Crime is difficult for the entire community but being the mother of a felon is a unique hell that Isabelle Macias does not wish on anyone. While her son “A” was incarcerated she is locked in her own prison of guilt and shame, forgiving her son but unable to forgive herself.
“It was a fairytale for me to be a mother. I don’t know what it is now. I feel like I should’ve done more. I should’ve been more responsible. I feel at times that I failed him as a mother. I know I did everything I could, but was it enough for him?”
Isabelle was the eldest of five and took care of her siblings. She couldn’t wait to be mom to her own children and raised three kids in North Denver. From the age of four years old, she worried about her middle child “A’s” behavior. He was combative and resorted to violence when he felt upset. Macias tried speaking up about her concerns but was assured he would grow out of it. “Boys will be boys.”
“When I put him in preschool that’s when I knew he was not like other kids. He was violent. He only lasted three days until the teacher called me saying she couldn’t handle him,” says Macias. He was four and already showing this personality. I was worried.”
Her worst fears became reality when “A” was in grade school. He had thrown a classmate off the swing and proceeded to kick him, leaving him unconscious.
“I was worried and scared of dropping him off at school. I was terrified of him hurting someone, and my fear came to life. He only lasted three days until the teacher called me saying she couldn’t handle him. He would fight with all the kids. He hit the teachers.”
When “A” was 13 Macias had to call 911 on her son and ask police to come. “A” had become violent and verbally abusive. Macias was terrified. It was the first of many calls she had to make.
“I didn’t know what would happen to our relationship after I hung up. I didn’t know what would happen if I didn’t call and I didn’t know what would happen to my son when the police would arrive.”
Macias took motherhood one day at a time, cautious with every word and action. Some days it would be a dagger of insults and threats. Other days would become much heavier, as “A” left his mark on his mother not only mentally but physically. Psychiatrists, therapists, remedial classes. Nothing seemed to help.
“He would either not speak for an entire session, have a violent outburst, and would even escape. When I began stepping out of the sessions, they’d come to my car and ask ‘Where’s ‘A’?’. It got to the point where they had to add locks to the doors and bars to windows throughout the building. He didn’t want any sort of help we tried.”
“A” has been in and out of the correctional system since he was a teenager. When he was out, Macias remembers being up all night, driving around and looking for her son, trying to keep him out of danger and away from the gangs.
“I’d try so hard to connect with him, but he didn’t listen. He had this sort of resentment towards me because I was hoping for him to change his behavior. He took this as saying that I didn’t love him, from there our relationship turned negative. It broke my heart. From this day to now, it’s just been suffering.”
In his mid twenties “A” was sentenced to 34 years in prison for attempted murder. During those years, Macias continued nurturing through prison visits that left her aching for a chance to start over as a mother.
“I can’t even count on my fingers the amount of visits. Three hours there and back. I’d wake up at 3:30 in the morning, I’d leave the house excited but return heartbroken and hopeless. I would just want to turn the car around and help him escape. It was tormenting. It felt like I was being punished too.”
During those long drives she reflected on the crimes her son committed and the effect it had on those he harmed. An agonizing two-way street.
“I know what he’s done. I know. It’s horrendous. In prison he pays for it, and the treatment is dehumanizing, and it shatters me every single day to know that. But what do you expect, from everything he’s done. Every action has a consequence, and just because he’s my son doesn’t mean he deserves any less.”
In her home, pieces of art “A” made during his incarceration surround her. They illustrate the hope and change she has always believed in for her son. Mothers Day cards, birthday cards, sculptures, and thread jewelry made by “A.”
“I think they symbolize regret. You could just feel the torment he had in these paintings on what he felt. For me, it also brought me hope that he was okay because he was putting effort into something.”
But when “A” returned home after nine years in prison there was little change. Macias realized that her arms were no longer home to her child, but rather the confinement of a cell had become his home.
“He’s not used to normal life. He’s gotten used to prison, it became his home. He compares home to being worse than prison. I understand in a way. It must be difficult having to quickly adjust from one thing to another. But that and quite frankly, nothing is an excuse for how he’s acting.”
The sadness and regret she feels as a mother are always there, but Macias is learning to set boundaries, to find her faith when it is gone, and to focus on her other children.
“I have two other children. I can’t give my entire life and energy to him, it’s not fair to my daughters. I don’t hold resentment towards him, If I could I’d do it all over again and do things differently until I got it right. I’ve forgiven him, not his actions. That is why I’ve begun setting boundaries. I can’t keep enabling him.”
Macias has painfully made her decision to let “A” go down his path alone this time. “A” is no longer home with his family. With this open space Macias begins her own journey after nearly 40 years. She keeps the pieces of art up, and his room ready, hoping that one day “A” will return and motherhood will look the way she dreamed.
“I will always love him, but I’m going to love him from a distance. For my safety and my children’s safety. Maybe one day he’ll accept me as mother, trying to help and understand him” says Macias. “Even if he physically cannot find home with me, I will always have a space open for him in my heart and mind.”