Only a few of the English composition students I meet with on Saturday mornings will spend any time with their mothers this Sunday. My students are confined; they're doing time in one of Connecticut's correctional institutions.
Even without a Mother's Day writing assignment, a number of their personal essays have (for months now) touched on the "corrections" they wish they had made – for the sake of their mothers.
Many recalled the moment that tested whatever mother-son relationship there was: when a mother sees her son's photo on the evening news as someone wanted as a suspect in a criminal investigation, when a mother sees her son being handcuffed and led away by law enforcement officers, or when a son looks over his shoulder to the rows of spectators in a courtroom to spot his mother as he is about to be sentenced.
There are, to be sure, more traditional recollections: a picnic basket brimming with biscuits; a kitchen table covered with unrivaled pies and cakes; a trip to the circus; a homemade Halloween costume fashioned in the early dawn after Mom worked the third shift; and a first bike, a wish-come-true birthday present given even before feet could reach the pedals –a mountain bike with wide tires to crunch the roaches in a public-housing hallway.
There were many recollections of mothers conferring status:
"She'd take me on trips just so I could see other streets and buildings and people. We'd go to New York City, and I'd come back with stories about what I'd seen and heard. I'd be thought of as the coolest kid in the neighborhood."
"It was a hug I'll never forget. I had bought new outfits for my little brother and little sister for Easter with the paycheck from my first job. She made me feel like I had earned the mint."
"I accompanied her to an awards dinner because my father was drunk and in no condition to go out. [On the one hand] I remember her so embarrassed about my father, but on the other hand she was so very proud of me for being able to stand in for him. I wasn't a bad-looking fellow back then. I must have gotten hit on by 10 women. I wanted to go back the next year."
And, no surprise, there were many tributes to mothers among the essays:
"She is my strength.... She is a jewel and a rock coexisting together."
"She hurried toward me knowing I needed rescuing...."
"She aimed the bottle of insecticide at that huge spider. I saw something light up. I don't remember if it was a match or a lighter. The bottle became a flamethrower. It was as if my mother's hand was a dragon's head shooting flames.... The spider was toast. Ever since that day I [have] looked at my mother in a different light. She was my warrior princess."
"For Christmas when I was about 10, she brought my brother and me a PlayStation game system. It must have been when they first came out. She really didn't know what she had, but she knew my brother and me would love it. The three of us stayed up all night playing games. And my mother isn't what you would call a game wizard. She was always ready for her turn, but she really stayed up just to cheer us on."
"When we needed something at the store, I would go to my mom's job and yell up to her. She would tie up some money and float it down to me. I swear [it seemed] to me, back then, she had to be a billion feet in the air. I would chase the money and circle under it as it floated down. She would say to me, 'You better catch it before the clouds do.' "
"It was Halloween, I was about 5 years old, and she took me around for trick-or-treating. No costume. She explained that I would go as her favorite character – her son. We mostly played in the street and didn't collect much candy. Didn't matter. It was the best Halloween."
But not all the moms were jewels, benefactors, boosters, or warrior princesses. There were memories of absence and the absence of good memories:
"We were reunited after her missing in action for about a year."
"When I was 10, she left. It was Christmas. She never came home again."
"I'm sitting trying to come up with some memorable mother-son moments, but I seem to be unable to write anything. It's kind of a reminder of the misfortunes of my childhood. I find myself getting a little emotional and saddened at the thought of not having something to offer."
"I would tell her that even when she gave in to her drug addictions, I would love her.... All that glitters isn't told [sic]. Lots of what glitters gets old."
Prison imposes structure and discipline. Tenderness, understandably, is not part of the regimen. Affection certainly isn't.
Incarceration brings home what was underappreciated at home. And incarceration provides plenty of time to dwell on regrets – especially son-mother disconnect and discord, son-to-mother "misdemeanors."
Those regrets may be strong enough to counter the temptations and miscalculations that result in recidivism. When it comes to moms, at least, inmates don't want to be repeat offenders.