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Prison Moms

Wanda Beriguette

Prison Moms

Prison moms are the best.

             There are women in prison who take on the motherly role and take care of inmates. They are the women that pass on wisdom to the new inmates and they try to keep the peace. They have good intentions and usually have longer sentences to serve. Prison moms are underrated. They help more than the correctional officers because they can relate to what inmates are going through. They have been incarcerated for a long time, so they know all the "shortcuts" in prison. They never judge and always want to help. They don't encourage violence or anything negative. They keep women's spirits high.

             When you get locked up, it's hard to know who to trust. There are the correctional officers, who are always watching you, and there's all the other inmates who seem to be everywhere waiting for you to make one mistake so it can become a full-fledged fight. And then there are the prison moms—those wizened women who've been around for ages and know all the ins and outs of life inside a correctional facility.

             They're not exactly "mothers" in the strictest sense; some of them don't have children of their own. They're just women who take on the maternal role and know how to react accordingly when things get rough. Prison moms are often lifers—they’ve been behind bars for decades. They know all of the shortcuts and workarounds that exist within the system because they've been there for so long.

             The prison mom is the unsung hero of the correctional system. She's the one who keeps you going when you're feeling down, who knows how to get things done in prison and can help you out of any bind. She's the one who makes sure that when you go into solitary confinement, it's not just a bunch of cold concrete—it’s also got some nice pictures on the wall and some flowers out of plastic cups. They just want everyone to feel cared for. And they are caring—so much so that they'll go out of their way to make you a meal or lend you a relaxing book.

             These women have seen everything in prison. They're not afraid to tell you when something needs to change—but only because they care about making sure that everyone has what they need to survive this place together. They create unity in a space designed to divide. In my opinion, the prisons moms are reformed. They have managed to overcome all of the typical obstacles in prison that are created to keep you feeling soulless.

             You know their vibe is real because even prison staff treats them differently. They automatically have a respect level that is not given to newer inmates and short time offenders. Prison moms are the backbone of female prisons.

             There were way more distractions at pre-release then at the big house. Violence was high here. These women were low level offenders but high level angry. I noticed a tattoo on an inmate's hands one time and she told me she got it after she murdered her second husband as a sign of growth. She went on to murder someone again in prison because they reminded her of her husband. It was a woman. She was still angry and every day she picked a fight with someone, just never me. I was grateful for that.

             Then there was the lady who had nails so long they curved twice. I asked her about her nails, she told about how she hasn't cut her nails since she lost her child. She was incarcerated for murdering her child's killer. I don't believe that should be a crime, but that's another story. She said her nails were somehow attached to that child and she couldn't really explain how but it was her right and her need. She did have the most beautiful hands in jail.

             The year went by faster eventually. I became a fitness fanatic. Created bonds with women who had similar interests and goals. I watched women go home and stay gone. I watched some leave and come back. It's been well over a decade since I was released. I said I would never go back and I haven't. I don't like how handcuffs look on my hands.

Painting by Gwynne Duncan 

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