When I first started writing you this letter, I had no idea where you were. Last I heard from you, you had been accepted for a transfer from the Federal prison in Lompoc, CA to "final destination unknown" on the East Coast. Prison transfers are a heavily secured process. Neither inmate or family are informed of the final destination until the prisoner's transfer is complete.
The first time I went through this in September of 2016 when you were sentenced- I had no idea where you were for over a month. I will never forget how terrifying it was to have you taken away...just like that. As a mother, to be denied access to any knowledge of your child's whereabouts and well-being is the worst kind of grief. I cannot imagine how frightening that first transfer was for you at such a young age, having had no criminal record to make sense of this new life behind bars.
Over the past couple years since your incarceration we have gone through so many stages of grief and loss. I have come to learn that there are many things that go on behind bars that you will never be able to share with me. Things that you wouldn't dare share with me at risk of your own safety. You have had to learn entirely new survival skills upon being inducted to prison life. The Federal system that governs the external laws of crime, punishment, time served, and basic provisions. But there is also the inmate populace that governs internal politics, segregated and run by gangs subject to their own code of ethics, rights, and responsibilities.
I've gone through the shock and denial; the bargaining with God and the institution that holds you thinking I could summon the magic as a mother to have you set free. Couldn't I just talk to someone to reverse this terrible misunderstanding? Couldn't my own good deeds supersede? What was my worth as a person if I could not save you? You see, the Federal system has no leniency. Even to dispute your sentence can set you at risk of added time or consequence of mistreatment within your facility.
I've had to come to terms with my own powerlessness- not just to reverse time, but that I am powerless over the fact that the punishment doesn't fit the crime. I suffer knowing the horror that you are convicted amongst child rapists, pedophiles, drug lords, and violent criminals. I struggle to understand the sense of it...knowing you were the youngest inmate there with the least record. I have suffered witnessing changes in you that you have adopted in order to survive. I have vacillated between being too hopeful and not enough; too involved and not enough; too parental and not enough. I am so sorry for all the ways I have fallen short in trying to navigate these uncharted waters.
I fell hard and picked myself back up again many times since your incarceration vacillating between magical thinking that I could get you out, and then shaken awake to my own powerlessness to save you. My powerlessness to save you only made me spiral all the more. In kicked the guilt and shame. All of this must have been my fault. I made you, and you are a reflection of me. I failed. I wanted to punish myself for failing you as a mother. I made lists of my failings. I didn't want to go out to eat because you couldn't go out to eat. I didn't want to see a movie because you couldn't go to the movies. I didn't want to buy new shoes, because you couldn't buy new shoes. In my mind, any expression of joy, peace, or happiness was quickly extinguished by guilt that I didn't deserve it and needed to be suffering with you.
Under the stress of it all on both of us, we began to grow apart for a time. I have grieved your innocence as much as your crime as you have wrestled how to survive. I missed my little boy. I always said you made being a mother easy. Even for all the years it was just you and me, you were so easy. So sweet. So kind. I know you're still there inside. I pray the system doesn't steal any more of your innate goodness. I love you. I will always love you. I cannot imagine what it is like for you to try to adjust, absorb, and fit in to this new culture to survive it. It breaks my heart that you are not even free to express openly and honestly what you need without consequence. I am so sorry...
For so long, I know I have had a limited view of what is going on with you. I was determined to get information on the inside. There must be a way I could better understand your world. And as my best friend, Jess reminded me, I have always done my best when I am able to participate in some kind of advocacy. When you were first incarcerated, I had heard of yoga being offered in prisons. I quickly wrote to several institutions and got shut down every time. Finally, I found the Prison Yoga Project. I was so excited to register for this training, hoping I could get a better foothold and understanding in your world. I completed that training on August 19, 2018.
Many of the people that attended the training where yoga professionals who also were clinical counselors, psychologists, and social workers. Myself and Riley were one of the few who actually had loved ones in the system. So this was a very emotional training for both of us. It is amazing how the universe gifts us with exactly what we need at the moment when we can't think of anything else. I had tried everything with my own will to reach you and felt like I was failing. But no sooner did I enter that training, that I was flooded with so much love and sentiment. I got to meet one of the prisoners, Stephan who had gone through the Prison Yoga Project with James Fox while he was incarcerated. He recounted the difference it made for him and continues to make for him in the years he has been released on parole. I was so moved by his testimony that I ran after him as he left and held on to him sobbing and sobbing...wishing it was you...and feeling as though somehow it was...that I was transferring that energy to you.
The most beautiful part of that moment, was that this reformed prisoner who endured 30+ years of incarceration and all the horrors that go with that time...that prisoner held space for me, Jacob. He held me strong knowing I was a mother in pain for my son. In that moment, I felt so much hope. A viable connection. I now have a way to the inside. Jacob, I love you and I will never give up on you. You can push me away, turn me away, or try to protect me from the difficult truths, but I will always come for you. There is nothing and no one in this world that can keep me from you. I am your mother every day.
No sooner had I graduated the program, that you reached out to me to let me know you are safe in Oklahoma for the time-being. We have had a few of the best phone calls we have had since your sentencing and we have been writing every day. Thank you so much for letting me in again. All my work in this world means nothing without you. I have been meditating every day for a window of understanding between us again, and I feel that we have reached that new understanding. I am hopeful for you and for us.
While much of the information confirmed some of my worst fears, at least I was able to hear it from a reliable source. At least now, I feel like I know as best as I can, and given the information I have, I can now communicate more effectively with you. There are proactive things I can do. There is so, so much more I want to share about all that I have learned, but it has taken me two weeks to write out this part now because I am still so emotional about what it means to me. I will write much more on this as events further develop of how I can utilize this training to serve you and others like you that are incarcerated. I long to serve to offer an outlet of hope in yourselves and humanity; to offer coping strategies for navigating life behind bars as well as back into reality.
James Fox, founded the Prison Yoga Project in 2002. He is an incredible man who is highly regarded in the system as a true advocate for the incarcerated. He believes in servitude and is wholehearted and as genuine as I have seen with his work in prisons. It is my hope that I can put you in touch with him personally as well as some of the inmates who have since been released that participated in the program. I felt so flooded and inspired by James Fox's initiative and the personal testimonies, that I immediately approached him with the idea to start a scholarship in your name under my school, ANANTA Yoga Without Limit to help certify paroled inmates to teach yoga and pass on the gifts they once received. This is my continued act of love to you. I will continue to champion your cause and your name.
As I always say from the children's book I used to read you as a little boy:
"I'll love you forever. I'll like you for always. Forever and always, my baby you'll be."
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~Mary Oliver
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