Saying hello, saying goodbye

I never cease to be amazed at the coexistence, sometimes in the same moment, of joy and sadness during our work at the prison. Children’s Center events are a time when this is especially true. One Saturday of every month about forty children come from across the state to spend a few precious hours of quality time with their mothers. For some of these children, this is the only time they get to see their mothers that month. 

Hello is a beautiful thing. As the children are processed, led through the metal detector, and sit waiting in anticipation, they can see the equally eager faces of their mothers through the other side of the glass window. The moms gather, pressing towards the front, blowing kisses and giving little waves. When they are called out to meet their children one by one the air is palpable with sheer joy. 

I can’t imagine the mixture of emotions the incarcerated women feel throughout the hours they spend with their children during these events. Happiness, yes, at the ability to touch, see, hear, and talk to their children, but sadness as well, a sadness that comes from the knowledge that this brief time will be over soon and it will be time to say goodbye again.

But the mothers don’t show this grief; they are focused on making these hours as fun and fulfilling for their children as possible. We volunteers hang back, letting the mothers make the rules, teach the lessons, clean up the messes, and comfort the hurt feelings. This is the time to bond, and they take advantage of it. 

Inevitably, the day ends. Goodbyes are the hardest. Mothers and children both cry as children are shuttled back through security and mothers stand watching, telling them to be good, to tell grandma to call, to come next month. Then, as the children leave, the mothers slowly walk back to their prison rooms, storing those precious memories until the next time. 

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