Happy birthday, Mom

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An inmate in protective custody asks for help to wish his mom a happy birthday.

'Mom' spray painted on cement.

Things that are often taken for granted on the outside become especially important in prison. (Photo by John Carleton)

Whenever we are in the visiting room and they call count (in order to make sure everybody is where they are supposed to be), all of the offenders go into a hallway and the staff does a head count. During a visit with my mom last week, we were called out for count. Right after count and right before we went back out into the visiting room, one of the offenders stopped the rest of us in the Impact of Crime on Victims Class (ICVC), saying “Hey, it’s my mom’s birthday, and staff is going to announce it over the PA system. Would you guys sing “Happy Birthday” to her?”

I thought it was really awesome that he did this for a couple of reasons, one of which calls for some additional explanation. The guys in protective custody (PC), which is where this guy is, have to sign forms before they go to the visiting room, saying that they agree to go into a situation where there are general population offenders present. A similar thing is done in order for those of us in general population to facilitate an ICVC class for protective custody inmates. Having spent some time in PC myself, I think there can be a collective low sense of self-worth among these guys, as if general population ranks higher in some kind of penitentiary hierarchy. So I thought that for this guy to stop a bunch of dudes that he didn’t know to ask them this was really brave.

Anyway, we went back into the visiting room, and a little while later they made this announcement over the intercom. People started singing “Happy Birthday” to this complete stranger, and it was really a great moment. The birthday mom and her family were sitting there playing some card game while this was going on, and a couple of times, while she was blushing, she covered her face with her cards in embarrassment, but you could see this slight smile on her face and you could tell she was pleased (and surprised!).

This is weird—as I’m recounting this to you, it is bringing tears to my eyes because it was just so cool to witness and to be a part of.