Son’s note from prison: “your love did.”


Anita Williams says her son Carrie never forgets her birthday or Mother’s Day. So, on a Sunday in May, she kept her phone up soon. The Curry card arrived that day; Inside it was a message addressed to “Dear Wise.” Williams read it aloud:

What God intended our mothers to embody, she embodied him. Feel the humility of your leadership examples, time after time. Your energy is a wellspring of the endeavors that must be undertaken to realize their accomplishments for those of us who are in dilapidated circumstances. I can attest that you have shown how unconditional love truly translates into this physical world. Your love is a verb. How precious you are. Thank you so much for the many lessons you have learned and are learning.

By the time she finished reading, Williams was elated. It has a familiar glow – the happy sparkle of someone who just received real praise. There aren’t some lines of smart greeting cards that comfortably fit the gap between emotion and expression, or a simple phrase pronounced so rarely that its strength stems from its scarcity of repetition, but the praise that is born from reflection: Mom, you are special and that is why. She says, “This is from my son who is in prison.” This moment, captured in Ellie Wayne’s short documentary “On Mother’s Day,” gives viewers a peek into Williams’ life as a mother and activist.

In 2018, when she was a student at Stanford University, Wen learned of Mama’s Day Bail Out, an annual campaign organized by the National Bail Out Collective that focuses on reforming pretrial detention. The group linked her to Justice Group, a non-profit organization in Oakland, California, that supports people who have their loved ones imprisoned. And she met Williams through the justice group.

Carey was found guilty, in 2003, of second-degree murder, among other charges. He was sentenced to sixty-six years in prison – as Williams tells in the documentary, “That meant I never would have seen my son as a free man.” Immediately after that, Williams began defending Carrie. (She denies the accusation, and her work revolves around his innocence.) She “really took to the streets” with new urgency in 2011, after her grandson – Carrie’s baby – was murdered. “Carrie’s son was killed, and he couldn’t go to the funeral,” says Williams.

In a scene outside Alameda County Courthouse, Williams wears a T-shirt with “Free Black Mamas” written on it, while another supporter holds a sign that says “Free Black Mamas”ENDMONEYBAIL. “The cash bail system is Disproportionately stiff On communities of color. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, black and Latino men are valued on higher bail than white men, and the inability to pay bail not only means that they are in pretrial detention for an extended period but also that they are four times more likely to be sentenced to prison and rush to plead deals. Reading from the written notes, Williams says in a balanced and assertive tone, “I’m pissed off” on the steps of the courtroom.

Williams shares other feelings about her son’s circumstances, too. “At first, there was a lot of shame. As if you failed as a mom,” she meditates, as she is seen sitting in front of the laptop at home, her back in front of the camera, and facing the window. Then there are the daily reminders of her son’s absence: When Carrie was a free man, the rest of the family used to visit Williams on weekends, birthdays and holidays. Curry always runs the barbecue. “It seems everyone has stopped coming,” Williams says, crying.

When Carrie called from prison, he talks about an educational program he’s in – “He’s so pretty” – and flaunts his good looks. Heartfelt laughs are interrupted by automatic time reminders, and the mother and son say goodbye. The respite is interrupted by the vagaries of the criminal justice system, which is as much a business as a law enforcement component. Then there’s Mother’s Day, with accompanying helium balloons, spring bouquets, brunch specials, and extensive advice to make sure our moms – and friends and strangers on social media – know how valuable a relationship is. Williams is baffled that “having a mass prison, having private prisons to separate families”, could fit the American narrative that seems to celebrate mothers’ bonds by giving groundbreaking status to the holiday. “What the hell do I want to celebrate?”

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