A mother's worst nightmare.
As we get older and become parents, life gets hard in ways we could never have imagined. It happened to Raleigh, NC mom Max W. Miller, who describes herself as an ordinary middle-class mother who tried everything to control her rebellious oldest son, but did not succeed. Miller's son started selling drugs when he was a teenager. In 2005, when he was 19, he was sentenced to 92 months (seven and a
half years) in federal prison.
Now, Miller's son's prison term is almost over, though for over a year he's been in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) which means he's been locked-up for twenty-three hours a day. Miller has not seen her son in three years. She describes his situation as being dragged from state to state, from one maximum security facility to another, making it impossible for her to visit him.
"I can't even talk to him on the phone," said Miller. They communicate via weekly letters. In the Q&A below, Miller shares what she's learned about surviving a mother's worst nightmare. The teen fantasy-romance novel she wrote, Blood Melt, which was indirectly inspired by her son's struggles, was published through Amazon Createspace in August.
"I am forever changed by this," Miller says. "Even when my son comes out, I'll never be the same person, because I know there are other mothers who are going through what I've gone through."
What made you decide to write your novel? What did it have to do with your
son's going to prison?
My son was in trouble and all my efforts to prevent him from ending up in prison had failed. After falling prey to internet prison advocates claiming they could help me get him a lesser sentence (out sooner), I became more distraught than ever. My son begged me to stop giving these groups money, because they couldn't get him out. Finally, I stopped, but I couldn't sleep at night, so I began to ramble on the computer, writing out my frustrations, and then making up stories. I had always had a strong relationship with words, so it felt natural. I choose to write for teens and young adults because this age is so critical to what the rest of a person's life will look like. It's a vulnerable age group, with so many vices to trip them up.
How do you feel, as a mother, with a child in prison? How often do you think
about him? How much can you do to help him?
For many years I didn't tell anyone. Now, I have come to realize that I must say it boldly-not as a matter of pride, but as a matter of fact. My son went to prison, and if I see that as a stigma or a source of shame, how will public opinion ever change toward parolees? I think about my child almost every hour of every day, and have for every year he's been away from me. Prison mothers don't love or hurt any less than any other mom.
My son is blessed because he has a mother, father, and sister who will be there for him. Many coming out of prison have lost everything, even their families. We will pool our resources to give my son a fighting chance, understanding that he must take the bait and want to stay free, out of prison. One thing I can never do is to stop loving him.
What don't people know about the prison system?
Honestly, I think that most Americans are as naïve as I was about what really happens in prison. We think what we see on television is the end of the story, and don't realize that it's so much worse. So many Americans don't come home from prison. My son says: "You don't do your time, you try to survive your time." To me it doesn't feel like correction at all, but a deliberate attempt to cripple the entire family. Communication with loved ones is critical. If my son breaks the rules, taking his phone privileges away for six month to a year is inhumane and nearly unbearable for a mother. My son is locked down 23 hours a day, in an old facility with no air conditioning (even when temperatures soared to well over 110 degrees in some states this summer). Last winter he had very little heat. And to top it off, I can't even talk to him on the phone. I can't get to him, he can't get to me, and the facility rarely answers the phone.
Mothers like me must stand up and put a demand on our elected officials. Convicted felons can't vote, but their families can. The Bureau of Prisons doesn't want to acknowledge the 2007 Second Chance Re-entry Legislation, signed in 2007 by former president Bush. Based on that legislation alone, my son could have been in a halfway house six months ago. I have not heard any presidential candidate talking about the thousands upon thousands of families that are affected by America's prisons.
I know of an organization called FAMM-Families Against Mandatory Minimums-that's fighting to change legislation regarding mandatory minimum sentencing. This mandatory minimum was a factor in my son receiving a 92 months sentence in the federal system.
What wisdom do you have for parents on how to bear adversity when it comes to their child?
First of all, stop blaming yourself. If something happens to your child, whether it's sickness or getting off on the wrong track, you must keep your parental head intact. What I mean is that your emotional and physical health must be preserved. I pray a lot, and I keep busy, and of course you know that I write. Find out what is positive, encouraging and brings you peace. Do that thing a lot. It may not be easy at first. You may find yourself having a tendency to jump from one project to another. But keep searching for the right kind of comfort. Above all, keep that troubled child in your heart and let him know that you are there, and that you will never turn him away.
Max is a writer of science fiction and fantasy for teens and young adults. She can be followed on Twitter @MaxWMiller.
A mother's worst nightmare.