when your mother kills someone

Do not forget those who are in prison.  Remember them as if you were in prison with them. 

Hebrews 13:3


When your mother kills someone, some things happen just like they do in the movies.  

The police come and so do reporters. You really do see her on the evening news. Friends you hadn’t heard from in years start calling. There really is a trial with a lawyer that you think believes in her. He does pat her hand as she lays her head on his shoulder when the jury says, “Guilty.” And, they really do say “guilty”, but with a whole lot of other stuff as well. They say “not guilty,” too.  But, ultimately, they say, “Guilty.” Immediately, they take your mother to the county jail so she can catch the first bus to prison. All your friends stop calling. 

The first time I saw Nada in the orange jumpsuit, I was surprised at how stylish she’d made it. No kidding. How’d she do it? Was it the long-sleeved white t-shirt she’d worn beneath it? Was it the cornrows in her hair? I couldn’t put my finger on it. But just as usual, she looked stunning. Orange always was such a good color on her. 

When you visit your mother down at the county jail, some things happen that you never saw in the movies. Like, in the movies, there are never any children or mothers or fathers. In the movies there are only criminals, guilty and innocent.  There are wardens in movies, too. But, they never greet you when you visit. In the movies, there are disheveled lawyers carrying briefcases stuffed with objections bursting at the seams. When you visit you mother, searching for a lawyer will be like searching for Waldo—all the patterns blur and you can’t tell one from another. You’re disappointed. You would like to see the mechanics of justice in action. You were longing to witness the wheels of justice in perpetual motion, longing to receive some sort of reassurance that your mother’s guilty verdict was right and true.  

In the movies, they skip over the fact that Nada won’t get to keep the jumpsuit. It stays behind and gets washed, pressed, ready for the next mother. You have to bring a set of clothes for her to wear for the bus ride down to the state pen, else she’ll have to go dressed up in the nice suit and blouse and heels she wore in court. You know this because after the verdict your mother will call—yes, she gets to call you—and she will say, “Listen baby, bring me some clothes and a pair of shoes to wear out there. Nothing cute. I can’t go in there looking all cute.” She would have already made some friends who will tell her so. You can’t imagine how relieved you will be to hear her say, “friend….” You hadn’t counted on her making friends. In the movies, jail cells only hold enemies. You will start to hope for her to be assigned a nice roommate. Perhaps, you think, another mother. 

Here’s another thing the movies miss: it will be the last time you see your mother, maybe forever. More than likely not, but you never know. So, my advice is for you to choose your last image of her wisely. Choose what seems fitting but hopeful. Don’t choose the way she smiled in her jumpsuit, standing behind the glass. I said hopeful.  

Here’s what I chose: My mother’s silver head all tied down in rows. Behind the glass between us, her eyes catch mine staring at the tweed weave of black, silver and gray. She glides her hand over her woven head, laughs and says, “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness. Proverbs 16:31, baby. Look it up.” 

I envisioned her woven crown for days and weeks and months after the transfer from county to state prison. Even after the first year served, I see her crown and try to search through the muddle of black over silver under gray for specks of glory. 

When your mother kills someone, long after all the food boxes are sent and all those visits are confused with other memories, when you lost all her scattered letters, your mother comes home again. You catch a glimpse of her head adorned with radiant light that gleams her blacks days, her gray moods, her silver linings.

Marcie Walker