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Incarcerated mothers and their families face deep challenges

When mother is released from incarceration, she often faces major difficulties transitioning back into her family and community.

Especially for the falsely accused, there’s the even more complex and damaging challenge of understanding and accepting the experience of having been imprisoned in the first place.

In a St. Louis Public Radio interview, Shannon Cooper-Sadlo, a professor in the Saint Louis University School of Social Work, discussed her findings about the psychological and social impact on mothers of incarceration and reintegration.

Getting back to normal life

Professor Cooper-Sadlo finds there are often too few resources devoted to helping people, especially mothers, reintegrate into life outside of prison.

Basic needs like food and housing can be more difficult to meet after prison than before. It’s usually too hard to find quality, affordable psychological counselling and family therapy, two areas that must be integrated or neither will succeed.

Integration is also often complicated by short-sighted and unsympathetic views of what being a “good mother” sometimes requires.

Sacrificing the relationship to protect the children

Mothers often recognize prison is no place for a child to see, much less to visit their incarcerated mother. Visiting mom can be terrifying, confusing and can cause stressful setbacks in the child’s own struggle to stay integrated with normal life outside.

These mothers often focus on leaving the children in capable hands and carefully limiting their interactions with them.

Reclaiming motherhood

Anyone who’s taken on the burden of caring for the children while the mother was locked up might not understand and thyte often resent the mother’s attempts to reclaim the role of mother.

As can the children. Children adapt to their circumstances, and a reunification with their mother can be another stressful transition.

Cooper-Sadlo has encountered formerly incarcerated mothers who can’t forgive their children for what feels like rejection and never complete the needed repair work on the relationship.

Success doeshappen and can happen

These effects can be lessened by stronger support from institutions, communities and families.

“When given the opportunity and given the resources and people having faith in them and having hope in them, they have gone on to do great things,” Cooper-Sadlo says.

“They take care of their grandchildren, they take care of their ailing parents, they want to go back into the community and help other women.”

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