That Morning Was Like Any Other Morning
That morning was like any other morning. I awoke to the tattering of about one hundred cheerios filling a ceramic bowl, as my foster mother prepared my Barney sealed lunch box. I knew that it would be only minutes before I was called downstairs to eat my breakfast and get ready for school, but that morning I remember hearing something different. The echo of the doorbell lasted just about the time it took for hurried footsteps to reach the top of the carpeted staircase. The footsteps stopped in front of my door. “Davi,” whispered my foster mother. I was then asked to hide in a rather spacious closet in my foster mother’s bedroom. A new game, I presumed, given that I was never allowed to play in her closet before. What seemed like an hour passed by, and I remember thinking whoever was looking for me must have been really bad at “hide and go seek”. Finally, the door opened. My foster mother took my hand and guided me down the stairs. There, stood two people, a woman and a man, in all black suits. My hand was placed in an unfamiliar woman’s hand and she brought me outside to a black car.
The fall of 1996, I was permanently reunited with my biological mother, just a year after she was released from Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. Though the memories of my permanent transition from foster care are vivid, I also remember visiting my biological mom throughout the year of 1995. I recall playing with toy cars with a younger boy, who I later found out was my brother, and elatedly jumping on my mother’s bed.
“The criminal justice system and child welfare systems are deeply intertwined: two ballooning bureaucracies that feed and fuel each other. The growth of both depends on the same willed misapprehension: that we can make things harder for parents without also making them worse for children,” (Nell Bernstein 144).
I was fifteen when I was introduced to the Osborne Association, an organization that “offers opportunities for individuals who have been in conflict with the law to transform their lives through innovative, effective, and replicable programs that serve the community by reducing crime and its human and economic costs.” It was the Osborne Association that granted me the opportunity to formally process my experiences of foster care and to assess “the good, the bad and the ugly.” It was also at the Osborne Association where I met other youth who openly discussed their experiences, both past and present, of foster care and parental incarceration. Comparatively, I learned that I was one of the lucky ones, so tospeak. I lived with a family who loved me unconditionally, provided the environment for a fruitful childhood and, most providentially, I was able to return home to my biological parent.
However, there were several things that I knew were unjustifiable, such as being told by my foster mother that she was my biological parent. In addition to being told that my older siblings, who intermittently came to visit me while I was in foster care, were family friends or cousins.
Perhaps we fail to give credit where it is due and overlook the nimble capabilities of our youth, children and adolescents. I don’t think anyone accounted for the memories that I would gain of being snatched from one reality and being placed in another. Understandably, as an infant I was too young to be informed of my mother’s incarceration, but it does not excuse the child appropriate explanation I did not receive, as I mentally matured.
Bernstein bursts the bubble of a common misconception: that a child goes unpunished when a parent is incarcerated. It is important to acknowledge that, arguably, there is no worse punishment than for a child to be taken away from his/her parent. As I mentioned earlier, I know that I am fortunate to have been granted the opportunity to spend the greater majority of my adolescence and young-adulthood with my biological parent. Though I speak for the few who may share a similar experience, I also speak for the millions who remain unheard. This is my story and the story of many others. What’s yours?