Through the Eyes of a Child: Witness and Victim

Antoinette Carter

Through the Eyes of a Child: Witness and Victim


I will always love my mother.  Sometimes I’ve hated her, grieved for her, empathized with her and fully cared about her well-being.  Even as I have compassion, at times I loathed her.

How can I hold such a far-flung range of feelings for the woman who birthed me?  It’s plain and simple: The Criminal Justice System seeded it!

The damage to our relationship is ever present. Yet, I have learned over many years that this was by design, because she too — by no fault of her own — was trapped in a vicious cycle.  While the harm appears irreversible, we have made the difference, striving for wholeness and healing day after day.

My mother, 65, and I, 50, have conquered enormous pain and traveled a long distance together. We may not always see eye to eye but we can both see the progress!

I am a first-hand observer of the criminal justice system, witness to my mother being arrested, jailed and tried on numerous occasions; followed by incarceration six times.

In the courtroom everyone, except my mother, had a purpose for being there. The judge presided over the trial.  The prosecutor ranted about justice prevailing over criminals; the public defender laid down a meager defense laced with ambiguity. In my household, they were all PUBLIC PRETENDERS!   They all were there to do a job and would not be there if it had not been for my mother and the crimes for which she was accused.  At that time, I blamed her solely.

Sentencing was usually swift and succinct. And off she would go, handcuffed and whisked away to a backroom never to be seen again – until the next time.

I cried, I sobbed, I wept and no one seemed to care.  My presence in the courtroom was more of a nuisance than a victim who deserved compassion and needed answers. Where did my mother go?  Why was she being taken away in chains and handcuffs?  When would she be back?  Who would comb my hair and take me to school?  How long would I have to live with my grandmother? Would I ever have a normal childhood?

I dreaded going home after court.   I was the bright and articulate child that spoke at school assemblies and participated in plays, speeches and honors programs. It was incomprehensible to politely share my plight. What would I say to my friends and how would I explain my mother’s absence?

Having no father was an accepted fact of my life.  So knowing that my mother, the sole parent, was absent was profound.  It consumed me and created great strife in our relationship. At the end of each incarceration, the tension was thick! I was polite but stoic; distant and callous. She was now my nuisance.  Enveloped in my own grief and too young to see the forest for the trees, I had no space for compassion.

I called her “Sue” instead of Mom. She despised it.  We would bicker over this very issue for decades.  Even today, she’s Sue to me.  For her, it appears to be a lack of respect for her position as my mother.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The State of California has a Department of Rehabilitation but it has done nothing to heal and lift us up. Our challenge has been to rise above all the conditions that stigmatize, degrade and punish whole families with few viable options.

There are so many children (in all stages of life) that need to understand they are not alone and should not be ashamed of their feelings.  We have been left to undo all of this for ourselves.


The writer is a human resources manager for a major telecommunications company who says she is within the struggle to end mass incarceration but refuses to be embroiled by it.

  • Amber-Rose
    Posted at 21:56h, 12 September

    Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing Toni!

    • antoinette Carter
      Posted at 22:02h, 14 September


      thank you for your comments. I write in hopes that I may unlock the hidden hurt in others and let them know they are not alone.

  • Tamara
    Posted at 21:26h, 19 September

    Very Touching.

    • Antoinette
      Posted at 00:33h, 21 September

      Tamara, thank you as I hope to help us all heal!

    Posted at 22:01h, 19 September

    Beautiful Story u r truly an inspiration.

    • Antoinette
      Posted at 00:34h, 21 September


      I truly appreciate your comments and realize the power within me. I will continue!

  • Lucille West
    Posted at 22:14h, 19 September

    The reality of a quiet , unacknowledged pain lived through is still PAIN. Thank you for being an eloquent voice that will speak for those that cant speak for themselves. Be blessed .

  • Antoinette
    Posted at 00:35h, 21 September


    This right here! You are right on point with your words. Because I masked it so well doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt! IT DID! But my triumph is still beautiful!

  • Celesta Burton
    Posted at 04:14h, 22 September


    You have much to sing your own praises for. Although, the giant proportion on your plate was unfair,,,you have gained the reward! You are proof that deep within us l?es the power to love, to forgive, to learn and to move on.,i Always be thankful for giving your mother the inspiration to become the woman you are. Thank you for sharing your journey.

    From your Aunt Celesta


    • Antoinette Carter
      Posted at 19:27h, 22 September

      Celesta, thank you so much. Is it unfortunate that I had to learn how unfair life can be at such an early age? Or did it prepare for this journey of allowing others to see and know that that they are not alone? My hope in sharing to show people what doesn’t break you truly does make you stronger! And even when you fall, you can get back up again, dust yourself off and move forward! Love you!?

  • Vonya
    Posted at 03:03h, 24 September

    Thank you Antoinette for putting words to the myriad of feelings a daughter can have for her Mother, especially a mother who has been swallowed up by a system within systems. I had some of those same feelings for my mother too. She died an early and tragic death before we could work through some of them, but today I know she did the best she could. I was unable to muster up the forgiveness needed to heal until she was gone, long gone. I am in awe of women like you who were raised by people like me yet were able to remain free of incarceration. I applaud you and I truly appreciate you sharing something as intimate as your experience. May you and your mother continue to be blessed as you bless others with your truths!!


    • Antoinette
      Posted at 21:00h, 09 October

      Vonya, I want to sincerely thank you for your comments. This was not an easy task. as I am sure yours was just as painful. But know this – I am not the anomaly society wants you to think I am. there are plenty of adults who have been in my same situation or similar, that have come through without repeating some or all of the behaviors they witnessed as children. Yet, some did. There is no magic formula or secret solution that brought us through the fire any different than any other child. However, I do understand my own resilience and how I used it to adapt to life and my surroundings. And the fact that you recognize your mother’s strengths through her weaknesses shows your own level of resilience. In your mother’s memory, please continue to persevere! If I can help just one person, then I know this was well worth it!