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They may be prison inmates, but their mothers love them

WLRN News

Inmates shower their mothers with love and gratitude through poetry

The Exchange for Change program, a local inmate writing program is working with inmates and having them write letters and poems to their mothers as part of a Mother's Day project. Inmates at Dade Correctional read their letters and poems a loud as
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The Exchange for Change program, a local inmate writing program is working with inmates and having them write letters and poems to their mothers as part of a Mother's Day project. Inmates at Dade Correctional read their letters and poems a loud as

In the family visitors’ lounge, under paintings of Disney cartoon characters, two dozen incarcerated men at Dade Correctional Institution take turns walking up to a microphone to recite poems they wrote while in prison.

They’re all dressed in the same blue prison-issued uniforms. Many of the men appeared nervous, their hands visibly shaking as they recited their personal prose from rattling pieces of papers — odes to victims of gun violence, frustrations about the criminal justice system and apologies to their mothers.

“…This woman has put up with

all my crap and misguided angst,

crying for my understanding

with every outburst of hate…” recited Israel Martinez from his poem “Mothers Day.”

Several inmates wiped away tears as Martinez read his poem.

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A poem entitled, 'Mothers Day,' written by Dade Correctional inmate, Israel Martinez, is dedicated to his mother. Exchange for Change, a nonprofit, helps inmates process their emotions through writing. The inmates wrote poems to their mothers for a Mother's Day project. Emily Michot emichot@miamiherald.com

Exchange for Change, a nonprofit that runs writing classes at Dade Correctional in south Miami-Dade, published Martinez’s poem along with other writings and illustrations by inmates in a booklet titled, “Inmates Have Mothers Too.”

“This is a voice that surprised me,’’ said Kathie Klarreich, director of Exchange for Change. “If it surprised me — I already work in the prisons — that voice is something that should also be known on the outside.”

Read More: To hear some of the inmates read their poems go to WLRN.org

She said the inmates were initially writing for a trauma class she teaches and she noticed much of their work centered around their mothers — “appreciation and love and regret and sorrow and guilt.”

She wanted to give them an option to share their work with their moms and people on the outside, so she created the printed booklet. Exchange for Change recently held a graduation for the participants in the writing classes.

“You don’t really understand the true perspective of prison until someone that you know or someone that you love is in here. And that especially goes for a mother,” said Allington “Dante” Dottin, one of the inmates.

David Hackett, another inmate, said his mom died last year while he was behind bars.

“Moms will always love you and it seems like sometimes that your last line of support is your mom. So you know, moms are really important to us. And I miss her,” Hackett said.

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David Hackett recites a poem he wrote in memory of his late mother as part of the Exchange for Change program. Emily Michot emichot@miamiherald.com

He sent the poem he wrote in memory of his mom, called ‘A Mother’s Love,’ to his sister:

“…Years go by before we can

look back on

life and see

through older eyes and wiser hearts

her love and loyalty

and yet it’s these

and other special things

we’ll hold so dear

for memories of her steadfast love

will keep her ever near…”

He said writing was therapeutic.

“[The class] challenged me to express myself because I hold things in,” Hackett said.

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David Hackett's poem, 'A Mother's Love,' that he wrote in memory of his late mother as part of the Exchange for Change program, a local inmate writing program. Emily Michot emichot@miamiherald.com

Klarreich said some of the inmates wrote about having difficult relationships with their mothers, too — moms who weren’t home a lot because they were holding down multiple jobs or moms who were in and out of jail.

“Many of them understand now why their mothers couldn’t have been there for them when they were younger,” she said. “And then a lot of them had very good mothers and [the inmate] made very bad decisions and they want their mothers to know that they own their decisions.”

Martinez, who wrote “Mothers Day,” said before landing in prison he rarely went to see his mom, but when he was arrested, she was one of his regular visitors.

“She’s always been there for me and I never really recognized it enough,” Martinez said. “ You don’t want them to suffer, but our mothers always suffer every day we’re in here, every hour that we’re sitting behind bars.”

He said the writing class was a safe environment to show his appreciation to his mom for sticking by him, and to apologize for what he’s put her through.

He says now when they speak, he touches on some of the topics he writes about.

“It has allowed me to be able to converse with my mother more freely and to not avoid touchy subjects even to the point where we’ve cried plenty of times,” Martinez said.

His mom, Hermi Dionisio, could not attend the graduation — family members are not allowed — but when reached by phone she said she’s proud of her son’s progress.

“I’m very grateful that I’ve been an influence in his life and that he recognizes me as such,” she said.

She called the poem he dedicated to her, “beautiful.”

Mothers Day

To the one who mattered most

but was left on the wayside.

To the one who was always there,

no matter what.

It sucks to say that

I haven’t been the best son.

To the one who couldn’t bear to part

my first day of school.

Her love enveloped me

with every hug and every kiss,

compensating for the father

who was seldomly missed.

A powerful woman who took two

parental roles without question;

With no thank you, no good job

or honorable mention.

This woman has put up with

all my crap and misguided angst,

crying for my understanding

with every outburst of hate.

There is no other woman

who is more important to me.

She overcame my inner turmoil

with the love she deserved every day.

So this is to the one who matters most

and will never be put aside ever again.

To the mother who deserves more

than one day of appreciation

compared to the years she has given.

A Mother’s Love

A mother’s love is forever

as children, we can’t comprehend

or fully realize

the meaning of our mother’s love,

how tender and how wise...

the patience and forgiveness

that are part of every day

the unexpected ‘little things”

she does in her own way

Years go by before we can

look back on

life and see

through older eyes and wiser hearts

her love and loyalty

and yet it’s these

and other special things

we’ll hold so dear

for memories of her steadfast love

will keep her ever near

May your memories of your mother’s love

bring you comfort and peace of heart

now and through the days ahead.

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