Originally in Newsweek.


(Photo: Flickr / Backbone Campaign)

Burnt toast, strawberry jam, a half-eaten stick of bacon — all carefully arranged on a tray and plunked by loving hands onto the bellies that once carried them. That’s how many children and mothers start the first Sunday of May each year. Mother’s Day is among most precious days for many moms around the country.

It’s also among the most heart-breaking for others.

It’s hard for many of us who haven’t experienced the cruel absence of a child to fully understand it. But for the mothers of the 54,000 children incarcerated in this country — the most of any in the world — Mother’s Day rings in a pain so acute it can be hard to describe.

For instance, Jeannette Bocanegra and her son JahPower were separated for six Mother’s Days, starting when the boy was only 14 years old. Throughout his years in lockup — including an especially brutal time at Rikers Island — the teenager was moved repeatedly, farther away from home each time. Authorities often didn’t even bother to tell Bocanegra where her son had been sent.

After one move, she remembers him calling to say, “Mommy, they moved me again and I don’t think you can come this far.” Indeed it was a struggle for Bocanegra, a hard-working mother of five from the Bronx, and her cancer-stricken husband to afford to travel such long distances. Yet she assured her child, “No matter where they send you, I’m going to find you.”

Read the full article on Newsweek.

Karen Dolan directs the Criminalization of Poverty project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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