A small group gazed up at the dark fourth-floor windows of the Charlotte T. Zietlow Justice Center on Sunday afternoon, holding signs they wrote for women on the other side.
“Celebrate all mothers today,” one sign read in multi-colored marker.
The “Mama’s Day Vigil and Banner Drop for incarcerated survivors” was put on by Middle Way House and Re-entry Collective at New Leaf-New Life. Middle Way House is a local domestic violence and sexual assault support center, and Re-entry Collective is a program to help individuals with re-entry into society after incarceration.
The group stood for two hours hoping as many women as possible would see them.
Sarah Hunt, outreach communications coordinator for Middle Way House, said incarceration is often related to abuse, whether by coercion into violence or dependence on an abuser.
“So many of them are there because of the violence they’ve experienced,” she said.
People commonly develop addictions as a means of coping with violence, Hunt said. Sometimes that addiction is enabled by an abuser.
“You’re much easier to control if you’re dependent on a substance your abuser provides you,” she said.
Two-thirds of female state prisoners are mothers of a minor child, and more than 1.5 million children have a parent in prison, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
According to a 2016 report by the Vera Institute of Justice, 86% of incarcerated women experienced sexual violence.
Middle Way House organizes other regular events to support incarcerated survivors of sexual violence such as partnering with several other organizations on a monthly letter writing event to incarcerated survivors and leading a weekly support group in the Monroe County Jail.
Lindsey Badger and her daughter Ani brought a banner and posters on Sunday. Badger is a Prevention Program Coordinator at Middle Way House and said she has been holding signs in front of the Monroe County Jail for the past 10 Mother’s Days.
Badger’s daughter colored in a heart on a sign. She presented it to her mom before handing it to another women to hold. They stood smiling.
Maggie Bott volunteers for the Re-entry Collective at the Monroe County Jail every other Sunday. She typically works with five people to prepare plans for after they get out of jail. Today she planned something different.
After posting on Twitter that she planned to buy Mother’s Day gifts for incarcerated women, people sent donations which she used to purchase shampoo, conditioner, body wash, deodorant, soap and candy bars to give out as prizes in a bingo game.
Before she volunteered at the jail Sunday she held a sign with the message “We love all mamas” in one hand as she sipped coffee with the other.
Bott said incarcerated women often tell her it’s difficult to be away from their children on Mother’s Day.
“Even though they can’t be with their kids today, they’re still being thought of,” she said.
Erin Hollinden, events coordinator for Middle Way House, held a sign that said “Happy mama’s day / we remember u” next to her daughter Lily.
“I was always looking for something more meaningful to do than go out to lunch,” Hollinden said.
Several people honked at the group as they zoomed down North College Avenue.
“Awesome!” one man yelled.
Sometimes loud banging noises rang from the top floors of the justice building.
Badger said this banging is a common communication strategy. People have told her they use their breakfast cups to make noises because there’s a big gap between the window and the screen on it.
Today the sound signaled victory for the volunteers: messages received.
CORRECTION: A caption for a photo attached to this article misidentified the amount of time Lindsey Badger has worked for Middle Way House.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled Maggie Bott's last name. The IDS regrets these errors.
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