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May is for Mothers

Though Mother’s Day 2021 has come and gone, it’s important for us to use this time to recognize some of the mothers who often slip between the cracks. Yes, we’re talking about incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women. While the group is often harshly stigmatized, it is important to recognize how poverty, addiction, and trauma intersect with crime — and that just because someone has endured time behind bars or battled an addiction, that doesn’t mean they can’t be a good parent.

It’s hard to raise a child behind bars, and it’s hard to rebuild a relationship with one’s child post-incarceration. In honor of all the mother’s trying to make it work despite unjust circumstances, let’s talk about motherhood and incarceration.

Skyrocketing Incarceration Rates
With the rate of incarceration for women growing at twice the rate for that of men, it’s no wonder that a great deal of inmates are also mothers. In fact, 60% of women in prison and 80% of women in jail have children. An estimated 25% of women who will be incarcerated each year are either pregnant or have a child under 1 year of age. These women are also more likely to be put in the unique and difficult position of being a single parent.

The fact of the matter, though, is this: jails and prisons were not designed with women in mind and are still not equipped to handle women’s health issues, trauma, or the complexities of their familial roles. Additionally, there are often underlying issues such as abuse and sexual violence that often intersect with the crimes that land them behind bars. The resulting trauma also goes untreated and can affect their relationships post-incarceration.

The Effect on Incarcerated Women
Being a mother is a tough job, and it can be even tougher when women have to do that job behind bars. Incarcerated mothers experience increased levels of psychological stress and sometimes find themselves putting their own health behind that of their children. The financial stress of being a parent — especially when one is a single mother — leave little room to explore costly addiction treatment programs. Additionally, it is difficult to maintain strong relationships with one’s children during lock up. While some jails/prisons allow plenty of visitations, many more do not. Research shows, however, that the recidivism rate dropped 26% for female prisoners that received regular visits from their children.

The Effect on Child Development
Having a parent locked up can also take a serious toll on a child — especially when it’s the child’s mother behind bars. In the US, 5 million children have had a parent jailed or imprisoned. Many of these children find themselves swept up in the foster care system, which can cause long-term damage. While foster care is supposed to be temporary, the average child spends two years in the system. Children who spend time in the foster care system are more likely to experience homelessness, abuse and sexual exploitation, and incarceration than their peers.

Becoming a Mom in Incarceration
While many women are already mothers prior to incarceration, there is also the potential for women to be jailed or imprisoned while pregnant, which can lead to health complications and additional heartache. An estimated 12,000 pregnant women are incarcerated every year. Many women find themselves sent back to prison/jail within 48 hours of giving birth, separated from their child mere hours after they give them their name. In addition to a lack of prenatal care available to women in jail/prisons, there are also little to no mental health resources available post-partum.

Family Reunification
Imagine being unable to hug your young child for months — or even years. Imagine missing their first steps or first day of kindergarten, their graduation or even their wedding…

This is the reality many moms behind bars face. Being separated from your children by incarceration causes division long after the fact. So many important cultural milestones can be missed — and so many memories lost — due to imprisonment. So, for many women, part of the reentry process post-incarceration includes the difficult task of family reunification. Here at Magdalene Serenity House we provide family reunification services and pride ourselves on the work we do to help women rebuild their relationships with loved ones.

But the problem is so much bigger than us.

Lack of Resources/Education
While family reunification services are vital to this population, it is also important to acknowledge the socio-economic circumstances that can lead to many of these issues in the first place. Many marginalized communities do not have access to holistic reproductive education, contraceptives, family planning resources, counseling services, affordable childcare, and maternal healthcare. We’ve already discussed how poverty plays a role in criminalization, but it’s also imperative that we see how this, in turn, can affect family relationships, child development, and some women’s’ experience with motherhood.

It’s not always hallmark cards and tulips in May. Motherhood is difficult, and it’s even more difficult when you are separated from your child and your community experiences a combination of poverty and lack of aid/resources.

As the rate of incarceration for women continues to rise, it is important that we recognize the roles these women play in their communities, in their families, and do our best to help those communities and families flourish through programs and aid.

Happy Mother’s Day.

To ALL mothers.

Author: Angelena Pierce, U of A Department of English Graduate Student

Program Achievements

  • Our residents and staff remain safe and healthy. We are grateful to be able to continue serving women who have experienced trauma, addiction, and incarceration.
  • We celebrated another program graduate. She reunited with her son in Fayetteville. A big thank you to Kristi & Trent Palmer and Shannon Mitchell for helping our team with the move!
  • One resident moved into Phase Three (the final phase) of our program.
  • We have welcomed three new women home this month!
  • One of our resident graduates achieved her certification in Pilates instruction.
  • One resident celebrated TWO years of sobriety!
  • One of our residents was able to physically reunite with her children after two years! It was a beautiful moment for all.

Updating our Program Studio

We are slowly updating and refreshing our resident spaces at MSH. We are hoping to complete a room makeover in our program studio where we hold our daily groups. We want to create a calm and serene space for our residents as they work together to heal and recover. We have put our requested items for this project on our Amazon wish list . We are also looking for volunteers who would like to to help us with painting and/or would be willing to purchase paint and painting supplies. Want to get involved or learn more? Email

A big thank you to Belle Druding, Janet Hixson, and Erin Large for helping us refresh one of our resident bedrooms last month! The room is absolutely stunning.

Volunteer Update

What an interesting year we have had to say the least! While we know we are still in a delicate state at this point in the pandemic, we are also excited to feel the light at the end of the tunnel. We have begun re-integrating volunteers back into our program and look forward to welcoming more volunteers back to MSH.

We are thrilled that our entire staff has been able to receive the vaccination and we are encouraging our residents and volunteers to do the same. We are still requiring volunteers to wear masks on the property and will require masks for both the resident and volunteer while being transported.

Volunteers are a valued member of our team and we look forward to seeing you all soon! If you are interested in getting back involved with us, please contact

Thank You for Your Support!

  • This month we had several community partners support Magdalene Serenity House.
  • Our friends at Central United Methodist Church collected a TON of household items for our program through their “Beyond Our Walls” project.
  • Volunteers from New Life Church donated their service on a Saturday to help with yard cleanup and beautification of our property!
  • Our friends on the Staff Council at the Walton College spent an afternoon freshening up our outdoor classroom with new plants.
  • Interested in doing a service project? Contact

Coming Soon!

We will be ordering t-shirts soon and will be doing giveaways on our social media pages. Make sure you follow MSH on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter to get in on the t-shirt giveaway fun!