Canadian mother found solace from her son's incarceration on the World Wide Web

MWSIPThumbnailThe story begins with a question: where do mothers go for support when their sons go to prison?

For former Calgarian mother and Canadian executive director of Mothers With Sons In Prison, Susan Black, that very question led her to discovering a "one of a kind website" that connects mothers from around the globe whose sons are serving time in prisons.


"There is little support specifically for mothers who have a son in prison. There are organizations that provide family support but only Mothers With Sons In Prison, or MWSIP, provides a venue for mothers to communicate with other mothers," Black says.

A downward spiral

Most mothers, like Black, encounter the "physical, emotional and spiritual struggle" of having a son in prison after already having lived through several troubled years of watching him spiral through a devastating pattern of petty crime and drug addiction.

"My son had joined in with a gang in Calgary when he was 14, and they ransacked my apartment. I confronted him with it by calling the police," Black says.

"I'll never forget one police-officer who said to me, 'Even dogs don't defecate in the place that they sleep, and this is what your son has done here.' We ended up having to move out of the home because the police warned (us) that our house would be targeted again."

For Black's son, the downward spiral was just beginning.

Despite several attempts to set him on a different path — including a long-distance move to stay with an aunt and uncle — he continued to stay in the "same mindset".

For Black's son who is now 29-years-old, this resulted in 15 years in and out of prison.

Guilt, shame, and a longing for answers

"When I found out he was going to prison I collapsed to the floor and I cried. What did I do wrong?"

"You grieve for him and the loss that has been taken away. He was a good boy before the drugs," says Black, her voice breaking.

"I'd always be wondering – is he going to be beat up in prison? Is he going to get fed? We provide our kids with food, shelter and safety and I didn't know if he would have these things.

"It was shocking and it put me into a daze. When I had to work I just tried to push it out of my mind. I'd put on my pantyhose and be the business woman."

"At home, I just cried. You just cry."

Hope on the Internet

For Black, the question of where to turn for help was answered through a search on Google.

"I just typed in the words — mothers with sons in prison, and the website came up."

Mothers With Sons In Prison is a volunteer-run organization founded by an American mother, Lynn Hamilton, who writes on the website about a need to "raise global awareness of the silent cries, and deep emotional trauma of mothers who have sons who are incarcerated."

Hamilton writes that, "the emotional aftermath is often overlooked by the judicial system and the public alike."

The website offers mothers in this predicament message boards where they have "an empathetic ear to help soothe their initial feelings of fear, anger, shock, confusion and isolation," Black says.

The tough get going

Mothers With Sons In Prison is currently expanding its outreach capacities.

"We are organizing 1-800 numbers [toll free] to accommodate mothers who cannot afford access to the Internet, and are preparing to launch face-to-face mothers meetings," Black says.

"We're kind of like the Energizer bunnies. A 'no' means nothing to us. We just keep going and going and going. We have to for the other mothers — they need to know that there is a place they can be."

Mothers and sons: a special bond

MWSIPPhotoTony Kokol, former inmate of Bowden Institution, holds a picture of his mother who lives in Edmonton.

Photo by: Melissa Molloy
Tony Kokol, a former inmate of the Bowden Institution, knows all too well what his prison sentence meant to his own mother.

"Every crime is a selfish decision. Any time someone is committing a crime, they are not thinking about their mother. That's the last person they are thinking about," Kokol says, his dark eyes downcast, reliving the painful memories.

"But when that hardened tough guy is in prison, his mother is the first person he thinks about. Once the dust settles, and the door slams and he is in that cell and the sound of the ring of the metal door gets quiet — and he is sitting on the edge of the bed with his head in his hands — it is his mom he is thinking about."

A missing piece

Correctional Services Canada Media Relations Officer Christa McGregor says that "inmates are encouraged to have positive family relationships" while incarcerated.

"One way of accomplishing this is by having private family visitations," McGregor says.

For the broken-hearted mother though, Mothers With Sons In Prison fills a very specific void.

"We are not an organization for the prisoners. We are here for the mothers. MWSIP is a place where there is empathy and no judgment," Black says.

Still, MWSIP also provides services that will ensure communication between mother and son while he is locked away — including "transportation for mothers who have no means of visiting their sons and care packages," among other services listed on the website.

Mothers helping mothers

When Black hears from a mother who has just found the organization, she immediately thinks,

"I want her to know that we are there for her. No matter what mood or predicament she is in. If she doesn't have Internet, she can call a 1-800 number, and she can visit the website.

"There are organizations that provide family support, but only Mothers With Sons In Prison provides a venue for mothers to communicate with other mothers."

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Deb 19.09.2014 10:41  
Heart hurts   My son who is 25 been in jail 10 months just left to start his 20 do 12 he has never been to prison he has been in and out of jail mostly probation violation but this time they wanted to make an example of him his sentence is craZy but my heart is broke and I just don't know what to do I haven't heard from him since he left county jail and worried sick  
Elle 19.09.2014 19:13  
comfort   I feel for you Deb. My heart hurts too. I have an 18 year old who wouldn't listen to a thing I said and was in and out of juvenile for lesser infractions and is now in Remand, has been there for 4 months now and is definitely in there until January with a possible 6 years in front of him.

Just when I think I can handle this and I'm dealing with it, despite the dreams of trying to help him, I break down into a cry that sounds foreign even to me. It sounds more like an animal than a human, the pain goes so deep. :(
ivy 19.05.2014 17:13  
The Judge said LIFE in Prison to my son and ME!   They said it was an accident..and then the judge said life in prison! I was speechless...and just could not believe it. The gun accident happened on Friday night and by Tuesday 10am, my son was sentenced to life in prison. My heart is till pulsating. They said they would reverse the plea because it was an accident. We have been waiting 8 years for the plea reversal hearing. In Justice in the justice system.
$100,000.00 dollars, it would be al over!
Susan Meyer 16.04.2014 13:10  
Son going to prison today   My son had no history of criminal activity...he was an honor student in high school.. Voted most valuable pitcher his sophomore year..Worked in a coffee shop in high school..Then a valet at The Mission Inn in Riverside..He took a real estate class in RCC...Worked for my brothers mortgage company as a janitor hoping to learn loan processing but left to get experience at another company then returned to my brothers mortgage company where he was usually the #1 loan officer of the month...He married at21 with a daughter 3 months old... Income around $20,000 monthly...then the market dropped by then he had 2 children... Continued in the loan business...He is a wonderful loving man always there for you...Started robbing banks 12/20/2011 when he didn't have enough money for the bills, he continued doing this 12 more times until he was caught... Will serve 9years 8 months in state prison:(  
Sophia 02.06.2013 04:39  
A bond that doesnt break   Heartbroken and at a loss.. I know. Im so heartbroken. I'm empty. I miss him very much dispite the bad choices he has made. He is my first born. With him gone I realise just how deep my love is for him. I question myself.. all the difficult teenage years. Did I make the right choices. All I know is I did the best I could at the time. I am angry at his father for not loving him enough ad the pain it left him with. If things had been different maybe we would not be here today. All I know is I will never give up on him becoming the person he was meant to be.  
Elle 19.09.2014 19:17  
i can relate   I could have written this.

If you want to exchange emails please feel free to write to me. I don't know what to do either. When I think I can handle this, weeks later I break down and I'm a broken mess inside (and out for a time). I don't agree with what he did and despite him saying he did nothing, I know he had to have done some of it or he wouldn't be where he is - but he is still my son and this is not the life I saw for him when I carried him, when I raised him. I taught him better than this and yet, here we are. I can't do anything to help him. I can't save him, I can't fix him because I don't know why he does these things or why he wouldn't listen to me or follow the example I set.

I'm heart broken too.
linda 08.12.2014 22:13  
son   I feel the I can't or shouldn't go through each day with a can I act normal? My son will be sentenced next week, I feel like I am also going to prison...we all hated every kind of drug and what happened? Why does he see this as "not his fault" when he chose it? Most of the time I wish I could go away to a place where I can cry and pray and wait...I love him, I hurt, I don't understand...and yet I want and pray to believe and trust that there will be a good out of all of this.  
jennie 27.10.2014 17:36  
son in prison   First time on this site, needed some support today. Have a lump in my throat and feeling so pissed at my only son. He has been incarcerated for 3 months now on a felony drug charge. Got a 4 year sentence but the judge said he would look again in 6 months and possibly let him out. Had a great life! Good grades, varsity sports, loving family. Lived on his own, had a decent job with benefits and paying for college classes...then all of a sudden BAM! Picked a box of "X" up from the post office for $550 and off to prison and a felony charge on his record. Im shocked, embarassed, disappointed and mostly pissed!! Lying to just about everyone as to where he is, pretending everything is ok. I almost feel like i need antidepressants or maybe something for an ulcer. Could really use someone to talk to who understands. Thanks for listening. Jennie-Ohio  
Lisa Negrete 11.03.2013 06:43  
2 sons in prison one looking at life   I really need some help. I am at loss for words and can't seem to move forward. My son's have been in and out of prison since they were 14 years old, they are now 28 and 29. My heart is broken. Their criminal behavior has always been drug and alchol related. My 28 year old son is now looking at life in prison for attempted murder while he was under the influence. I am lost and need help from someone who knows my pain and how to survive. Thank you  
pamela 21.11.2013 13:07  
  the pain of a son in prison can only be understood by mothers going throu the same thing  

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