Parenting From Prison
By Tara Snyder
Parenting from prison is the hardest thing to do. I admire my friends who endure in the face of this type of adversity.
Tara Snyder was once incarcerated at the Ohio Reformatory for Women. This essay was originally posted to her blog and many months ago she told me I could repost it here for you.
I’ve since lost contact with her, and it leaves a hole in my heart for she’s an amazing writer and a beautiful human being. I’m certain that whatever she’s doing and wherever she is now she is positively impacting those who know her.
Parenting From Prison
If you asked any one of the 3,000 plus people on my Facebook what I loved most in my life, I’d like to assume most of them would say my three children. I loved being a mom. And, although I still am and will always be their mother, prison has taken away the title of being a “Mom,” in my opinion.
I can talk all day about the love I have for them, but I know I wasn’t thinking of them when I was committing a series of choices that led me to here. I didn’t think about what might happen or the consequences it would hold. The toll it takes on children is more than one could even predict: depression, anxiety, hurt, embarrassment, anger, and even suicide for some children. Many children lose friends and end up in fights, when their parent goes to prison. I never set out to hurt anyone — especially my children, but I did.
In prison they call me “soccer mom,” because (I assume) they notice my love for my children. I do my best to find ways to parent from prison. Other inmates also notice my phone schedule. I rarely talk on the phone to anyone, but my children, and others are often eager to use my phone time. Jokes have been made that others don’t know what I personally like — other than my children. Little do they know I absolutely loved being a mom more than anything in this world.
I found ways to celebrate every holiday. Hearts expressing what I love about them each day of the month on their bedroom doors for Valentine’s. Painted “feet” of leprechauns on the toilet with green food coloring in the water to show the arrival of St. Patrick’s Day. Planting jelly beans on Good Friday, so Easter magic would grow them into lollipops by Sunday morning. We would even go “egging” our friends and neighbors, filling 11 plastic eggs to hide in their yards, along with one empty egg to represent the empty tomb, because Jesus had risen. On Memorial Day we would find old cemeteries and rub shaving cream on worn headstones to read the long forgotten ones. We placed American flags at the base and washed the shaving cream off with water. By Fall, we kicked off Labor Day weekend with my family in the parade by riding Grandpa’s antique tractors and tossing candy. Labor Day weekend was usually the start of the Ohio State football as well, leaving excitement filling the crisp air. We dressed up together on Halloween in group costumes. I celebrated any chance I could with my kids.
Now I have to get creative and find more valuable ways than a 15 minute phone call. I never thought about what would happen when I got caught. I didn’t think about all the things I took for granted. And because of that I can no longer tip toe with the other two after bedtime filling balloons, hanging crepe paper, and banners to surprise their sibling for their birthday. Instead, I miss out on so much more than another birthday, and it’s my own fault. I DID THIS. I brought this pain.
Now I draw birthday banners, and rely upon my mom to hang them. I crochet blankets, animals, and socks to send them in the mail. I don’t make clever cakes and wrap the present they wanted the most. I rely on my Mom to make their birthdays special.
I can’t get upset when I have to beg for updated pictures. I can’t get mad when they are posted on Facebook for the world to see instead, because I DID THIS. I can’t blame the hurt I feel on anyone else, when I call home and no one answers. I am responsible for the frustration I feel when I hear them arguing and calling each other stupid. I asked, “How would you like if someone called you names?” And because I am a mom in prison it broke my heart when my son responded, “How would you like it if someone stole from you?” There was nothing I could say to him while fighting back tears. I can’t be upset with him because he’s angry inside. I CAUSED THAT. I caused the stress, frustration, and sadness I hear in my daughter’s voice as she’s going through hard, teenage years without her mom. I left it up to their Dad’s, Step-moms, and other family members to show them love and support. I DID THIS.
I won’t take part in the Angel Tree prison program or parent and child day put on by the institution at Christmas. Some inmates will never understand why, but I come from a good family. I have a mom who makes sure my kids have more than enough — the same as I did growing up. I come from a family who, although they resented me for my choices, didn’t hesitate to help out a family at Christmas, when I called to say there were kids who had nothing. Their mom was brought into jail, and they were left at home with nothing. When I told my Mom, she was quick to take my children and a lady who worked at my business, and round up not only the gifts, but together they gave a family an entire Christmas dinner as well.
My Mom works hard all year to put on Santa’s Workshop, a reading program where students are encouraged to read books to earn Santa Bucks for our local school. Santa Bucks can then be used to purchase “free” gifts for their families. Hundreds of children are picking up books and reading through this program my Grandma started more than a decade ago. So, some inmates will never understand why I won’t participate in the Angel Tree program, which offers free gifts to the children of incarcerated parents — but it’s because I am already blessed more than I could ever see before now. Instead, I try to find my own ways to parent from prison.
When I was making each child a blanket, I asked them what they wanted for a design. My daughter wanted Stitch. When the blanket was complete girls admired how well it turned out. They don’t know how close to my heart an inanimate Disney cartoon is. My daughter drew me a picture of Stitch when I came to prison, and wrote, “This is my family. I found it all on my own. It’s little, and broken. But still good. Yeah, still good…” I cried hard, and still do when I pull it out and look at the picture. She drew Stitch, and his quote gave me hope. My daughter’s love gives me hope.
Girls here laughed when my youngest son wanted his blanket to have a cheeseburger and “Eddie” rather than his name. Little did they know how dear that was to my heart. When he was at the racetrack it would be time for him to go out in his Kart or quarter midget, we’d be lined upon the grid, and he’d be nowhere to be found. He was always at the concession stand getting a cheeseburger. When his dad raced everyone at the races knew my son. He constantly had a cheeseburger in his hand, because someone was always buying him one. We joked that he needed a T-shirt that said, ‘DO NOT FEED ME.” His nickname, Cheeseburger “Eddie”, just kinda stuck. Not many 7 year olds want a prime rib for ending up in victory lane — but my son did. I thought it was great that he wanted a cheeseburger on his blanket, even though he later changed his mind, when he saw his brother’s blanket with the Bengal’s logo. He chose his football logo and his last name.
So I find ways to parent from prison. After watching the NFL draft “together,” and listening to my sons create their fantasy teams, I decided to try reaching out to various clubs and players, in hopes of some type of correspondence. Anything to instill some kind of inspiration to my children.
I wrote J.K. Dobbins, at the Baltimore Ravens, who proved to be more than his father’s prison inmate number. I wrote Joe Burrow, with the Bengals, because my son used an entire phone conversation to tell me in depth that Joe didn’t get a scholarship to Nebraska like his dad. Joe sat the bench at OSU, and Joe went to LSU to become the #1 draft pick. Joe’s middle name is Lee, like his. I wrote various players and explained how his “Love of the game” meant more to me now more than ever. Every time I call home, I’m filled in by an overly excited and passionate twelve year old about football trivia. A plethora of information I otherwise would never care about, but now have a common bond of interest for my son to share with me. Like, for the last three years, the #1 picks: Baker, Murray, and Burrow all won their first games with a tie. I have a whole new love and appreciation for football.
I wrote Tua Tagovailoa in Miami, Tim Tebow, and many more. I wrote on behalf of my children and started reaching out to others that shared interests with my other two children also, various motorsports teams, the Blue Angels, and I even sent a letter to Australia for Bindi Irwin. In five months, I don’t think they’ve gotten a single reply, but I want to see what happens if I don’t give up. I receive some criticism for what I’m doing. Some people think I’m wasting my time. But, for now, I have nothing but time…
I’ve read kids with parents in prison are more inclined to end up in prison themselves. I like to think that’s not true. I have exceptional children and a great family. I ended up in prison on my own, not because of how I was raised or a lack of privileges in my life. I ended up here because of my own personal issues. I only have myself to blame, when I feel aggravated that I can’t talk to my youngest son on the phone.
Parenting from prison is the hardest thing I’ve had to do in life. I miss my three children so much. I feel like a failure as a mom. I have to live with the fact that I let my children down every single day. as a parent, I’m supposed to be the one supporting my children emotionally, mentally, financially; but I’m not.
My children are amazing human beings with so much talent to offer the world. I hope they know that no matter what happens in life, where they end up, or which mistakes they make — I will always be proud of them and love them. Their accomplishments will never define me or the kind of parent I am (or was). They are capable of so much more than the mistakes I’ve made. Today, I am parenting from prison — and Lord, what I’d give to go back and change the choices that led me here.
No matter how much we do right as parents, stuff happens. God allows trials of all sorts to come into our homes to strengthen us and our children. The best we can do is to pray for the grace to handle the situations as they come our way, and ask the Lord for mercy and peace in the midst of the storms.
“We are glad for our troubles also. We know that troubles help us learn to not give up. When we have learned to not give up, it shows we have stood the test. When we have stood the test, it gives us hope.” –Romans 5:3-4
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