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May 10, 2019
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Mother’s Day behind bars

by Kaelanne Jordan – Twitter: @kaelanne1

The frustration of missing countless milestones of your child’s life—graduations, their first steps, first job, first day of school—all unforgettable events in a mother’s eye; and the constant helpless feeling of not being involved in the day-to-day aspect of your child’s life is the reality for incarcerated mothers like Grace Cupid.

Forty-year-old Cupid has been on remand at the Women’s Prison, Golden Grove, Arouca for two years and two months. While society and prison officers refer to Cupid as clients (formerly called inmates) there’s one particular name that she takes pride in being called— ‘Mom’, to her five children, three daughters and two sons.

In commemoration of Mother’s Day, the Programmes and Industry department of the Trinidad and Tobago Prison Service facilitated an early Mother’s Day treat for incarcerated mothers Saturday May 4.

In this issue of Catholic News, writer/media relations officer KAELANNE JORDAN interviewed Cupid and 25-year-old convicted mother Champagne Blackburn to capture their Mother’s Day behind bars and raise awareness about the unique struggles incarcerated mothers face.

Incarceration and children: Who really suffers?

For Cupid and Blackburn, today marks the third Mother’s Day away from their children. Outside of Mother’s Day, visits like these usually occur on Christmas and on Saturdays, based on a rotated schedule to accommodate all mothers. Cupid had hers two weeks prior to Mother’s Day.

Both women spoke on the importance of fulfilling their maternal roles despite being physically absent in the household.

Mother to a four-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter, Blackburn said that her son initially did not remember her when he came for the Mother’s Day visit. She was incarcerated when he was 18 months. She noticed how tall her son had grown, and he now speaks as if he’s from “foreign” she laughed.

On that day, children are provided the opportunity to say Mother’s Day greetings on a microphone. Her son sang her a nursery rhyme and told her he loved her. “It was nice,” she said with a smile.

Blackburn explained it is generally “hard” being away from her children, but Mother’s Day is particularly so, adding that most of the incarcerated females are mothers.

“Sunday [today] will be a day of sadness …. Knowing that you in here and they out there. You don’t know what happening to them out there, if they safe enough, cause you know nobody going to treat them like a mother would,” she said.

She told Catholic News that her son begged to stay with her. “And I said ‘baby you can’t stay here’…and he asked ‘Why I can’t stay with you’… It’s really hard especially when they ask you those kind of questions for you to answer them but I try to answer them to my best,” she said.

Meanwhile Cupid expressed dissatisfaction at the lack of bonding opportunities provided for incarcerated parents and their children. She mentioned that a special phone system which was introduced to the prisons was stopped. She believed that lack of consistent communication with her family was the reason one of her son’s ran away from home.

“Cause he not hearing [from] me as he used to. Because we were close…. I spoke to him through the welfare [office]. I told him ‘The road that you’re heading is not a good road and I can’t make jail for you and I’ and he actually pulled through with the help of granny, grandpa…” she said.

In spite of this, she boasted that her children are “doing good”. Her eldest twin daughter obtained seven O’ level passes and is now employed as a pharmacist, while her twin brother is pursuing a welding course and works part time.

A view towards the future

Cupid intends on passing her time by taking courses offered including English, religious programmes and Human and Social Biology (HSB). Before her incarceration, she was a geriatric nurse and plans to one day open her own nursing home.

Though she shared that she’s not a “believer” of religion, she’s a firm believer in prayer. “And that’s what keeping me going until the day I walk out of this place,” she said.

Blackburn was involved in hairdressing and completed a phlebotomy course prior to incarceration. She too looks forward to her release and owning a salon.

While both women expressed their “full support” of the prison reform, Cupid opined, “it’s not 100 per cent as we would want it [to be]”. Not wanting to mull over the prison’s shortcomings, Cupid said she has learned a lot during her incarceration: “People would criticise but you have to do you; you won’t be able to please everyone.”

Her advice for other incarcerated parents is to “hold on”, believe in God, continue praying and that advancement is still possible in prison.

As for Blackburn, she’s focused on acquiring patience and the importance of faith amidst prison settings. “In here, if you don’t get to know God, you will know God by force,” she said.