05/12/2011 11:16 am ET Updated Jul 12, 2011

A Mother's Day Reminder

Of my 24 years as a mother, seven have been stained by the reminder of a loss that never ends. I have tried to be upbeat and remind myself that I have three healthy children and a beautiful grandchild, all of whom I am truly thankful for. Yet, as the hours of each day dwindle down, I always feel the overbearing weight of my loss and an unshakable sadness. When at last I find myself alone, I cry, and my heart feels as if this loss just occurred. I carry my sadness every day, but on special occasions, I allow the tears to fall so at the very least I know my loss is real. It seems that most of this country does not consider my loss significant and certainly not worthy of their tears. The fact of the matter is my loss should matter to everyone because my loss affects every person in this country. You see, I am the mother of a young man in prison, one of 2.4 million sons and daughters behind bars with another five million on probation or parole.

About now, most people have decided this has nothing to do with them and therefore, they can turn away from the severe consequences of our country's addiction to incarceration. Financially, our addiction is bankrupting us, not to mention what it says about our values as a free democracy. We have more tools at our disposal than ever before, tools that research shows work better and produce far better outcomes than warehousing millions of people. There is a growing bi-partisan call for substantial change within criminal justice, but old ideas and rhetoric die hard; more must be done to reform this out of control addiction. We have allowed shameful politicians to run on platforms of "being tough on crime" without asking if they are being smart on crime. Research indicates that our over-reliance on incarceration does not decrease victimization and costs us, as taxpayers, more. In fact, other countries have been warned not to replicate our failed criminal justice policies.

Now, for those of you who believe this does not have anything to do with you, I ask that you consider that corrections spending has increased by 127% versus only 21% for higher education. You may not care about my son, but know that every dollar wasted on the failed experiment of mass incarceration is one less dollar used in your community for high quality education, libraries, housing, street repairs, etc... If I had had one wish granted to me on Mother's Day, I would not have asked for my son to come home; instead I would have asked that we, as a nation, wake up and begin to challenge the notion that we can incarcerate our way out of poverty, mental illness and drug addiction and begin to put the tools we have at our disposal to solve our problems rather than trying to lock them away.