Get on the bus

by Sara Olson, CCWF
Who has the right to be a mother in the United States? Are women who are incarcerated ?fallen women,? examples of the patriarchal version of the Garden of Eden story and ineligible for motherhood? Do we feel love for our children? Do we miss them like women who have never been to prison? Yes. We do.
Most of the prisoners at CCWF are mothers. On Friday, May 12, 2006, CCWF hosted the annual Get On the Bus (GOTB) Day, reuniting 143 women prisoners with our children and loved ones to honor Mother’s Day. GOTB Day is organized by Catholic dioceses throughout the state, along with several other charitable organizations. The churches raise money to pay for the buses, breakfast and dinner meals en route both ways, food in the Visiting Center for inmates and guests, a gift tote bag of art materials for each child and two Polaroid photos. They also help the kids come by paying for identification, birth certificates and notary services. The organizing inside the prison is spear-headed by Ms. Hansen of Friends Outside, a self-help group working both in- and outside of California prisons.
On the big day, inmates come to the gym on the Main Yard. The night before, we receive ducats (an in-prison appointment pass) on the three facility yards for 9 AM. As the buses arrive (usually between 10-11 AM), women are called to the Visiting Center to meet with their children and other loved ones. The visits last until 3:30 PM. We share a meal of hot dogs, chips, soda pop and ice cream. Besides the art tote bag, this year the kids were able to choose a book or two and a Pound Puppy provided by members of the Inmate Family Council.
The week before the event, the mothers write a letter telling our children how much we enjoyed the visit. Then these letters are distributed on the bus ride home. The children tell Mom how thrilled they were to read them!
After the visit inmate mothers, like all who get a visit, are strip-searched. We are allowed to bring one Polaroid photo back to our rooms. It’s a magical time even though moms can’t bring back the cards our children made during the visit or, if the kids have drawn a creative handprint on mom’s shirt, mom may be threatened with a write-up for “destroying State property”. No matter. It’s worth it.
Get On the Bus Day is the only time most mothers see our children each year. It’s a precious gift, but it’s hardly enough. Many mothers are lifers or very long-termers and are denied the right to overnight visits with our children. In 1994 California outlawed Family Visits (FLU) for lifers, and later this cruel law was extended to all Close A and Close B (Closed Custody) inmates.
Children of prisoners and we, their moms, need to see each other more often. We want more GOTB Days, restoration of Family Visits for lifers, and a reduction in the Close Custody designation. In prison or not, for a woman who is a mother, every day is Mother’s Day.