Posted in:Good Mother

Hard Time by Jennifer Jacobson


The only thing I’m allowed to know about the women in my writing group at the jail is that like me, they are mothers. Arriving early for my first class, I wait for clearance in the lobby. I feel small, pebble-like. After passing through two security check- points, I step into the “holding zone” while an officer closes the first set of bulletproof doors. In this 8’ x 6’ chamber the air is lifeless. When the second set of doors opens I’m inside and Officer Oz escorts me, almost giddy, to class.

I meet the workshop participants in a blue room with four windows and a large-screen television that doesn’t allow incoming reception. The six women wear green scrubs; their clothing tells me they’ve been sentenced. I distribute pencils and paper. The goal of the workshop is for the women to create stories for their children.  When they write, the women drop their heads looking down and in. Afterwards, they are invited to read.

Lynn shares a poem for her son: “Sixteen and pregnant I was so scared. And the day I finally met you, its like all my dreams came true.”  In another poem she writes, “You are famous to me the way water is famous to a plant in need.”

Joanie came to the States seeking better healthcare for her diabetic child and ended up in jail. I don’t know why: I’m not allowed to ask. More importantly, I don’t want to know. She writes, “Your first steps stood imprinted on my heart…and I promise I will never leave you again.”

Sue writes, “My grandchildren are gifts that live outside of me.” Jane writes, “I’ve been stripped bare and broken down. I’ve been taught a new meaning of life and thankfully, because of my children, I’ve gotten back up; we keep moving, they are my biggest motivation.” Carol ends a poem with “If you ever need me I’m here and I can fit in your pocket.”

Tammy, the last woman to join our group, has been “in the hole” for three weeks. She tells us she’s used to being in solitary confinement; her foster mother kept her in a root cellar. She writes as if the pencil might explode. She says, “My girl won’t understand about me, not now, but when she gets older she’ll have this story so she’ll know she’s been on my mind.”

When class is over, Officer Oz locks the room. “That’s one hard group of women,” he says. I wait for the bulletproof chamber doors to open. Standing there I think Office Oz must have it right: A mother has to be hard to leave her children, to allow them see her in green scrubs, to hold her head up, to say I’ve made mistakes and I will never leave you again. As the steel doors open I think a good mother has to be hard as stone.



Malawi-born educator Jennifer Jacobson shares her passion for the arts with underserved and marginalized communities through innovative curriculum that includes storytelling, social action and writing group facilitation.


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