Meet today’s guest blogger and author, Ellen Gee. I’m very excited about a three-part series she wrote for us to hurting parents of inmates. I believe her insights will be of tremendous help to any parent who finds themselves in this situation that no parent is ever prepared for.
It’s been almost twenty years since a Virginia judge handed down a six-year prison sentence to our then 19-year-old son. Convicted of nineteen felonies – armed robbery, grand theft auto, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, just to name a few– Daniel and his “friend” had twice hidden in the bathroom ceiling of a restaurant. After closing time, they jumped down and robbed the staff.
From the day of his arrest, my husband and I decided we would help our son just this one time. But we needed to know he fully understood our decision. So one night when he called from the detention center, we laid down our rules. I remember the conversation like it was yesterday.
“Here’s the deal Daniel,” I said. “You’re on our dime now. We will call the shots and you’ll follow our plan, or we’re done. At any time we feel you’re not on board, we’ll pull out and call it a day. Now we need to know if you’re in agreement.”
His reply was a confident, “I understand and I want your help.”
My first set of rules was simple, so I shot them off like a drill sergeant.
“From now on, you’ll come into the courtroom with your head held high. You’ll sit upright at the table with your hands in your lap. You will not put your elbows on the table, and you will not slouch. When anyone speaks to you, you’ll look them in the eye and answer ‘yes sir’ or ‘no ma’am.’ Do you understand?”
Again, the answer was a confident, “Yes, I do.”
From the start, we understood how too much free time is the greatest enemy of our prison system. So we developed a strategy to fill our son’s time productively. He and I would read books together. I wanted him to fall in love with the classics, so his first job was to visit the prison library in search of our first book. And yes, I demanded it be a classic. Beginning with Les Miserable, Daniel and I began to read together.
Next, not wanting our son to lose touch with the outside world, we purchased subscriptions to Time Magazine, Christianity Today, and John F. Kennedy Jr.’s new political magazine, George. My expectation – he would read all of them, cover to cover.
His uncle even added to our strategy by engaging him in poetry memorization.
Those books and magazines gave us a wealth of things to talk about over the phone, and guided our conversations during weekly visits. They also kept him up-to-date on events taking place in the world he would eventually return to.
Check back on Sunday to find out what we did to keep Daniel engaged with the family, thereby further solidifying his connection to the world going on outside the prison fence.
*No matter what your situation, if you ask Him, God will strengthen you and guide you, just like he did Ellen and her husband. They’d never been in this situation before and had no idea what to do, but God directed them. And He will help you.
God, please encourage and strengthen every parent who reads this post whose son or daughter is incarcerated today. Give them fresh ideas for their own unique situation from this mom’s experiences. I thank you and with you, no pain is wasted.
Ellen Gee’s ability to find beauty amongst brokenness is inspiring. Her talent is never more evident than in her award winning memoir, My Mother’s Song, where she details the tragic events of her childhood. After living in Northern Virginia for over fifty years, she and her husband Tim moved to Orlando, Florida, where tragedy struck again. After a courageous two-year battle, Tim lost his fight with lung cancer. Now she spends her time writing her next book about her thirty-eight years with Tim.
Ellen’s blog: Slipstream
Ellen’s book: My Mother’s Song