The statistics surrounding black men in prison are daunting. Of the 2.3 million people serving time in prisons and jails across our country, 97 % of them are male and 38% are black. So, it’s no mistake that with so many black men incarcerated, there are black women who love and long for them while they are behind bars. But the truth is many of these women are not girlfriends, fiancés, nor are they wives. Most of the women waiting for these men to come home are blood relatives—praying grandmothers, loving sisters, exhausted mothers, and mislead daughters—subtly put, the prisoner’s other woman.
Usually, the women that garner the most attention linked to male prisoners are his romantic interests. There have been books written and movies made about these women, the story line centering on the woman’s life while her significant other does time for a crime. But rarely do we see a focus on those women who may have nurtured these men or were nurtured by them. Often times as a society we do not want to see an inmate as a full human being. We do not want to accept that these men have parents, siblings, and in many cases, children, because humanizing them in any way—even if it’s just giving them the label of son, brother, father, or grandson—could force society/juries to look at the total person and not the crime committed.
Working in the legal arena, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen women crying hysterically over their loved ones during a sentencing hearing or after verdicts are rendered. The humane side of me wants to comfort these women and wrap my arms around them and reassure them that their loved one is surely a victim of the justice system. But the professional side of me knows that many of these men are responsible for their alleged crimes, and while they may not be victims of the justice system, they are indeed victims of their environment and never stood a chance to prevail against a poverty stricken life.
Loving these men during their darkest hour is natural for many women, as these men are their sons, fathers, brothers, and grandsons prior to acquiring the name “prisoner” or “convict.” Possessing love and loyalty for these imprisoned men is often discounted as being weak or naïve when attributed to women, which certainly isn’t true. Most of the women know their loved ones’ shortcomings and vices. But their love for their imprisoned relative transcends all his flaws in the hopes that he will redeem himself one day, which certainly isn’t naivety but mere hope. And considering the majority of inmates are in prison for nonviolent crimes, these men will come home one day and will need the support of their families to break the cycle of recidivism.
So, I say shout out to the praying grandmother for your prayer may be that prisoner’s mainline to God’s ear. Shout out to the exhausted mother, for your strength and tears may be the catalyst that breaks your son’s destiny to becoming a career criminal. Shout out to the loving sister, for your love may transcend your brother’s heart. Finally, shout out to the mislead daughters, for your mistakes may serve as a reason for your father to make positive plans for the future. You are appreciated.
Do you have a close relative in prison? How do you handle it?