The Doc Project

Mothers on the outside looking in: the pain of dealing with a child behind bars

They call themselves the MOMS — Mothers Offering Mutual Support. Each woman shares a defining characteristic: all have (or once did) a kid in jail. They share practical information, talk about jail conditions, but what they talk about most is what it's like to be a mother on the outside looking in.

Imagine this. You're at home and the phone rings. On the other end of the line is the measured voice of a police officer.

The voice says your son has been arrested, charged with a crime you never thought possible for your kid. He ends up in jail, with a long sentence. Meanwhile, you have to navigate the questioning from neighbours and friends, keeping feelings of shame and guilt to yourself.

But a few mothers in Ottawa, realizing they aren't alone, have broken their silence. They call themselves the MOMS — Mothers Offering Mutual Support. It is the only group of its kind in the country. And each woman shares that defining characteristic: all have (or once did) a kid in jail.

By agreement, they don't discuss details of the crimes their sons have committed. They share practical information, talk about jail conditions — and what can be done to change them. But what they talk about most at their once-a-month meetings, is what it's like to be a mother on the outside looking in. MOMS does not allow meetings to be recorded, but four members agreed to open up for Christine Maki's documentary, There for Me.

Producer's Notebook

Anonymity, privacy and sensitivity when negotiating difficult subject matter

By Christine Maki

It may be an obvious point, but when you're putting together a radio documentary, sound is essential. Whether that's the voices of those you interview, ambient noises recorded on location, or evocative sound effects that create a sense of action — most docs use all three, plus voice over narration, to tell the story.

So what happens when the subject of your documentary limits your ability to capture those sounds? That's the challenge I ran into when I pitched the idea of putting together a documentary about a support group for mothers with children in jail (called MOMS).

Having now spoken with many of the women in the group, I can say they are brave, intelligent, tough and caring people. I also discovered, they place a high value on their privacy. Continue reading →

About the producer

Christine Maki
Christine Maki is an award-winning radio producer who has been with the CBC nearly a decade. She began with a four-week stint at CBC in Quebec City and ended up staying three years. She then made her way to Toronto, where she worked on both local and national programming, including Cross Country Checkup and The Current.

Christine now helps produce the morning show in Ottawa, where she's been called on to cover everything from politics on Parliament Hill, to the growing popularity of a Norwegian sport called skijoring.