Every day, come rain, sleet or snow, worried mothers flood prison visiting rooms across our great nation.They sacrifice their time and hard-earned money to see their “babies” who have somehow ended up on the wrong side of the law.

These unsung heroes hold our prisons together, though the authorities, who search them before every visit, may think otherwise. I’ve seen disasters averted, assaults stopped, even a gang war set aside because another inmate said these five simple words: “What would your mother think?”

In here, oftentimes, the only person we have left is our mom. She sends us encouraging cards, much-needed food and warm clothing. She picks up our children and reminds them that Daddy still loves them. She acts as our conduit to the free world. Without her, we would never know that Cousin John finally married his high school sweetheart, or that our favorite aunt, Juanita, passed quietly in her sleep. We’d never know how much we are still loved, and still thought of with respect and dignity. We’d never know what type of world awaits us.

We’ve pierced our mothers’ hearts again and again with our selfish foolishness—not just our crimes—yet, for some reason that only a mom can comprehend, they continue to hug us and kiss us and forgive.

It is this unyielding love that shifts our moral tillers and sets so many of us back on the path to redemption. Over the years, many of the biggest changes I’ve accomplished in my incarcerated life have started with these other simple words from my mother:

“Jerry, what about this...?” “Have you considered...?” “I know things seem..., but believe me when I say…”

I wouldn't be the loving, caring individual I am today—yes, even here in prison, where I’m a good friend and neighbor and contribute to the world through my writing—without the guidance my mother has drilled into me until it stuck. I often recall a phone call she and I shared several years ago when I find myself feeling, for whatever reason, like it’s not my duty to care about and love all those around me.

“Hi, Jer,” my mom said, accepting my (at that time, $7.50-per-15 minutes) call.

“Hi, Mom,” I grumbled. Back then I was seldom in a good mood.

“What’s the matter?” Her voice sounded worried.

“Nothing.” I sighed. “It’s nothing serious. Mike keeps borrowing stuff from me and he hasn’t paid me back, so now I have nothing to eat.”

Mike is a good friend of mine and my mom knows this. She also knows both of Mike’s parents have passed away.

“Well, what’s he borrowing stuff for?” she asked.

“He got fired from his job ... You know how it is, he needs food and soap and stuff.”

My mom tsked. “Then what’s the problem?”

“The problem is it’s my money," I said sharply.

“Your money?” my mom asked, voice hard. “More likely my money, or your father’s.” She sighed. “Look, Jer. Mike’s your friend—but even if he wasn’t, he’s in need of food and soap. The world, same out here as in there, would be such a better place if we helped those we cared about. You do care about your friend, right?”

“Yes, Mom, I do,” I said, overcome with the shame only a mother can generate.

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