Mother’s Day came early last week for scores of women who hadn’t seen their children in months.
On Friday, 300 children across the state boarded buses with a parent or guardian to come to the Central California Women’s Facility to spend a few hours with their mothers.
The program, known as Get on the Bus, is organized by the nonprofit Center for Restorative Justice Works in partnership with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. It allows children of inmates to visit their parent, all expenses paid. The Mother’s Day segment is in its 16th year.
Amalia Molina, the center executive director, said because many of the children live so far away that Friday would be the only time some of them would see their mothers all year.
“They are coming to visit their mom, not an inmate,” Molina said. “It’s a great opportunity to (show incentive) to turn their life around and hopefully it has a ripple effect so the kids don’t end up here.”
Blanca Gonzales hugged her mother and daughter who came to see her Friday morning. After some chitchat, 9-year-old Jazzmin found out her mother was coming home in three years. She pointed her finger and hastily asked, “Did you learn your lesson?” Gonzales answered, “Heck yeah, when I get out I’m not even going to jaywalk.”
Erica Devine sat in the prison meeting area and colored with her sons Elijah, 4, and 6-year-old Matthew.
“This is a chance to reconnect, I haven’t seen them in 13 months,” Devine said.
The incarcerated mothers were able to visit their children for most of the day. The women played board games, colored or just sat and talked with the children. Pizza was served for lunch and, aside from the uniformed officers monitoring the room, the atmosphere was similar to an afterschool program.
There were older children at the event. Melvenia Martin, who is serving 25 years to life, was visited by her husband Kevin and 16-year-old daughter N’wondeii. Melvenia Martin said her family lives in San Diego and it is difficult for her family to drive to Chowchilla and back.
“San Diego is such a long ways away,” Melvenia Martin said. “When they leave it’s a bittersweet moment, but there’s a gladness I was blessed to see them.”
Melvenia Martin took pictures with her teenage daughter, one of which she will keep for herself.
The Get on the Bus program tries to focus on minors, but is willing to make exceptions up to age 25. Sabrina Melendez’s children range in age from 14 to 22. She said she was overjoyed about the opportunity to visit with them.
“I’m all smiles. I’m very grateful for Get on the Bus,” Melendez said.