My Larry suffers from a mental illness, a learning disability, and a speech disorder and is currently imprisoned at SCI Benner. Parents who have children like I do, we have to advocate for them. But I can’t do much of anything on the outside for my son.
As a kid, Larry was a real talker. He was very sweet and social and the kids in the neighborhood just loved him. But on the very first day of high school, he was offered drugs. After his substance abuse started, Larry declined quickly. He began committing crimes to feed his addictions and eventually ended up in prison. It all happened so fast.
A couple of times, he has said to me, “Mom, what happened? Why am I in here?” He just doesn’t understand how he ended up in prison. Larry became very withdrawn and stopped really speaking to anyone, even me. He stopped speaking in complete sentences and would only say “yes,” “no,” “yes.” It was all so terrorizing and scary for him.
Visits helped, but it’s a two-and-a-half hour drive one way. I can’t make it there more than once a month. Meanwhile, Larry didn’t know who he could trust and who to turn to for help. He was terribly anxious and just kept ending up in solitary confinement. There are so many ways you can get in trouble in prison, and for people with mental illness, it’s hard to figure it all out. I felt so helpless and alone and didn’t know who to turn to. Eventually, I found the Prison Society.
Once I became connected with the Prison Society, things started falling into place. I so appreciate that the staff took the time to listen to what we were going through. It felt as if I had a friend. From there, they determined my son could benefit from a volunteer visit.
Nancy was just amazing and so warm. She contacted me before visiting Larry to better understand what was going on. Once she got in there, I just saw huge improvement. Somehow she was able to break through the hurt, distrust, and hopelessness. Larry really gravitated toward her professionalism and her expertise. She could explain things to him that I couldn’t, and help him organize an approach to his day-to-day life. I saw so much hope come back to my son. He began asking me questions like, “How are you, mom? How was your work week?” and I hadn't heard that in years.
Before Nancy, Larry didn't say one positive thing in five years. With her help, he has stayed out of solitary confinement and in the general population. For me, it speaks volumes to Nancy’s love for what she does. We are so very grateful for her willingness to give up her own personal time to visit with incarcerated people. At this point, Nancy has more of an influence on my son’s well being than anyone. And I mean that 100 percent, not only because of the trust she’s established with Larry, but also with prison staff who respect her and the Prison Society tremendously. I believe Larry is going to be able to give his own testimony one day about the Prison Society, and it’s going to be beautiful.
We both have hope.