This isn’t my story. This is a story of unwavering passion and determination. This is a story of a mother’s love.
When my son went to prison, I went with him, not physically of course, but emotionally. He had just turned 22, 4 days before he was sentenced to 15 years in Georgia on a non-parole eligible offense. Not coming home until 2026. He will be 36, best years of his life, gone.
A profound and deep grief came over me that was hard to shake. I felt so alone. I was stumbling blindly through a maze of confusion. As so many mothers do, I turned to alcohol to numb the pain. I couldn’t get out of bed some days, got fired from my job and strained my marriage thin. My son’s sentence literally turned my family’s world upside down.
Where were the people who could help me help my son? How do I navigate this beast alone? I sunk deeper and deeper into depression. I was giving up.
Then I met Tori, Michelle, Rotunda, Wesley, Dena, Edward, Mazzetti, Darion, Ana, Nolan, Jimmy, James, Kevin, Deanna, Sierra, Tricia, Dena, Brandon, Diane, Maurice, Linda and hundreds of others, just like me and my son. Families torn apart by “the system.”
These families inspired me to act, I was no longer afraid. I turned my anger into advocacy, my alcohol into action and became a voice for the voiceless.
I was particularly inspired by Rotunda Nelson. I met her in the prison line while waiting to go in to visit our sons. We began talking and told each other our stories. They were so similar. Our sons were only 3 months apart in age. They both had armed robbery charges. Neither had a weapon or stole anything. The difference was her son went to prison at the age of 15.
Rotunda was battling this alone, her health deteriorated, she became depressed and angry, but she never gave up. She was an unwavering force for Wesley, his light and his hope the entire 11 years he was in prison.
Through her pain I learned of what we do to 15-year-old boys of color. Things I never believed could happen in my country had been happening to her and her family for 8 long years.
She gave me the strength I needed to fight for what I knew was right. I gave her the place to tell her story. We became Momma Bears, a name that stuck with all the mother’s we encountered.
Stories like Rotunda’s are what began my life’s work, helping the families who love someone in prison navigate the system and advocate for their loved one. This is no easy task.
I had no money to start and no rule book to go by.
I used whatever resources I could, from social media posts to showing up in political arenas and attending conferences and meetings all over the country. Whatever I had to do, I did. Where ever I had to go, I went. It wasn’t about my son anymore. It was about the 2.5 million sons and daughters that live in our prisons today.
Has it been easy, no, have I tried to give up, yes. But whenever I felt down a call would come in a desperate family needing help. Like the call from Anne.
She was trying to get wheelchair parts for her incarcerated son. He is a double amputee and the warden was saying she couldn’t do it, that he would get a state issued chair. What I learned was that double amputees need a special wheelchair to prevent tipping over. The prison didn’t care, but I did. One call was all it took to get her the help she needed.
Then there were the sweet smiling faces of the children in the visitation room, how could I turn my back on them? The tears from a broken mother’s eyes, just like mine, they needed me. And most importantly the men and women who needed my strength to survive the relentless journey of incarceration.
As my strength grow, I began to attract an army of families and a team of volunteers. A company was born out of the grass roots, boots to the ground work that began as a result of the trauma my family went through.
The National Incarceration Association (NIA) is 2 ½ years old now. This was where God wanted me all along. There is nothing more powerful than a mother’s love, especially when she learns she is not alone.
I found my peace.
Kate Boccia is the Founder and CEO of The National Incarceration Association, Inc. A 501c3 nonprofit based out of Georgia. www.JoinNIA.com