Women’s History Month has come to a close, but we have yet another chance to focus on women with Mother’s Day fast approaching.
For those of us who are women, black and mothers, we can tout a triple whammy with February being Black History Month, March about being the history of women and then more attention come May 15.

Gee, what’s a black mom to do with all of this so-called attention? Seems to me the answer to that depends on where you are.

If you’re behind bars, “it doesn’t matter,” an expression that has gotten a lot of play in my circle over the years.

If you’re black, female and a mom in a California prison, more than likely, even though the inmates may not know it, “it doesn’t matter” that you are a mom because chances of getting your kids back when you get out of the slammer are mighty slim.

Many of the mothers that my nonprofit organization works with at California institutions for women don’t know the attorneys they needed to be working with. They don’t understand their parental rights and how to fight against having these rights terminated.

“I think my child was adopted, but I’m not sure,” is a regular concern heard in our classes. Another hand goes up in the classroom expressing a matter equally as troublesome: “My child was adopted. How can I get him back when I’m released?”

“It doesn’t matter” that these incarcerated mothers weren’t aware of the court procedures, requiring scheduled document submissions and hearings. However, it does matter that they’re black, with a reported 1 in 18 black women behind bars compared to the 1 in 111 ratio of white women.

Well, they’re criminals, some might say, so what’s the worry about their kids? Only the crime committed was not about the kids. And even if it were, the women’s time behind bars is the sentence handed down by the judge. Who tacked on the bonus of losing your kid after committing a crime? What ruling entity determined “it doesn’t matter” being a mom?

Moms behind bars (MBBs) who have young kids are the prime targets for this permanent out-of-home placement ruling. Why? The Department of Children’s Services receives government dollars for adoptions, and, of course, prospective adoptive parents are most interested in babies and toddlers.

Then there are the children placed with relatives, who so often desperately need the check provided them by the department, so it is in the relative’s best financial interest to go for adoption rather than help the biological mother retain her rights.

For a woman who is black, a mother and behind bars, her life and that of her lost children matter, but Women’s History Month, Black History Month and upcoming Mother’s Day do not address this shameful legacy of America’s abominable slave system which, among other atrocities, allowed the sale of children, permanently separating them from their mothers.

History teaches us that slavery was abolished in 1863 with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Practice teaches me that this “Peculiar Institution” simply moved from the plantations to the prisons.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Florence

    Hi Shirley,
    Very good column. I do hope you get some feedback from folks who may be able to do something about this shameful situation. How in the world can the legal proceedings take place without proper notice to and representation for the incarcerated mothers?

    I wonder if the folks doing the Innocence Project would be interested in this issue? I bet some of the women law students would like to get involved. Here’s their site in California: http://californiainnocenceproject.org/

    Maybe Mother’s Day 2015 will be extra special if the Innocence Project takes up the cause. Let’s hope so.

  2. Jean Troy

    Just away for the county to make money off the poor Children. I know that these Moms have made mistakes but they should get a chance to get their Children back. maybe by passing the class you give or by doing other social work. It seems intodays enviroment we don’t want to rehabilitate only to punish both the child and its mother.

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