I can still hear the coins dropping. Drink machines and snack machines – several of each lined the wall. I can still see the kids – young, likely all under 10 – and their faces, happy to pick out the sugary and salty snacks without having to search because they knew exactly what they wanted. I can still hear their feet bum-rushing the machines. And at first, I didn’t understand what was happening.
As I sat there early on a Saturday morning in Bryan, TX, visiting my mom for the first time in a federal prison, I didn’t know what these young kids were doing. At 29, I was terrified by the entire visitor entry process. I had my license and some change in a plastic baggy. I was confused when the women would actually come out. I didn’t know if there was a seating arrangement in the cold, bare cafeteria. And I was really scared of what my mom would look like and act like after 3 weeks of being housed there.
Then the kids started returning to their tables. They carefully unwrapped snacks – cinnamon rolls, candy bars, chips – and placed drinks at pre-determined places on the tables. You see, they were thoughtfully and excitedly setting up to see their mamas for the day and they knew what their moms wanted to eat and drink as special treats during visits. They did this to make their moms happy and to not have to spend ONE minute back in that line getting what she wanted so they could spend every second with her when she came through those doors. They did this because – for the lucky few children who actually get to visit their moms or dads in prison on a regular basis – this was their life. This was their normal.
And in that moment, I was shattered. Our 2 ½ year nightmare had culminated in this moment and it broke me. By the time my mom came out I was sobbing – embarrassingly so. I didn’t want her to see me like that. But my God was I happy to see her and to touch her and to know she was OK. In that moment, reality hit me harder than it had my entire middle-class, small-town, privileged life. My mom was in prison 800 miles away and this was OUR new normal.
With Gratitude and Hope for the Future,
Founder, Ava’s Grace Scholarship Program
Mom – CEO – Justice Warrior