Lived Experiences: No Love Like a Mother’s Love

by Brusha Tolise

Author: Brusha, Apprentice, Labyrinth Made Goods

Content warning: This story includes descriptions of abuse and neglect of a child.

I always say no one will or can love you the way your mother does. Having been one of the children that was affected by the fact that their mother was incarcerated for trying to protect her children has been a life changing experience. My mother was charged and convicted without even being given a chance to tell her side of the situation.

I feel like you go through so many emotions when your mother is taken away from you. I was lost and confused because at the age of 4 years old, I really didn’t know what was going on or why this had to happen to me. I felt afraid to know that I couldn’t and wouldn’t have my mother’s touch every day. I wouldn’t have the hugs and kisses or just a gentle tuck into my bed. All of those things make a difference in a child's life and it did in mine.

During my mother’s incarceration, I experienced so many emotions; I felt helpless and defenseless. The tears I cried, no one was there to wipe them away and to let me know everything was going to be ok. In fact, my crying caused my situation to be even worse. I didn’t have my protection from my mother anymore. I was left in a vulnerable state and I knew that I was being neglected. To a 4-year-old, not having your mother with you for 6 to 8 months feels like years and a lot of things can happen in a small amount of time.

I was neglected in so many ways. I remember going into foster care and only being fed once a day or, sometimes, twice at the most and usually only hot dogs. I remember crying out and saying “if my mom was here, she would give me another piece of bread with peanut butter and jelly on it, I’m still hungry.” My hair was going uncombed for days and weeks at a time to the point where the people responsible for me only made sure I looked nice enough on the days I got to go visit my mother in jail. Most of the time, I would spend the whole entire day crying until I cried myself to sleep on bunk beds that smelled like urine. I knew that it wasn’t right so I would just cry all day long, longing for my mother until finally the foster care family said that they couldn’t keep my big sister and me. So, they returned us to some of our extended family which was no better.

One of the good things about being back with our extended family was that I was able to have visits with my older brother. He had been separated from us because he was the only boy and they felt he would be better off with a male. And he was; he got to learn new things and he would come back and tell me and my sister everything.

I remember the day I got separated from the last person close to me who I loved as much as my mother, which was my sister. I was asking for more food and I began to cry, telling my extended family that my mom would give it to me if she was here. Had I known that their next decision would be to send me away from my sister, I would have probably held on to my tears and kept my mouth shut about my hunger pains.

They decided to send me to my family on my father’s side. I remember visiting my mom soon after that decision and my mom said that that place was no place for a 4-year-old girl to be and please don’t send me there. She begged and pleaded with them but they wouldn’t listen.

Living there was a little different. I ate three times daily and I was able to bathe once a day, but I was alone. I was the only child there so I was often told to go outside, where I would sit in the sun for hours. Sometimes, I would even have to use the restroom outside by a tree because I wasn’t allowed in the house. I remember the sun beaming down and there not being any shade to hide under until the sun moved across the yard.

If I wasn’t told to go outside, I was told to take a nap which I usually did until I started to get sexually assaulted by one of my family members. So, I tried to avoid taking naps but, of course, I was forced to do so anyways. I remember I had a bunk bed and I used to pin sheets up under the top mattress so it could hang over the side to protect me from my assaulter, but, of course, it didn’t work. I would see his shadow move across the sheet and I would just close my eyes tightly.

For months I was being sexually assaulted and supposedly no one knew. The way I was being treated there; I was afraid if I said anything, no one would believe me. It still affects me to this day and I'm 27 years old. I suffer from mental health issues such as separation anxiety and some hallucinations where I can't sleep in the dark at all. My hallucinations make me relive my assault. My assault continued up until my mom’s release.

I can remember that day like it was yesterday. It was a cold night and I was watching a scary movie with my father. Then I heard a knock on the door and in walks my mother. Seeing her, I felt such a sense of relief, feeling that everything, the turmoil and abuse was finally over. I ran to her and hugged her so tight and wouldn’t let her go. My tears continued to flow. My mother asked me what was wrong and why I was crying. All I could do was just hold her and let her know I was happy she was home.

My experience isn’t unique. I’m not the only one who lacked protection and love as a child with an incarcerated mother. I want everyone to remember that incarceration impacts a whole family, not just the incarcerated mother. The children experience trauma too.

I want others who have had these experiences to know you’re not alone. I know you can still conquer challenges in life despite these experiences. It can be so hard and it was for me, but I have been able to create a positive vision for my future and I’m already achieving my dreams.