A Black mother in prison exposes the greed and hypocrisy of the system that keeps her behind bars and rips apart families.


Illustration by Blacksneakers.

June 27, 2023


As a Black woman who has navigated my way through the rough and rugged terrain of incarceration, the abolition of parole in 1995 was yet another stumbling block in the road to deter me. If only mercy was shown to many of us within this wretched criminal justice system, perhaps we would have been home to raise the future leaders of our tomorrows.

Instead, we have shamefully been arrested and incarcerated, and at a rate alarming enough to be felt nationwide. The United States imprisons more citizens than any other country. This is a devastating fact for the "Land of the Free," isn't it?

For far too long, America has been jailing much of its population. And from the pettiest to the most heinous crimes, stringent punishments have been inflicted. Families have been ripped apart, our children left desolate and hurting. Siblings clinging to one another in desperation and despair.

A Black mother in prison exposes the greed and hypocrisy of the system that keeps her behind bars and rips apart families.
Raquel Ayala signs a handprint of paint for her daughter Crystal Martinez during a special visit at Logan Correctional Center, Saturday, May 20, 2023, in Lincoln, Illinois. Rare programs like the Reunification Ride, a donation-dependent initiative that buses prisoners' family members from Chicago to Illinois' largest women's prison every month so they can spend time with their mothers and grandmothers, are a crucial lifeline for families, prisoners say. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)

Sadly, my own children have felt this void for the past 18 years that I have been gone. I was taken away from them at the tender ages of six months and three years old. They have had to grow from boys into men without me. 

Though my children have grown up to be extraordinary young men, in society's eyes, they will always be statistics. They will be "the boys whose mother went to prison for a long time." I will be that same lady who worked hard to turn a bad situation around for the good of her boys. We are much more than society's labels.

It is just hapless that all of my hard work, effort, and dedication has gone completely unnoticed by those who claim they want growth and reformation. I not only speak for myself, but for the multitude of people who have worked hard for the transformation our politicians so easily ignore.

It is more than frustrating. It then becomes painful and some throw in their towels and give up the fight because it is so unfair. I have felt that way a time or two myself. It is only by the grace of God and the pictures of family on my wall that propel me forward when I feel like quitting. I am hurled into action when I imagine the looks of disappointment on the faces of my loved ones. They are so undeserving of it, and I decided from the beginning of this journey to make it count.

And so I have. My family knows it and are proud. But why doesn't it matter to the people who felt I needed rehabilitation and change? What happened to giving people a second chance? People do make mistakes, but people can change too.

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Why give some second, third, and fourth chances, but not give others a second chance at all? I suppose money makes the world go round, and the doors revolve as well. Why not release those who are certain to return and guarantee more funds for the "common-wealth"? They never release those that will not return to prison early because there will be no financial benefit.

We are forced to serve out our entire lengthy sentences to satisfy the disgusting, yet disguised greed of someone who probably deserves to be on the same side of the fence as us. Many of them have committed crimes as well. The only difference is, they have not been caught, and we have. However, inevitably, what is done in the dark will eventually come to the light. And only mercy will help those souls.