A Look at How African-American Mothers Adapt to the Imprisonment of an Adult Son and the Impact on their Identities and Relationships




Hiller, Patricia Hayes

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Little is known about the effects of an adult son’s imprisonment on the mother and how the mother’s interpretation of roles during her son’s imprisonment impacts personal, professional, and other relationships. Research on experiences of these mothers is lacking, and their voices need to be heard to help communities prepare to assist those mothers challenged by a family torn apart. The purposes of this study included: (1) adding to the knowledge base (e.g., incarceration and family life, correctional education, and adult education) by gaining a better understanding of the experiences of mothers of sons who have been imprisoned as felons and how these women learn to adapt to the many challenges in their lives associated with this experience and (2) identifying implications for educational practices and social policies that affect the lives of families of felons. The main research question was, “What are the experiences of African-American mothers of adult sons who have been incarcerated as felons?” This phenomenological, qualitative study borrows heavily from theories of social integration and symbolic interactionism. The study engaged the participants through face-to-face interviews and conversations during individual interviews that lasted one to three hours. Purposeful selection identified African-American mothers coping with an adult son who has been imprisoned. Eight participants serving in maternal roles who resided in Texas were recruited. The average age of the participants was 60 and ranged from the mid-forties to 80 years. The small number of participants in the study allowed for specific information and insight. Data analysis revealed two main themes. The first theme, Adult Learning–I Would Have Done Things Differently, focused on the experiences the mothers had and what if anything they would have done differently given their expectations and the reality of their sons’ imprisonment. The second theme, Adaptation–I Became Stronger, reflected the mothers’ relationships and the resources they employed to adapt to the challenges of having sons involved in the penal system. The study includes recommendations and implications for community and educator involvement.



Adult learning, Identity, Imprisonment, Mothering, Relationship, Roles, Stigma


Hiller, P. H. (2013). <i>A look at how African-American mothers adapt to the imprisonment of an adult son and the impact on their identities and relationships</i> (Unpublished dissertation). Texas State University-San Marcos, San Marcos, Texas.


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