A Son in Jail

Filed under: Playground Bureau, Weird But True, Going Green, Extreme Childhood, Amazing Kids, Amazing Parents, Opinions

jessica barksdale inclan and her son Alex

Novelist Jessica Barksdale Inclan and her anarchist son, Alex. Credit: Jessica Barksdale Inclan


When singer Amy Winehouse's ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil was thrown in the clinker back in 2007, his mother said she was "delighted!"


Mom was happy because now she didn't have to worry about him. All Blake needed was a little dose of jail time.

Two years ago, I found myself driving over the Bay Bridge in order to bail out my then 23- year-old son Alex from the San Francisco County Jail. During his second year at the very liberal Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, he'd begun reading anarchist texts. His politics went from very liberal to no politics at all. As he told me, the definition for anarchy is "No leaders," so the fight for no government interference began to guide him.

The day before my drive, Alex had been arrested at an anti-war rally and charged with nine felonies. Before leaving the house, I'd called the intake officer, discovering that one of the felonies was carrying a concealed deadly weapon. As I drove, I clutched the steering wheel, wondering incredulously, "What weapon? What had he meant to do? Who had he meant to hurt? How can you stop a war in one place with a weapon here?"

To be honest, this brush with the judiciary system didn't come as a complete shock. Alex had been arrested before, taken into this same jail two years earlier for the same reason, war protesting. But that time, the cops had broken Alex's arm with a baton and released him. Following his freedom, he took public transportation to the hospital, the doctors cast his arm and the next night he was at his younger brother Josh's play, walking the opening night crowd like a movie star.

"You are so inspiring!" the play's director said.

I'd wanted to jump the director and slap him silly. What was the point of all this protesting? Would it change the world or just make my life a living hell? And look what it was doing to his brother whose night this really was. Two years older than Josh, Alex had always stolen the limelight with his eloquence and energy, and even on this important night, such was the case. Everyone was focused on the wrong person.

"You must be so proud," one of the other parents said.

"Yes, the play is great," I said.

"No, your other son! How brave of him to put himself out there."

This time, as I parked my car at the jail lot and walked up to the open bail bonds office, I thought back on that parent's comment from two years earlier. How I could possibly be proud of Alex's arrests? Surely we need people to shake things up, to voice the other side of issues. And I believe in the right to protest.

But was my son protesting a war on foreign soil or waging a war on some internal demon? What was this good fight that he was fighting really about? Was he fighting for peace or against his suburban upbringing?

I didn't know. I didn't know if he knew, either.

The kind woman at the bail bonds office calmed me. She gave me instructions on how to find my son's courtroom and then pointed me in the direction of a decent coffee shop.

Later than morning, my handcuffed son was led into the courtroom, wearing a neon orange jumpsuit. He looked exhausted and sad, his hair unkempt, and suddenly without even realizing I was doing so, I was in his corner, on his side, clear that he should be released. He was only protesting, and the concealed deadly weapon? A toy slingshot.

Now, as I think back at that moment, after all the charges were dropped, I understand the mothers with sons in jail, the mothers whose sons are violent, even murderous. Mothers love their children even if they can't be proud of them. But how far can that love stretch? What would it take for me to look at my son and back away slowly, leaving him to his own life?

That's a question I don't want to answer.

This essay was written by Jessica Barksdale Inclan, a novelist who teaches literature and creative writing for Diablo Valley College, and novel writing for UCLA Extension. Visit her at Red Room to read more of her work, including her latest supernatural romance novel, The Beautiful Being.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.