As told to Emily Andrews by Isis González
One of my dreams as a young girl was for my mom to give me a quinceañera—a special celebration for my 15th birthday. That dream disappeared when she committed her crime.
Before that, Mom never had a criminal record. Not even a speeding ticket. She was hardworking, but she had a drinking problem. Her marriage to my stepfather was her third, and there was lots of physical abuse. There were bruises on her arms the day she shot him to death.
We’d had family members in jail for misdemeanors, but when your mom goes to prison, it transforms your whole life.
A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
My sisters and I went to live with my biological father and his large family in a two-bedroom apartment. Our tiny home was five or six hours from where my mom was incarcerated in Chowchilla. I got to see her twice a year, and we would write letters at least once a month. She was very aware of what was going on in our lives—that I was popular at school, a great singer, and a gifted athlete.
I may have been the fastest runner in Orange County, California, but I couldn’t run away from the pain I felt having my mom in prison. I lost count of the holidays we celebrated without Mom. The longer she was away, the angrier I became. I grew up with a lot of hate in my heart. My 15th birthday wouldn’t be what I once dreamed of.
But Christmas that year was better than I could have imagined because of Prison Fellowship®’s Angel Tree®. A volunteer showed up at the door and delivered Christmas gifts to us from Mom—accessories and a Barbie doll for my sisters, and a purple tie-dye shirt for me. I was surprised and emotional when I found out our mom had signed us up for this program. We didn’t have much money, and at that point, we sometimes didn’t even want to talk to her.
Angel Tree helped me to see my mom in a different light. I realized she really was thinking about us at a time as important as Christmas. I could appreciate how much she loved us, and how sorry she was. And I believed God was working on her heart.
When track season came, I wore that tie-dyed shirt to practice. And I would remember my mom.
THE DOOR TO HOPE
Angel Tree—what a beautiful way to open the church’s doors to a hurting community! I had actually started going to church with my cousin a year before Angel Tree showed up, so that’s how I started to know the Lord. I think He was preparing my heart for Angel Tree way back then.
My mom came to know the Lord, too, through Prison Fellowship® and its programs. As our relationship was mending, I kept urging her to go to church. And soon that was all she did. She preached and sang at that prison in Chowchilla, and she helped lead a Spanish-speaking ministry there. Other women even started calling her “Mom.” When I would visit, and the ladies found out I was her daughter, I was so proud to tell them yes.
My mother was released in April 2017. Continuing to rebuild our relationship after her release hasn’t been easy; it’s a process. I’m 42, married, working as a school teacher, and pursuing a doctorate in education. I live a very busy life, but I do speak to her twice a week and visit her once a month. I am so proud of how she is following God today. She and my brother-in-law are pastoring a church together called Fe Y Esperanza—Faith and Hope.
I love my mom, and I’ve forgiven her. Now I serve as an Angel Tree volunteer with my church so that other families can experience healing through Christ. I want them to know God is ready to walk with them, just like He has walked with me for all these years.
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FROM STUMBLING BLOCKS TO BUILDING BLOCKS
Susan blamed her mother for everything that went wrong in her life. Until Prison Fellowship Academy taught her about forgiveness.