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Prison journalist Dawan Ingram and his mother pose for a photo together
Photo courtesy of Dawan Ingram

For weeks I had hoped for a visit with my mother, but each week my hopes were electrocuted by New Jersey State Prison officials.

I lost my sister and aunt to COVID-19 complications. But I still had my mother, and it had been three years since I’d been able to see her — all I wanted was a hug.

As COVID-19 subsided, NJSP adopted a new policy that requires family members to call to schedule a visit. 

I called home one day and was surprised to hear from close family members who aren't usually in town. The unexpected love and concern intensified the yearning for a hug, which I felt deep in my heart and hid from my fellow prisoners. I was anxious throughout the call. But when my mother finally told me, “We're coming to see you this weekend,” the anxiety subsided and was replaced with excitement.

Then I informed her that she’d have to call the prison to schedule a visit.

I went about my usual routine, with the anticipation of seeing my mother hovering in the back of my mind. Unable to contain my excitement, I began peppering people with questions. Were there any problematic officers bothering inmate families? Would I have to be strip-searched ahead of my visit?

I called home again a few days later to verify that someone had contacted the prison to schedule the visit. My mother said she did, but she had bad news. Prison officials had hung up on her multiple times, she said. I felt defeated and angry and like I would never see or hug my mother again. I fought back tears that night and struggled to sleep. I tried to be hopeful that things would work out the following week.

As I waited, I was tortured by my own pessimistic thoughts. The successful visits of other people’s families irritated me; just hearing the word “visit” was enough to make me feel anxious and frustrated.

The next time I called my mother, I expected the same old song and dance, but to my amazement the first thing my mother said was, “I talked to them a-holes at that prison, and I told them that what they are doing is not right. They should not be treating people like that, and the lady let me schedule the visit for this Sunday.”

The week passed and Sunday rolled around again. I was intensely aware of the hours clicking by, and I was worried about getting my hopes up only to have them shattered again.

I called my mother early that morning, not knowing what to expect. But when she accepted the call and began to speak, I almost dropped the phone. “Boy, what the hell are you doing calling me? We are at the prison about to come in to see you.” I hung up the phone so fast I don’t remember my response. I looked at my watch and started to panic. I rushed to the shower to get ready.

“Finally!” I thought to myself. “After three long years, letdowns, heartaches and sleepless nights, I will get the chance to hug my mother!”

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Dawan Ingram is a writer incarcerated in New Jersey.