A Mother’s Day Message from “Mama Innocence”


By Sylvia Barnes

Mother of

Steve Barnes


We always spent Mothers Day together as a family when Steve was growing up, so when he went away I made sure to spend Mother’s Day with him. My other children didn’t need me like Steve needed me.


We visited almost every Saturday, but it was very difficult because Steve was always at least 150 miles away. It just consumed the whole weekend. Visiting hours were from 9 to 3:15. After you got there, it could take about two hours to get processed. Usually we had about a three-hour visit, and we tried to tell him the news from home. I sent him articles if somebody in the town died or had a baby, and we just talked about everything we possibly could to put him right back home in his mind. Then, it was so tough to leave him, especially on Mother’s Day or any holiday. When they slam that door and your son is behind the gate, you feel so helpless and there’s not anything that you can do. I cried half the way home because I knew he was in there for nothing.


As a mother, you just can’t enjoy any holiday when your son is locked up. Every day it was the first thing I thought about in the morning and the last thing at night. I used to go take a shower and think—my son is locked up in a room this size. This is going to be the fourth Mothers Day that Steve and I have spent together since his release, and it’s a lot more enjoyable that it was in the prison visiting room. It doesn’t matter what we’re doing as long as he’s home and sitting next to me.


Since Steve has been home, we have traveled all over the state helping to teach people about wrongful convictions and trying to pass laws that will keep this from happening to anyone else. Next week we’re going to Albany to speak to the legislature about adopting criminal justice reforms that could have prevented Steve’s wrongful conviction.


Many of the other exonerees we meet have told me that their mothers didn’t live to see them get out. They say: “You can be the mother of all of us.” That’s how I became “Mama Innocence.” I represent all the mothers who have had to walk the horrible walk of having someone you love, especially a child, incarcerated for a crime they didn’t commit.

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