Program Keeps Mothers, Daughters Together

On the first Saturday of every month, something special happens at the Linda Woodman State Jail in Gatesville, Texas.

But it begins in a church parking lot in Dallas.

A group of girls board a bus at 8 a.m. armed with blankets and cell phones for a two hour pilgrimage to Woodman.

The inmates waiting for them there are their mothers.

For the prisoners, this one Saturday a month is like Heaven on Earth; four uninterrupted hours of routine-breaking bliss.

The girls come prepared to see, touch and smell their mothers — something other kids get to do every day.

When they meet again, it can be awkward: it's hard to know your mother when she's been in prison for months, years or even most of your life — but that's where this program helps, says the woman behind it all.

"I couldn't imagine being nine or 10 and my mom being in prison,” said Brittany Barnett-Byrd, who calls her program “Girls Embracing Mothers,” or GEM.

It gives the moms and daughters something to look forward to,” she said. “It adds a layer of accountability to the moms. To be able to participate in the program, you have to be on good behavior. Also, for the girls, it just gives them that one-on-one time with their moms."

“Children with incarcerated parents are more likely than others to enter the criminal justice system as well. So, our motto is, “Breaking the cycle, building the bond.” We want to prevent a future generation of girls from entering prison and we want to prevent their moms from coming back."

The day is spent on crafts, building self-esteem, conversation and catching up.

"I get to see my mom more often,” said one girl, named Jenaiya. “We get to bond and see what's going on in each other's lives.

Even lunch together is something special. During a regular visitation, they’d only get snacks. And these meals are often home-cooked.

"They love their moms no matter what. At the end of the day they're still Mama. They're not bad women — they just made bad choices."

Nadia Kerr and her sister, Kristen are from Fort Worth. Both are in prison, but housed at different locations. They are bused to Woodman to spend time with their children together. Nadia has two girls; Kristen has one.

“I look forward to these days,” said Kristen Kerr. “And a lot of times looking forward to these days are the only things that keep me going. Staying out of trouble, self–control. It’s come to these visits.”

“Before this program I can say I was not the model inmate,” said Nadia Kerr. “I was having a hard time. A "bad actor" they called it. And then this came in.”

"It helps me to see that I can still be with them, even though I'm not with them, Nadia said.

Nadia is just 32-years-old, and in May 2017 will have spent 7 years in prison. Her daughters were ages one and 4 when she was locked up.

"I still have ‘til 2020 before I see parole,” she said, in tears.

Without GEM, she'd hardly know them.

Also on this trip: first timers — Patricia Lopez and daughter, Breanna. Patricia is three years in, with three years left before seeing parole.

“I want for her to feel that I  care and I love her so much and I don't want for us to be separated for so long,” Lopez said.

And Deidre Mason, who wants to stay involved with the program once she is paroled – which is happening soon.

"I’m excited to come back and participate and just let other moms know we can do it together,” Mason said.

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