph also share the pain of being imprisoned outside of prison walls and members of MOIS. Here I will share a little of their stories and what being a member of MOIS does for them.

Melanie Brinkley’s son, Marcus, is a 26-year-old inmate in a Florida state system. This is Marcus’ first arrest, he was 25 at the time. “I could barely talk about it at first without bursting into tears,” Brinkley said. “I felt like I failed him and the rest of the family.” Becoming a member of MOIS has helped her realize that she’s not alone. The group shows her that someone else cares about her and her situation. She finds comfort in knowing that others know exactly how she feels.

Melanie Butler’s son, Melvin, is a 30-year-old inmate in a New York state prison and has an expected release date of June 14, 2017. Butler has been dealing with Melvin’s legal issues since he was 14. Joining MOIS allowed her to finally release the guilt she’d been carrying in regards to his sentencing. “I’m very happy I found Chanel’s group,” Butler said. “Even though you know you’re not alone it’s good to have mothers like yourself going through the same thing [to talk to].”

Tanyia Squire’s son, Dareon, is a 24-year-old inmate in a Virginia state prison. His expected release date is September 2017. Squire has been dealing with Dareon’s legal issues since he was 16, his first arrest. She was unaware of his troublesome activity until that time. Joining MOIS allowed her to vent to others who actually understood what she was dealing with. “MOIS means more than I can explain,” said Squire, “it has given me the voice to many in the same situation.”

Tamika Joseph’s son, Edward, was a federal prisoner who currently resides in a half-way house. He was released Aug. 18, 2015. Joseph had been dealing with Edward’s legal issues since he was 18. When she received the news that her son was arrested she fainted. She felt embarrassed and let down. Joining MOIS helped her with bad days. “Reading Chanel’s post helped me realize I wasn’t alone,” Joseph said.

In speaking with the mothers all shared a common thought, what happened to our sons was our fault. As a parent you do all you can to provide food and shelter for your children and when they take different paths the blame and guilt set in. Another common thought, joining MOIS let them know they were not alone.

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