“To me, being a mother means giving everything without holding anything back. If you have to make a change so that your child can be well, you will leave everything behind because your child is a gift from God.” — Honduran Woman, 28
At this time of the year when we all remember the love and sacrifices that our mothers made for us, I have just returned from one of the private prisons that the administration set up for women and their children who are fleeing from the persecution and brutal traumas in the gang states of Central America. I had the unforgettable experience of asking 21 women to write letters about what motherhood meant to them and to communicate about what it means to be a mother in prison on Mother’s Day. This article is my effort to share their words with the outside world.
“I am from Honduras. I have taken a long journey with my son, fighting every step of the way. I have risked everything for my son and I know that nothing is easy but we have suffered so much: days in hiding, days without food, and so I am left with nothing else but to plead that God cares for us. I have risked so much to come here for a powerful reason: I am terrified to return to my country.
I am so sad to be here, incarcerated with my son. We pass the days fighting to be released and to have the opportunity for a better life.
I pray that those outside can understand and sympathize with our plight. We did not take the decision to flee our countries lightly, and we are here because we hope you will help us knowing what we have left behind. I am so afraid of returning to my country because I was the victim of beating and rape by my ex-boyfriend.
Please, help us and — above all else — listen to our stories.”
As I translated their letters on the plane flight back home, I suddenly cracked, and I found myself tearing up and embarrassedly covering my face with my hand. It was impossible not to think about my unconditional love and support that my mother had provided me with for the last 36 years.
“I am Mexican, and they killed my husband a year and a half ago, leaving me alone and pregnant with our second child. It has been so difficult to find a way to feed and clothe my children, and we had to live in hiding from the gang members because they had put a bounty on my husband for not helping them. To be a mother at such a young age is very difficult, but I hope that with the help of my family here I will be able to give my children what we never had: the ability to go out from your house and walk the streets without fear that you will be killed.”
These women’s words reached directly into my heart in a way that — despite all the horrifying stories I had heard in the prison on past visits — nothing else had. I heard my mother’s beliefs, words, and fierce commitment to her children and family in these women. For the first time ever, I felt like I knew what my mother had gone through for me and my sister, what it was like for her to be a young mother of two.
To the people who are reading this, I want to first say God bless you. I want to share a bit about my life with you because making the decision to come to the USA from a country with so much violence and criminal activity was not easy. I come from a part of Honduras where the criminal activity is so terrible that you cannot even sleep at night for fear. Believe me, it is so difficult to leave my country, but life is sometimes unjust, and if God lets me arrive here it is because he has grand plans for me and my children.
If you, the readers, are mothers, please understand that my situation is very difficult. As it is Mother’s Day, when all families should be celebrating together, I am incarcerated in a jail. Here I cannot see my loved ones, and it is very difficult, but I have faith that God will help me to get out of here. I am not a criminal, and my only error was to enter your country illegally to try and save my children from the violence and criminals in my home country. My plan in this life is to fight to do everything I can to help my children have a better life. If I get the opportunity to remain here legally, I promise to not let you down.
Thank you to the men and women who are reading this letter, and I say goodbye with a strong hug and blessings to you who are so far away.” — Honduran Woman, 32
These women felt, thought, and acted just as my mother did, but they came from ruptured societies with broken social mores. Societies where women are viewed as property. Societies where if a woman dares to leave their boyfriend who beats and rapes them at his whims, they will have committed the ultimate affront to his machismo and will be hunted down by his friends. Where a man can lock his partner up in an apartment and refuse to let her leave for two years, inflicting terrible abuse on her and their young daughter the entire time. Where a gang can break into a woman’s house, point a gun at her 4-year-old son, and then gang rape her in front her son. Where a gang can demand $5,000 from a woman and threaten to kill her son and force her 11-year-old daughter to be a prostitute if she doesn’t come up with the money in 3 days.
And what then does it mean to be a mother in these societies?
“To be a mother signifies the most marvelous thing in the world and it is a beautiful gift from God. My dreams for my children are that they have a good education, health, and security, thanks to the grace of God. When one flees from one’s country, you do not believe you will end up in a place like this where they treat you well but you are far from your loved ones.” — Guatemalan Woman, 23
“It is difficult to express how hard it is to be here in jail with my daughter after suffering so many different things. I want to have a better future for my child and myself. Because of the simple fact that I requested help I am here unjustly imprisoned in a place where I cannot be free and I do not receive a response of any kind.
This injustice should come to an end because we only want to save our lives and the lives of our children, to support ourselves, and to find new opportunities that we don’t have in our countries.” — Salvadoran Woman, 27
“I am a mother and a fighter. I wanted to leave my country so that my children could have a better life than I have had.
To be a mother is a blessing from God, and I am proud of my children.
My dream for my children is that they have a better life in this country where they will be safe. I want them to study, to work, and — more than anything — to be safe from violence and criminal behavior.
I want the world outside to know that it is an injustice that we are in a jail with our children and that this should never happen to innocent children.” — Guatemalan Woman, 33
“To me, to be a mother means this: To love your children; To want a better life for them; And to not see them in danger” — Salvadoran Woman, 22
“Mother” is a beautiful word and it signifies the best thing that can happen to a woman. To see your daughter or son and realize that you are the only person who can protect them. In everything they do, you see yourself.” — Honduran Woman, 30
“I am Guatemalan and I fled from my country with the illusion that I could come here and be a free and productive member of society.
I could never have imagined that I would come here and be placed in jail with my children. It is an injustice that we are here when we come with the words of Jesus in our mouths. All we ask is for justice.
It is very stressful to be accompanied everywhere we go, and to not be left alone ever. I only hope to receive a favorable response to my asylum petition and to finally be free from here. Thank you to the lawyers who help us here.”
Thank you, dear mother. I love you, and I feel an intense sadness inside of me for all of the devoted mothers in the world who are unable to protect and care for their children in the way that you did.
If you are inspired to get involved, please visit www.caraprobono.org or contact me at cameronm[at]gmail[dot]com.