A Get On The Bus Alumnae Has Emerged…
Get On The Bus has the same appeal as the “6 degrees of Kevin Bacon”. When I am wearing my GOTB shirt, I get into some of the most interesting conversations. Some people are just interested in what GOTB is and others have a personal story of a loved one’s incarceration. However, now since we have been in existence for 11 years, my favorite conversations are now starting to emerge: We are starting to meet successful young adults who have ridden the bus as children!!!
From a researcher prospective, this is so huge. Not only are the families of the incarcerated voiceless, but they are hidden. Having a family member incarcerated is a highly stigmatized phenomenon in our society and people, especially children, do not like to talk about it. As we know from a previous blog entry, children do better when they visit their incarcerated parents. It is so exciting to me to now be able to catch up with our previous families to find out how much better they do. That is why I am honored to highlight one of our alumnae Andrea.
Karen, our Southern California Regional Coordinator, met Andrea at a talk she was giving in the Ventura area a couple of weeks ago. At the meeting, Andrea revealed that her mother was incarcerated at Chowchilla, the prison Joe’s bus will be traveling. She said that when she was younger, Get On The Bus was her only mode of reliable transportation to visit her mother. I got a chance to connect with Andrea last week:
Maria: What happened in your life prior to your mother’s incarceration?
Andrea: I was the second oldest of 7 siblings. Growing up was rough. My father was in and out of prison. My parents were separated and my mom remarried. I always saw my mom in bad conditions- abusive/emotion relationships. In order to comfort her pain, she turned to drugs and alcohol. I always stepped forward to take care of brothers and sisters. By the time I was 7 years old, I had attended 6 different schools within a two year period because we were always moving.
Maria: When did your mother go to prison?
Andrea: She first went around 1990-91 and I was 6 or 7 years old. When she went in, we went to live with our grandmother, where we stayed for the duration of our childhood.
Maria: How long was your mother incarcerated for?
Andrea: She was in prison for 12 years.
Maria: How many times did you see your mother before Get On The Bus?
Andrea: Three or four times. My grandmother worked 3-4 jobs to make ends meet. It was too hard for her to take us to the prison because it was a long drive and then we had to wait in line for about an hour and a half. By the time we got into the prison, we only got to see her an hour.
Maria: What is it like being a visitor at a prison?
Andrea: It was very hard. There were so many documents you need to bring in order to get in and no one gives the family an official document saying any of this. We came a couple of times and we couldn’t visit because the prison was on lock down so we had to turn around and go home. There was also a lot of negativity coming from the officers. One time a male officer looked at us kids and said, “It wouldn’t surprise me if these kids ended up just like their mother.” I wanted to speak up about this, but I knew if I did, he could deny my family a visit so I said nothing. However, still to this day, I use this man’s words to do better for myself. It became fuel for me to set my goals higher and persevere.
Maria: What is it like to have a parent incarcerated?
Andrea: For years, we went without talking to my mother. We would write lots of letters, but talking on the phone was too expensive. I had lots of misplaced emotions about this. As I grew older, it started to hurt that my mother couldn’t be there for all my big achievements: graduating from high school, graduating from basic training, the birth of my son. That hurt.
Maria: When did you start riding on Get On The Bus?
Andrea: When I was about 9 years old.
Maria: What was it like to be on the bus?
Andrea: It was different experience. You see all walks of life on the bus. I was hesitant at first to talk to anyone. However, after I started talking, I realized that everyone else was in the same boat as me.
Maria: Prior to coming on your first GOTB trip, how long had it been since you had seen your mother?
Andrea: 5 or 6 years
Maria: Why was the GOTB trip a good thing in your life?
Andrea: GOTB was the only way we had to see our mother. We asked my dad to take us, but because of his record, he couldn’t. A few people volunteered to take us, but they never made the time. We needed our mother. GOTB also made me know that I was not alone. It connected me to the counselors that I needed to start talking to and helped me deal with my emotions. It brought closure for me.
Maria: Why should GOTB exist?
Andrea: Not many people give you a chance when you have an incarcerated parent. This program does.
Maria: How is your relationship with your mother today?
Andrea: I am still trying to help my mother. I have high hopes for her. She is still battling with addiction, but she is a grandma now to my son!
Maria: What are you doing now?
Andrea: I made it a point to turn all this negativity into something positive. Family is everything to me. My youngest brother lives with me and I am taking care of him. I am married, have a young son, and am in the military. I got out of the life that everyone expected me to have.
I would like to commend Andrea for all of her accomplishments. You are truly a light in the darkness. I would also like to thank our dear friend April Burns and my parents Joe and Donna Costanzo for your donations. Keep ’em coming!!