Women Behind Bars

Women’s incarceration has increased 800 percent over the past thirty years. The incarceration rate for black woman is double that of white women. Woman are more likely than men to be imprisoned for drug-related offenses. 62% of women in state prisons have minor children, many of whom are forced into foster care or left with relatives who scarcely have the financial resources to care for them.

The separation of families is now widely understood as a human rights crisis also at the Mexican border, yet comparatively little attention has been paid to the destruction of black families in the era of mass incarceration. One in four women in the United States has a loved one behind bars, and the figure is nearly one in two for black women. When men are locked up, the women who love them are sentenced too. They suffer from social isolation, depression, grief, shame, costly legal fees, far-away prison visits (often with children in tow) and the staggering challenges of helping children overcome the trauma of parental incarceration. When loved ones are released from their cages, it is often women who are faced with the daunting task of supporting them as they struggle and often fail in a system rigged against them.

~ from The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

According to The Sentencing Project, my state of Missouri had the 3rd highest rate of female imprisonment in the United States in 2017. Thirty-eight percent of youth incarcerated for status offenses (such as truancy and curfew violations) are girls. More than half of youth incarcerated for running away are girls.

Case in Point

Dorothy Gaines’s life changed when Alabama state police raided her home for drugs. Police found no evidence of Gaines having possessed or sold drugs, yet federal prosecutors charged Gaines with drug conspiracy.  Gaines was a former nurse and devoted mother living in Mobile, Alabama. A self-described “PTA mom,” she always brought snacks to the football field where her son played on the team and her daughter was a cheerleader.

She did not know that her then-boyfriend was dealing drugs. Though the state dropped all charges, federal prosecutors charged Gaines with drug conspiracy eight months later – charges that she disputes to this day. She refused to plead guilty or provide testimony against other defendants, and so, was convicted and sentenced to serve 19 years and 7 months.

She says, “My son jumped in the judge’s lap at sentencing and asked not to take away his mother.” Leaving her children, Natasha, 19, Chara, 11, and Philip, 9, parentless, Gaines was accompanied by marshals to federal prison – her first time on an airplane.

Dorothy explains, “I was always a mother that never, ever went anywhere without my children. I missed taking my children to the park, going to their school, while I was in prison. They wrote me and told me those were the days that they missed, too. Phillip and Chara’s father died when they were two and three. That’s why my children were so distraught: because all that was taken away.”

Thankfully, in December 2000, Gaines received a commutation from President Bill Clinton. Gaines’s advocacy work includes using her own resources to help youth see their incarcerated parents. “My going to prison has not been in vain,” said Gaines. “I will fight until everything has been changed.”

A Sad Holiday

For many adoptees, Mother’s Day is a complicated holiday.  For many children in Foster Care it is the pits of unhappy reminders.

All my life, Mother’s Day has been a happy one.  When we were young, we made my mom breakfast in bed.  When I had my oldest son in 2001, that next Spring during the month of May in celebration of Mother’s Day, I began a family tradition of taking my children out among the Wild Azaleas that are at the peak of their annual blooming for “see how you grow” photos.  It is cherished by me that we have not missed a single year with my oldest son now 19 years old.

Truth be told, it was my mom’s adoptive mother who started the tradition.  She had grown up in Missouri.  Her childhood location is some distance to the west but is very similar in rural wildness to where I live.  One year she came to visit me before our sons were born and I took her on hikes around our farm.  She cherished the experience because it brought back memories of her own childhood in Missouri.

When she learned the Azaleas were blooming, one morning she dressed up (though she was always fully dressed with jewelry and make-up before breakfast).  She chose a pink blouse to wear and a spot to sit framed by the Azaleas blooming all around her.  Later during that visit, she took me to see her own childhood home and I was surprised to see her farmhouse was very much like our own.  We were fortunate because the owner of that house allowed us to go inside and my grandmother shared with me what remained the same and what had changed over time.

As an adoptee, my mom yearned to have a reunion with her own mother.  She knew that Georgia Tann played a prominent role in her own adoption story.  When news of the scandal resurfaced in the early 1990s, she contacted Denny Glad who lived in Memphis and helped the victims of Georgia Tann’s questionable adoption methods.  My mom learned about her from watching a 60 Minutes special about the scandal that had aired on TV around that time.

Adoption records were still sealed in Tennessee as my mom tried without success to learn about her origins.  Devastating news was delivered to my mom that her mother had died several years earlier and they would not release her adoption file because the status of her father, twenty years my grandmother’s age, could not be determined (in truth he had been dead 30 years but the state didn’t try very hard at all).

Mrs Glad was instrumental in getting adoption records opened late in the 1990s for Tann’s victims but no one ever told my mom.  My mom died believing she had been stolen based on anecdotal stories she read or heard.  That wasn’t far from the truth but in reality Tann’s network of suppliers made her aware of my mom and my grandmother, through only the best motivations of a caring mom, got trapped.

Since my mom was deceased before I began to learn so much about adoption overall, I can’t ask her the questions that weigh heavily on my own heart about how she honestly felt about a lot of the issues related to her adoption.  She didn’t speak about it to anyone else in our family beyond acknowledging that she had been adopted.  That is, except with me and with me her feelings about it were definitely conflicted.

 

Attacked Once Again

This always feels personal to me because my sons have ALWAYS been educated at home.  Mostly we have tried to fly under the radar so that we can continue to do what we believe is best for our own family.  It came to pass that my daughter became frustrated with the school options for my granddaughter in Florida and chose to avail herself of their virtual school offer.  She has since acknowledged that she understands the appeal of control and flexibility that homeschooling offers.  I would be the first to acknowledge that it is not for everyone.  If the parents have to go to work outside their home (we have a home-based business), then it is going to be a real challenge to implement.

One of the more disturbing aspects of educating my children at home has been when a case of child abuse becomes linked to the fact that the parents hid behind homeschooling in order to hide their abuse.  This often brings calls from those who’s attachment is to public schooling for more oversight and regulation of those of us who have made a personal choice.  I am fortunate that the state of Missouri has good supports for homeschooling choice due to a large population of conservative Christians.  I am grateful to them though we are not homeschooling for the same reasons they do.

So today, I read yet again an allegation that everyone dislikes homeschooling because it is a front for abuse as the Coronavirus has forced schools to close and children to stay at home.

Can it really be true that abusers have to wait for an official sanction of homeschooling to cover their abuse of their children ? Or that many people homeschool simply so that they can abuse their children ?

More than once, I have encountered arguments for the advantages of school as required for the socialization of children.  It is not the blind leading the blind (children of a single age group influencing their peers to bad behavior) for my sons.  They have been socialized to the entire spectrum of humanity – from babies to the elderly.  We have often been complimented about how well behaved they are in places where some parents’ children are running around like wild heathens.

In this time of Coronavirus, maybe it isn’t so much about socializing as it is that parents are stressed from being home all day cooped up with their children.  We have always valued every single minute of time that we spend with our sons.

One could ask whether schools in the US just “holding cells” for the dependents of people who have to work or so that they can have their days off free to do as they please, until their children are released to come home from school ?

As long as society is so “intertwined” with our government that people become upset that those who chose to do so can school their own children or judge those that do as doing so to hide abuse or that well intentioned people must protect other people’s children from being schooled at home, nothing will ever change for the better in a society of free people.

My Only Objection

Back in November, during National Adoption Month, I wrote to Klobuchar that I had been supportive of her campaign for the Democratic nominee until I found out about her strong interest in promoting adoption.  Her counterpart in the Senate is Roy Blunt who is from my state of Missouri but he is a Republican and close ally of our president Trump, so I did not bother to write him.

Yesterday, Klobuchar did better than expected in the New Hampshire primary.  There is a section of the electorate who wants calm and someone they are not being fed a drama a day but can go about their business with some assurance of ethical behavior in the top official of the government.  I get it.  Klobuchar does not really excite.  She is like the mom who you know you can depend upon not to embarrass you.

She was instrumental in smoothing the way for a number of transracial adoptions from Haiti as depicted in the photo above.  On January 12 2010, a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, which is a very poor country.  The earthquake affected an estimated three million people. Close to 230,000 people died, 300,000 were injured and one million were made homeless. An estimated 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings collapsed.

“It’s wonderful to see adoptive families, family members, friends and others who plan to adopt kids from Haiti here this evening,” Klobuchar said in a meeting in 2011. “We in Congress will work hard to continue to help you with adoption issues.”

Over the course of approximately two months following the earthquake, Klobuchar’s office worked with 25 families to help unite 39 Haitian children with their new families in Minnesota. A Congressional bill authored by Klobuchar later passed the House and Senate and was signed into law.  One at least hopes all of the children are truly orphans and not simply taken from extended family who would raise them.

No doubt, her heart is in the right place even though she appears woefully ignorant about the wounds inflicted by adoption and even worse, the effects on children who are placed in families who bear no resemblance to their culture.  I will vote for whoever the Democratic presidential nominee is in November 2020.  I don’t know if I can get over my objection to Klobuchar’s very public role in promoting adoption.

 

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day 2010

Ever since my oldest son was born, we go out every year to take photos among the Wild Azaleas we are fortunate to have an abundance of here on our Missouri farm.  Only in one year, were there no flowers and we had to settle for a waterfall backdrop.  This year, I can no longer endure a long hike due to knee issues and so my husband has suggested I drive our John Deere tractor while he and the boys walk alongside to area where he knows there are a lot of blossoms.  He also wants to collect a couple of large rocks in the bucket that are on his mind while we are there.  The last time I drove the tractor I got it stuck in a wetland.  He reassures me that will be impossible in the area he has in mind.

Mothers are very much on my mind at this time.  No surprise.  Yesterday, I struggled with a lot of sadness about my maternal grandmother.  I have this awful paradox.  I was never able to know my original grandparents because both of my parents were given up for adoption.  Yet, if that had not happened, I would not exist at all.  Therefore, it wasn’t ever possible to have both – a relationship with them and life itself.  Of course, if it weren’t for the disconnect adoption causes, maybe my parents could have enjoyed reunions with their original parents in adulthood and maybe I could have known these people.  But it was not to be.

I also miss my mom a lot at Mother’s Day.  I would have had a wonderful long conversation with her had she been alive.  She died two months before I expected to see her again (we were separated by 1,200 miles).  Her death changed my life.  Discovering my original grandparents did as well.

Happy Mother’s Day !!

Azaleas

Bernice Dittmer 1989

It was my maternal adoptive grandmother who first made a big fuss over our Azaelas when she visited me in Missouri in 1989.  She wanted her picture taken with some.  She grew up in this state a bit further to the west.  When my oldest son was born, I began a tradition of Mother’s Day photos with my sons among the Wild Azaelas.  Yesterday, I saw my first blooming bush so there should be some still in bloom come Mother’s Day later this month.

As you can see, even in old age, my grandmother was a stylish woman.  She adopted my mom and her brother from Georgia Tann, who became embroiled in a state investigation shortly before her death.  Initially, it was simply that she was overcharging adoptive families and pocketing the extra money but as time went on, it became clear there were much worse accusations of exploitation of the adoptees original parents.

I received my mom’s adoption file from the state of Tennessee in October of 2017.  My mom had tried and was denied in the early 1990s before the laws changed but no one told her when that happened and so she died knowing nothing about her origins.  She had said to me that as a mother herself, she would have wanted to know what happened to her child but when she was trying to get her file, she was told that her mother had already died.  The end of her hopes for a reunion were the reality.

Georgia Tann lied to my adoptive grandmother about my mother’s origins.  That is plain in the record (which thankfully is mostly accurate except for some fudging about my mom’s original parents that was decidedly not true).  It also seems that my adoptive grandmother got her children according to her exact specifications and I think it is likely that she paid for them in some manner.

Like many adoptive parents, she was very happy to have children and become a family.  When she visited me in 1989, the story she told me was still not accurate.  My mom was already 52 years old by that time.