Moms behind bars find interaction with children difficult - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Moms behind bars find interaction with children difficult

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By Ursula Madden - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Four times a year, mothers incarcerated at Jail East take part in contact visits, a time when inmates are allowed to physically touch their children.  For most mothers, the visits are a harsh reminder of what they did to land in jail, and how it has affected their children.

"My four year old is traumatized behind it," said Destiny, an incarcerated mother who described a recent visit. "He stutters real bad now.  But they go to counseling and stuff so hopefully they'll work with them, and me too, I know I'm traumatized behind it ."

Destiny faces a voluntary manslaughter charge after fatally stabbing a woman who attacked her.  It happened in front of her children.

"He asked me why did I do that  He asked me why I didn't just run.  And that was a question I couldn't answer," she said.

Action News 5 spoke to five mothers to find out what being locked up was doing to their families, specifically their children, and what they were doing behind bars to get back on track.

"It's unbelievable the programs that they have here," said one of the mothers, Jessica.  "They're not just letting us sit around and not do anything."

Aggravated burglary brought Jessica to Jail East. She's hooked on heroin, but trying to stay clean.  Now, her mother is taking care of her year-old son.

"He's not going to remember this, all that I've done, but I'm going to remember what it feels like to sit behind the glass, and my son not to know who his mom is," she said.

Michelle faces state and federal drug charges. She lost custody of her six-year-old daughter after her arrest.

"She's been living with my sister for about four years, and it's because of my drug addiction," Michelle said. "I've been addicted to meth for about 15 years now."

For Michelle, contact visits are painful.

"We had a contact visit a couple of months ago, but she was afraid; she was afraid to come up," Michelle said. "She says that whenever she talks to me I make her cry, 'cause I cry whenever I talk to her."

Michelle doesn't know what kind of relationship she will have with her daughter after she gets out..

"She said to my sister that she had a great idea.  My sister was expecting, 'Lets pop popcorn and watch a movie.' She said, 'Now that 'Chelle is in jail, why don't you be my mom?'" Michelle said.

Each of these women is voluntarily enrolled in the Jail East Parenting Program, a course designed to give incarcerated moms the "know-how" to interact with their children on the outside.

For instance, the program teaches how to discipline children.

"If I say something, I'm saying it because I want to keep her out of harms way," said Cassandra, a participant in the program. "I'm just loving her in a different way, and it took a lot for me to understand most of that."

They also talk about consequences.

"They have so many questions," said Trumisha, another participant in the program. "I don't want to tell them, but I want them to know this is not a place they want to be."

Nearly 70 percent of all inmates locked up on felony charges are parents, and their incarcerations affect more than 21,000 Tennessee children.

You can read more about the state's findings by clicking here.

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