Mom’s name in a tattoo

By Richard “Bonaru” Richardson

When I first came to prison, I didn’t know what to expect. And, like many people who have never been behind these walls, I believed everything I heard or saw on TV.

I believed prisons were filled with nothing but violent and vindictive predators. By spending time in more than 10 different prisons around the state, this belief was dispelled. 

One of my early discoveries was that many convicts really love their mothers. They proudly proclaim it with that famous tattoo inscribed on their body somewhere, depicting a bright red heart, with Mom engraved in the middle.

I’m even guilty of tattooing my mom’s name, Barbara Bracy, on my body in two different places. To be more specific, I have eight mothers’ names tattooed on me, and I love every one of them.

After escaping an abusive relationship, my mom struggled to raise five troubled boys and one upset girl all by herself. She made sure we had a roof over our heads and food in our stomachs.

Although we have all been to jail at one time or another, my mom made sure she was there for every one of us, every time.

I grew up disrespecting women. When I came to the realization that I was hurting the people who cared for me the most, I was ashamed and disappointed in myself. My mom raised me better than that.

I ended up in prison because I did not listen to my mom. When I was arrested, the first letter I received was from my mom. The first person I called from the county jail was my mom. My first CARE package was from my mom. When I was in need, my mom would be the first person to ask, “Do you need anything?” And, I did. I needed more than I was willing to admit. But, most importantly, all I wanted was her love.

For the first 10 years of my incarceration, I did not see my mom. I got into a scuffle and ended up in a cell more than 500 miles away from her because I thought my “homies” were more important than family. I was in denial. I felt alone and thought about all the things my mom would say to me.

“Those friends of yours are going to get you in trouble,” my mom would say. “When you go to jail your friends are not going to bail you out, write you a letter, send you money or accept your phone calls. A hard head makes a soft bottom. One of these days you’re going to look back and say, ‘Mama was right.’”

Mama was right. I’ve cried many nights as I heard my mom’s voice echo through my memories. Everything she told me was true. She has never abandoned me. I sometimes hear her voice in the regurgitated advice I give the younger generation as they travel across this same prison terrain.

Today, I’m feeling extremely blessed with the opportunities to see my beautiful mom as she visits me here at San Quentin State Prison with another wonderful mother, my wife La-Keesha Richardson. I make sure I tell them both that, “I’m sorry for all the pain I’ve caused you, and I love you dearly.”

If it was up to me, Mother’s Day would be 365 or 366 days a year. But there are so many men and women who are incarcerated that did not get the opportunity to say a proper goodbye to their mothers. My heart shatters when I think about those unforgotten women who left us way too early, like my first wife, Cassandra Cooksey.

Many prisoners are ashamed to admit that they did not listen to their parents, but they are not ashamed to say, “I love you, Mom.” They will also tell you that when nobody else was there for them … Mom was. 

From every man and woman on the face of this earth, I would like to say on their behalf, “Happy Mother’s Day and we love you, Mom.”


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