Tamara Kelly felt a deep sense of loss and helplessness as she watched her 12-year-old son’s life spiral out of control.
Those feelings have since prompted her to become a mentor with a prison ministry and help other women experiencing the same emotional roller coaster.
It seems there was nothing she or anyone else could do to change her son JD’s trajectory into drugs, alcohol and violence.
“As he grew to the age of about 15, gambling became an issue; [it was] just another addiction and that became the strongest one,” Ms Kelly said.
“We soon found out that when he did that and lost everything, he would go from that to drinking and from that to drugs.
“On the night he was arrested, he was in a pretty sad state and that is why he had the argument with his brother.”
Feelings of despair following son’s arrest
That argument turned violent, and Ms Kelly received a phone call from her eldest son saying he had called the police and JD had been arrested.
“At that time, I was at my lowest and I just threw my hands in the air and said ‘God, I can’t take this anymore’,” Ms Kelly recalled.
JD was jailed for two years in 2011 in the Tamworth Correctional centre, but the court told Ms Kelly if she could get her son into rehabilitation, he would be released.
“When I walked out of that court room I was in the most lonely isolated place that any mother could be,” she said.
Despair for her son became despair for herself, and that is a place too many women and men find themselves when a loved one goes to jail.
Women are ‘forgotten’ victims
“They’re the forgotten ones really,” Gillian Begbie, national co-ordinator with Kairos Outside for Women (KOW), a prison ministry.
“We know a lot about prison inmates and we think we understand what that means for them, but we don’t realise that those left on the outside are really struggling, either emotionally or practically with what’s happened to them.
Ms Begbie said women often suffered from guilt by association.
“Society is very tough on them and often make assumptions about them which are just not true,” she said.
“They live in this life of bitterness and often forgiveness and shame about what another person has done for which they have no control.”
Ms Kelly agrees.
“I felt I had no friends that really wanted to hear what I had to say about my son,” she said.
“I felt in my own church group that ashamed and guilty and I felt as a parent I had failed, and as a Christian parent, I had failed even more before God.”
Story thankfully has happy ending
After a series of stints in rehabilitation, JD has turned his life around, has a good job, and his mum says: “he’s just a changed, a beautiful person”.
Ms Kelly herself found an inner strength through KOW.
“I was so relieved to have someone ask me how I was going; I didn’t know whether to walk away or cry,” she said of the moment she found help from the group.
“It was emotionally overwhelming to have someone come up and just care.”
Ms Kelly is now a mentor and will be sharing her story with other women this weekend at an outreach event in northern NSW.
She knows the strength needed to get through the tough times.
“Many times his father said ‘he would be dead on the street it if wasn’t for you’,” she said.
“But no matter what, as a mother you are there. It’s absolute unconditional love for your child.”