Prison Radio
Heather Jarvis

My name is Heather Jarvis, and this is called my mother’s stuck. 

Women’s incarceration has grown at twice the pace of men incarceration in recent decades, 80% of women in jail are mothers. Most of them are primary caretakers of their children upon arrest. I am mother stuck in the masses, but first I was one of the 5 million children left behind us mass incarceration began to rock the nation.

7% of all minor children of the united states has a parent who is, or was incarcerated. 36.5 million children have at least one parent who has a criminal record. That’s nearly half the total population of US children. My earliest memory is crying for my mom. I remember being dropped off by a social worker at my dad’s house.

My mom was headed to prison. I remember the visiting hall. I remember the long wait and the stairs, the stairs that took me to her. I’ve always had to step up from an early age. Lots of children are stepping out. Parental incarceration is indirectly costly for families, as well as taxpayer. 

Some can’t afford the visit. Some can’t afford the connections leaving bonds severed. I remember when my mom went up for parole, shoving all my toys under the bed and attempting to clean up to get ready for her to come home. I wanted a mom, but she didn’t get out that day. It would be years and years and months later before she would get to me. In some ways, she is still trying to get to me. 

Tables have turn and we have spent the majority of our lives separated by razor wire. First her in a cage now me. Dictated by our decisions and the consequences that come. Hers, mine, the system, all of us fighting to reign. I blamed every problem I got into every suspension on the fact that she was gone.

Heather, if the truth hurts, change it, she pounded in my head when she was finally released.

Now I embody my truth. I’m not ashamed of who I am, but now I wonder if my daughters will blame me for their mistakes. Will they thrive through it or will history repeat itself yet again. 

It’s suggested that parental incarceration increases internalize problems by 5 to 6%. External problem by 4 to 6% and aggression by 18 to 33%. It’s now increased mental health problems and reduced school performance. I would know for my children, it has already started last week. My daughter was suspended. I don’t want that. I want them to face life and circumstances head on. I want them to find their voice.

I want them to know they are more than a cycle they are trapped in. Their potential and true casualties. I never meant to leave him in such a vulnerable state. I didn’t know about ripple effects and it, my actions would cause such a threat to their wellbeing. I was addicted and selfish. 

The children of incarcerated mothers are an extraordinary high risk group. Discussion with US  correctional policies do not often  consider children. I want them to know every day I wake up now and do everything I can, but the cycle can only be broken by them. The children and families in prison are  not receiving crucial support.

How can I be mad when my daughter gets suspended? A study indicates that children of incarcerated parents are six times more likely to going to get incarcerated themselves. I stack the odds against her just as they were starting to me. Research shows some of these children develop resilience and beat the odds. Unfortunately, not all do. 

Again  I’m calling to America to change the conversation, lessen the shame and stigma, and must explore alternative sentencing for primary caretakers, prioritize family connections. These children are not benefiting from the justice system. I’m proof of that. Policies that address underlying problems as an alternative is what this country needs. It’s what I needed. And it’s what my children need today.