By Kris Mangione, Alabama

As Mother’s Day approaches, I again prepare myself for a family gathering without my son. In these moments, I reflect on the little boy who loved to run around outside and ride his bicycle. I think about the good grades he earned. I remember when he first started kindergarten and was so excited that he would rush home to quote the Bible verses he had learned.

And then I remember when I saw him last week. I drove from Birmingham, Alabama to see him at the prison where he is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for a crime that happened when he was 16. At 35, he is a great adult. He earned his GED while in the county jail, before he even got to prison. He has helped other inmates study for their GEDs. He has taught people to read.

There is no doubt that what happened that night 19 years ago created a huge loss for someone else. He was a kid hanging out with older guys who were driving him home when this all happened. Even though my son and others who were present say he was not an active participant, I have never argued that he should not be held responsible. But the thought that he may never be free again is almost more than I can bear.

Mother’s Day will be a lot like the other holidays. The entire family will gather – his two sisters, my mother, his cousins, aunts and uncles. He has a huge family on his father’s side and all of the grandkids and everyone else will be there. We never stop thinking about him and wishing he were here. My mother misses him so much that she glued a picture of his face onto a recent family portrait. I worry that she will die without ever seeing him again.

These occasions also bring back to mind the day he was arrested. There is nothing that can prepare you for hearing that your son has been involved in a murder. I knew nothing about jails, prison or the legal process. Everything was overwhelming and frustrating.

The trial process took a toll on me physically and mentally. They had to take me out of the courtroom. And when they announced the verdict, I went into mental shock. I didn’t know there was such a thing as life without parole for a child.

In the years since, I have had to deal with my own guilt. I’ve wondered what I did wrong. My son tells me that he had a good childhood and what happened isn’t my fault.

I’ve also dealt with my shame. I separated myself. I stopped going to church and pulled away from my friends. I felt very isolated. Everyone just goes away because they don’t know how to talk to you about it – especially when it is all over the newspapers in the town where you live.

These days I visit my son once a month. One of my daughters usually makes the drive with me. It is important because for him to see us and know that we love him. Ever since this happened, I have felt like he would get out before I die and at least he wouldn’t die in jail. If they would allow him to come up for parole, there’s no way he would re-offend.

It has been prayer and my certainty that God is with me that has kept me going. I couldn’t have gotten through this without that. I will have lots of prayers on Mother’s Day.