My mother’s faith still inspires me — even from behind bars

I write this on the last day of my law school career, and what a whirlwind of emotions this experience has been. It’s bittersweet, especially because I’m only where I am today because of my mother — a woman who’s been wrongfully incarcerated for the past eight years. 

As my mother’s only child, Mother’s Day tends to be tough. For most of my life, I’ve been fortunate enough to shower her with love and affection on this day, but now distance, prison bars and guards, and an unjust system stand in the way. 

My mother is my confidant. She’s the person I constantly look to for a stamp of approval in my life. Though it’s hard not being able to celebrate her in the way she deserves, I consider myself lucky that she’s still helping guide my decisions and trajectory. I can’t emphasize enough how I wouldn’t be where I am today without her faith in God and the abilities he’s bestowed on me.

For one thing, I never thought I’d be a lawyer. I originally planned to study medicine and become a pediatric oncologist, but my world quickly flipped upside down when my mother was arrested during my first week of college. This moment — this trauma — changed the course of my entire existence. 

My mother’s incarceration opened my eyes to a world I’d never had any connection to. Though a shocking 45% of Americans have a close relative who’s spent time in jail or prison, I was part of the privileged, slight majority who didn’t. Like many of these lucky ones, when encouraged to think about prisons and the people who occupied them I tended to assume they were guilty, plain and simple. 

However, when my mother was arrested, I soon realized that was not the case at all. Our prisons are filled with wrongfully incarcerated individuals, and individuals who may have been guilty of a crime, but not one so severe that it warrants their incarceration. Taken together, these injustices make up the basis of the systemic problem that is mass incarceration.  

Having visited my mother many times over the past eight years, I have longed to serve as a voice for these inmates who’ve been silenced. Our criminal legal system has so much brokenness that demands reform, and I don’t think I would’ve been able to understand or call attention to these issues if it weren’t for my mother and her example of faith.

After my mother’s arrest, my own faith has had to change shape and adapt to the trials and tribulations our family was facing. At times, it’s left me feeling unmoored and defeated. 

Yet my mother, who’s had to endure a prison environment alone and firsthand — her faith has done nothing but grow. It’s only through her strength that I’ve been able to hold on to my shifting beliefs and continue praying that one day she’ll be able to return home to my family and me, and that the two of us will be able to advocate together, openly and freely, for criminal justice and prison reform.

I dedicate this Mother’s Day — the one that accompanies this honor of graduating from law school — to my mother, and every other mother up against our criminal justice system. 

Whether they know it or not, their love overflows.