Help For Kids While Mom's in Jail
Workers from Aid to Incarcerated Mothers shuttle kids to prison visits with their moms, monitor foster care, and ease the concerns of children
SHARON JONES was 21 years old when her mother was sent to the state prison for women in Framingham, Mass. Confused and alone, Ms. Jones turned to a unique program that provides aid to imprisoned mothers and their families.Skip to next paragraph
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"I had a hard time dealing with the fact that my mother was in prison," she says. "I was a mother myself, and I'd lost my apartment. We didn't have any place to go. AIM was able to put me on to housing, and to help with everything else."
AIM stands for Aid to Incarcerated Mothers, a nonprofit agency headquartered in Boston with an office at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute in Framingham. Whether the women are sentenced to six months or for life, whether their children are infants or young adults, AIM's small staff and its 15 or so volunteers offer help.
They arrange visits between mothers and children and help families with everything from finding an apartment, to balancing a checkbook, to babysitting. The program also helps families deal with the shame and confusion people feel when someone they love is incarcerated.
"I didn't want to tell my kids that their grandmother was in prison, because I didn't know how they would react," Jones says. "Then my oldest son started reading the mail, spelling out `Framingham MCI' [Massachusetts Correctional Institution]." Rise in women inmates
Though AIM is one of only a few programs of its type in the country, the need for such services is widespread. During the 1980s, the number of women incarcerated in the US tripled to more than 45,000. In Massachusetts, from 1987 to 1989, the number of women committed to the Department of Correction increased 27 percent, from 897 to 1,142, though the figure declined somewhat from 1989 to 1991.
As is true elsewhere in the nation, most of these women are convicted for nonviolent offenses: drug abuse, petty theft, prostitution, or welfare fraud, and the average sentence served in Framingham is seven months. Nationally, approximately 80 percent of incarcerated women are mothers of dependent children, and of these the majority are their children's sole providers.
"We try to keep these families together, that's our No. 1 goal," says Jean Fox, AIM's executive director. "And when they're released, we do what we can to help them back into the community, and to stay out of prison." Visits to foster homes
Pamela Roseboro spent four months in Framingham in 1988, "for shoplifting and drugs," she says. During that time her six-year-old son lived first with an uncle, then in a foster home. AIM arranged for Ms. Roseboro's placement in a drug-treatment program after her release, and AIM volunteers visited her son while he was in foster care.
"You can't come out of incarceration to check out your child's foster home," Roseboro says. "They do visits for you, and can tell the mother that the children are fine." Worried about her son, Roseboro almost left her drug-treatment program. "The AIM people said, `No, you stay in the program, and we'll make sure your child is all right. You do your part, and we'll do ours.' "
AIM was founded in 1979 when a group of inmates at Framingham contacted women in the community for help in seeing and caring for their children.