Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Pamela Muldoon which is offered as part of a series of occasional features on this blog written in support of family members and loved ones who are impacted by incarceration. Our thanks go to Pamela, Steven, Andrew and their whole family for this gift to Amicus!
He should be starting his fourth year of college. Instead, September marks his third year at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud. While other parents send their children off to a college campus, Steven and I will visit Andrew in the visiting area of the state prison. Yet, in many ways, we as parents are no different than those parents giving their child a final hug before leaving them to start a new school year.
We never thought it would happen to us. Most families with a loved one in prison never thought it would happen to them. But it did. When Andrew was officially sentenced on September 11, 2008 to a 15-year sentence in the adult correctional facility, it felt like the wind had been knocked out of our family. Though he is my stepson, Andrew has been a part of my life since he was age 9. I care for him and his brother deeply; care for their well-being, their health, their education, all the things that a mother thinks about for their children. My mind immediately flashed with multiple images of what 15 years really meant. He was only 17. That meant with the year and half already served, he would be behind bars until 2017. He would be 27 years old. (In the State of Minnesota an inmate serves 2/3 of his sentence behind bars. The other 1/3 is served on probation.) There is a big difference between the age of 17 and 27. How would he graduate from High School? What about college? Will he ever see his bedroom again? What about his friends? Will they stick by him? Will he be hardened from his time in the system? What about….
It’s natural, I think, for all of us to go directly to the end. It’s the most common question I get when people learn of Andrew’s incarceration. How long is his sentence? When will he get out? What about a job? How will he get a job after this?
If you are a family member or friend of a loved one in prison, may I offer up the same advice given to my husband and me from a couple that we had the pleasure to connect with through Amicus. Their daughter had served 10 years in Federal prison. Their words of advice resonate with us every day. Stay Present. Stop going to a future we cannot foresee. Be present in our child’s current situation. They reminded us that Andrew’s incarceration is his current life experience and to not be present would be to discount his life today. They are so right.
As Andrew marks his third year in St. Cloud, I am proud to say we have celebrated many milestones with him. He has gotten his high school diploma. He is taking every college course available to him while he is in the system. He learned how to crochet and his specialty is winter hats. He has tutored other inmates with their classes. He is learning to play the guitar. He has managed the laundry facility inside the prison.
I share these milestones with you, not as a mom sad for what he will not experience over the next few years. I share these with you as a mom who is proud of her child for what he IS accomplishing with his life; regardless of where he happens to be.
I know the pain of seeing someone you care about behind bars. Regardless of the crime, regardless of your personal feelings toward those in the system, I am here to also share with you that these people serving time are sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, grandsons, granddaughters, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, cousins. If you have a loved one in prison, stay present. Embrace each day you have with your family while they are on this earth. Support them. Let them know you are proud of what they are doing to improve their lives. We get more of that which we put our energy toward. And remember, supporting a loved one does not mean you have condoned the act or acts that put them in prison. By being present, you offer up a gift to your loved one in the system as well as to yourself. You will see the world through a precious lens of time. None of us, whether incarcerated or not, can foresee the future. Putting energy and emotions toward that which we cannot always control is energy still spent. Spend your energy wisely. Be Present. It truly is a gift.
Pamela Muldoon owns a marketing consulting firm located in New Hope, MN where she lives with husband Steven Bennewitz. Pamela and Steven have 3 boys, Andrew, Nicholas & Sean. They hope that by sharing their story it will be a source of support to other families with a loved one in prison.