Mother’s Day made special at female institutions

get on the bus ccwf_0060

A mother incarcerated at Central California Women’s Facility hugs her son during Get on the Bus.

Mothers, children reunite for special visiting events

By Kristina Khokhobashvili, CDCR Public Information Officer
Photos by Eric Owens, CDCR Photographer

Mother’s Day was always especially difficult for Iyasmine Harris. While incarcerated in county jail, she gave birth to her son, Eddie. He went to live with family the day he was born, and, financial and geographical difficulties made visiting nearly impossible when she was sentenced to state prison. But thanks to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and the Get On The Bus program, Harris was able to hold her son for the first time, two years after his birth.

A mother incarcerated at Central California Women's Facility plays with her child.

A mother incarcerated at Central California Women’s Facility plays with her child.

“I’m very grateful for the volunteer who raised money just to get us here today,” Harris said, an enthusiastic Eddie bouncing in her arms in the visiting area of Central California Women’s Facility. “Because there are other mothers like me who haven’t had a chance to have a physical visit with their son.”

Get On The Bus is a project of the Center for Restorative Justice Works. Each year, CRJW provides free transportation to state and federal prisons for children to visit their incarcerated parents. Each child is accompanied by a caregiver, and counseling is available, as well. Throughout the day, families participate in fun activities like crafts and board games, with plenty of time set aside for catching up and having heart-to-heart talks.

“These children need to see their mom,” said Amalia Molina, Executive Director for Get On The Bus. “It’s the right thing to do. They are paying a price for a crime they did not commit.”

CDCR strongly supports visitation, as keeping family bonds strong is an important way to break the cycle of incarceration. CCWF Warden Deborah K. Johnson stated, “Each incarcerated mother seeing their children gives them a reason to stay positive and make healthy choices.

They want to be a role model for their families, especially their children. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity – it’s great to see the parents spending time with their families.”

The week before CCWF’s special visiting day, the California Institution for Women hosted 141 children visiting 35 incarcerated mothers. CDCR’s third and final female institution, Folsom Women’s Facility, will hold a Get on the Bus event July 18. Father’s Day events are held in June at several male institutions.

A mother and daughter get a chance to visit at California Institution for Women.

A mother and daughter get a chance to visit at California Institution for Women.

Get On The Bus is 99 percent made possible by volunteers, Molina said. Their efforts go year-round, from fundraising for transportation and food to interviewing families and riding the bus to and from the institutions. Sheila Byrd, Harris’ mother, said she was unable to make it to the Get On The Bus pickup location the morning of the event and volunteers quickly made sure she found transportation in time to catch the bus.

“We appreciate it so much,” she said. “They are such a big help to us. If you don’t have a way, they’ll make sure you get a way.”

“I’m ecstatic!” beamed Erica Devine as she played games with her sons. “It has been 13 months since I’ve seen them. I’m overwhelmed.”

Devine’s mother and sons traveled from Yucca Valley, some 350 miles from CCWF. They were able to catch one of the buses in San Bernardino, at no cost to her or her family.

“I think it’s great,” said Devine, who will go home soon. “It gives me a chance to reconnect with them and re-bond with them before I go home – it gives me an opportunity to connect with them in a place that I know is safe.”

Did you know?

Father’s Day visiting events will take place in June at California Men’s Colony, San Quentin State Prison, Correctional Training Facility and Salinas Valley State Prison. Additional Get On The Bus events will take place in July at Folsom State Prison, California State Prison-Sacramento and Folsom Women’s Facility. For more information, visit www.getonthebus.us.

Volunteers make it possible for the Get on the Bus events, such as the one at California Institution for Women.

Volunteers make it possible for the Get on the Bus events, such as the one at California Institution for Women.

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