“Can you please alter Deborah’s birth certificate,” my mother asks in the letter to the family attorney, “from the Federal Women’s Prison in Alderson, West Virginia, to Seattle? Nothing good will come from her knowing she lived in the prison before foster care or that her birth mother was a heroin addict. After all she was born in Seattle, and if she finds all this out she’ll ask questions about the prison and her foster homes before we adopted her.”
This is what Deborah read one day when she found a letter in her parents’ room. She already knew that she was adopted, but not that she was born in prison? This completely changed her life, her relationship with her family, and mostly it changed the relationship she had with her adopted mother, a relationship that took over twenty years to return to a state of normalcy.
Deborah was born to a heroin addicted incarcerated mother in the Alderson Federal Prison in West Virginia. In the 1960s, she was adopted at the age of three by a rare mixed-race Jewish couple from Seattle, one of the few mixed-race families of that generation. Since she was just a young child, she was wondering why she had brown skin when her whole family and all of her friends at school were white. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t fit into some social groups. She knew that there was something different, something that she couldn’t explain.
Deborah grew up with many identity and personality issues. She wanted to know where she belonged in terms of education, culture, class, peer group, and more. By the time she was a young adult, she became addicted to drugs, she lost her path in life, and she put her life in danger.
This memoir is full of strong and emotional moments. It’s the epic tale of a woman who tries to find her roots and where she belongs. At the end, Deborah finds peace with herself and her family. Before the end of the book, she writes,
“I thank my mother for this wisdom and freedom, a woman who allowed the tension of opposites to live in me. I thank my prison mom for the spirit of this tug of opposites and how it stirs in me. Each mother, in a different way, taught me to embrace life.”
There is no stronger relationship than the one between a mother and daughter. Even if it’s not a link from birth, the mother’s love, patience, and support is always present.
The author’s incredible work doesn’t stop with that book. She created the non-profit organization, The unPrison Project. She also travels all over the country where she speaks to women in prison and tries to inspire them. She wants to help them and their children. She wants to inspire them and show them that life can change; life can be better.