My friend, Nicole Gregory, has written a story for Good Housekeeping about Get on the Bus, an amazing program I have been a part of for 5 years. This year Get on the Bus will take over 1,000 kids to see their parents on Mother’s/Father’s Day. You can read it all here but here are some excerpts.
For many American kids, Mother’s Day means getting up early to prepare breakfast in bed for Mom, perhaps with a bud vase of roses on the side. But for 25 or so sleepy boys and girls in Los Angeles, the day starts in a very different way. Well before dawn, the children — a few still in pajamas or wrapped in blankets — shuffle into a church and prepare for the five-hour trip to see their moms. For some, it will be the only time this year they’ve seen their mothers; for a few of the younger ones, it may be the first chance they’ve ever had to really meet their moms. What unites these children is that their mothers are state prison inmates in Chowchilla, CA, 260 miles away.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the Get on the Bus program is the brainchild of Sister Suzanne Jabro, C.S.J., a Los Angeles nun, who discovered a hard fact when working with prisoners: “Nobody visits women in prison,” says Jabro, with her characteristic no-nonsense manner. “Their men have left,” she explains, “and the children live with relatives who can’t drive, can’t afford the gas, or can’t manage a carful of kids.”
As part of her job in the Office of Restorative Justice for the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Jabro, with other members of an interfaith delegation, visited Chowchilla to find out how to help female inmates, most of whom are serving time for nonviolent, drug-related offenses. “Oh, we had all kinds of ideas,” she says with a self-deprecating laugh. “But when we stopped and asked them what they wanted, they said, ‘To see my kids.’ One woman told me, ‘Please help me. I can’t live without touching my child.’ Some of them hadn’t seen their children for four to nine years. The guards weren’t even aware these women had children.” What Jabro knew in her heart — that reuniting these broken families could have intense emotional benefits — has been borne out by research. In fact, a recent study in the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency found that inmates who have contact with their families are less likely to be rearrested once they’re released.
Although the families have only a few hours together, the lasting impact of that time can’t be underestimated, says Jabro. “When people think they’re forgotten, then they give up on themselves,” she explains. “What we’re about is restoring connections and healing relationships between parents and children. And in some cases, the caretakers are angry at what the women in prison did, and they need healing, too. Everyone says rehabilitation is great, but without access to one another, how will this happen?”
The minimal contact that Get on the Bus provides can make a major difference, says Jabro, recalling the first Mother’s Day outing. “One 17-year-old girl had been in foster placement and hadn’t seen her mother in nine years,” she says. “When they met, her mother just held her and stroked her hair.” Jabro wasn’t sure how powerful that reunion had been until the mother was released from prison. “The mom got a minimum wage job, but she gave 10 percent of her pay to Get on the Bus for a year. Seeing her daughter meant that much to her — it inspired her so deeply that she wanted to share it.”
And there are pictures here too.