May 10, 2019
Natalie Myers, 23, holds her 9-month old daughter Ada Lynn during a Mother’s Day event at the Washington Corrections Center for Women. (Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications)
GIG HARBOR – “Mommy, look at my ring,” a bright, young girl exclaims, showing her mother a piece of jewelry on her hand.
“I missed you so much,” Megan Lapid replies, scooping up the child and giving her a hug. “I have all your pictures on my board at home.”
“Home” for Lapid, 34, is a cell in the Washington Corrections Center for Women.
The correctional facility held a special Mother’s Day visitation session on Saturday, May 4, 2019 for incarcerated mothers and their families. A total of 166 family members—most of whom were children-- arrived to visit 74 incarcerated mothers at the event.
According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, about 54 percent of America’s incarcerated population are parents with children under the age of 18. This includes 120,000 mothers and 1.1 million fathers. In the state of Washington, approximately 39.8 percent of incarcerated men and 53.2 percent of incarcerated women report having at least one minor child.
Volunteers gave each participating mother a carnation. An incarcerated individual assisting with the event took family portraits for the moms and their guests. The mothers talked and laughed with their visitors while enjoying a meal. Children made cards for their moms at an activity table.
The Department of Corrections hosts a variety of family visitation events at all its correctional facilities throughout the year as part of its mission of improving public safety. The National Institute of Corrections found that even one visit from friends and family can reduce recidivism rates by as much as 13 percent.
“It (a correctional setting) is a different place and it’s a different experience,” says DOC Classification Counselor Brydee Rieck. “The room is decorated really special so they (families) don’t feel like they miss out on holiday events.”
Rieck adds children of incarcerated parents may think prison is a scary place, and family events like this can help ease their fears.
“It’s not their fault that their family situation has been altered,” Rieck says. “They didn’t do anything wrong. It’s important they feel safe and comfortable with staff. It lets them know we’re taking care of mom and she’s okay. It lets them make that connection.”
Chelsea Hayes, 32, used the day to bond with her three kids. Her father, Sam, brought 16-year-old Devin, 13-year-old Pierce and 4-year-old Kayla to visit from Thurston County.
“I like coming here to see my mommy,” says Kayla. “We like to play.”
Since Hayes began her incarceration in 2018, she’s earned her GED. She’s now a classroom teacher’s aide at the facility. She wants to start taking college courses at the facility, beginning with the ornamental horticulture program. Participants can earn college credit though Tacoma Community College.
Hayes has talked to the facility’s education navigator. Most of Washington’s correctional facilities have navigators—staff whose job it is to help connect incarcerated individuals to resources to help them transition back into their communities. When Hayes completes her sentence in 2022, she plans on going to college.
“This has helped me prepare for college,” Hayes says. "Whenever I do get out, I won’t be stuck not knowing where I want to go.”
A couple tables away, Lapid colored pictures and made greeting cards with her three children: 5-year-old Chad, 8-year-old Alanaia, and 14-year-old Avaya.
Lapid’s children and their caregivers came from Bremerton to visit.
Lapid says visits let her show her kids the progress she’s made, like getting drug treatment and learning new skills. She’s applied to the Trades Related Apprenticeship Coaching Program or TRAC. TRAC is a 16-week vocational training course. When participants finish it, they will have the skills and credentials for entry into the iron workers, laborers, carpenters and cement mason unions. Lapid’s long term goal is to open up an auto mechanic shop.
“I really enjoy doing special events like this and it allows us to be connected on the special days of our lives,” Lapid says.
Avaya says it can be hard having a parent in prison, but she visits because “she’s our mother, and it’s best to give her the love she needs.”