Mothers go inside prison walls to save lives on the outside

The two women in jeans and black and pink t-shirts march into the Western Missouri Correctional Center, looking as though they know their way around.

Which they do. Rosilyn Temple and Latrice Murray have the routine down pat. They produce the proper ID’s, joke with the front-entrance staff and accept a golf-cart escort through the courtyard of the medium-security prison in Cameron, MO.

Inside one of the squat buildings they find about 25 men in gray prison dress sitting in rows of chairs. Temple and Murray set about attaching poster-sized photos to the wood-paneled walls in the front.

An inmate facilitator introduces Temple first. “This is a young lady who traveled the roads that we’ve traveled,” he tells the men, all of whom are scheduled for release from incarceration in the weeks to come.

Temple faces the group. “I’m tired,” she says. “I didn’t get much sleep last night. I’m here because God is in control of my life.”

Many people in Kansas City and beyond have heard Temple tell her story of grief and then renewal following the 2011 death of her son, PeeWee. Fewer people have heard her speak of an earlier period in her life, the one she’s telling the men about now.

“I’ve been in the places you’ve been,” Temple says. “Well, not here in Cameron, with the men. But in the women’s prison.”

Her first stop was in the 1980’s, when repeated drug-related arrests landed her in the Chillicothe Correctional Center. She was inmate No. 3548. After her release she stayed clean and sober for five years.

“The one thing I thought I wanted to do was to drink a beer,” Temple tells her audience. “So I started to drink on the weekends.” She chuckles. So do some of the men. They know where this is going.

An arrest on check-cashing fraud landed her a 120-day stay in the women’s prison in Valdalia, MO. When she was discharged, Temple says, “I knew I had to get myself together. I turned myself over to God.”

That new-found faith helped her survive the loss of her son on Thanksgiving eve seven years ago, Temple says. She recounts the uneasiness she felt when she couldn’t contact him that day, and the horror and grief she experienced when a police officer who entered his apartment returned outside and told her, “He’s in there. He’s been murdered.”

“I’m just a mom who has lost her child,” Temple tells her audience. She urges the men to learn to deal with conflict and break the cycle of violence.

“Whatever beef or loyalty you got going on, leave it alone. Leave it behind these walls,” she implores them.

Temple turns to the posters on the walls. They bear the photographs of Mothers in Charge members who have also lost children to homicide. Temple briefly talks about their stories.

When she is finished, Murray gets up and tells the men about her son, Darreon Murray-Brown, who was murdered in 2009 while riding in a car with friends. He was a senior basketball player at Hogan Prep High School with plans to attend college. As is the case with Temple’s son, Darreon’s murder has not been solved.

“I blame myself,” an emotional Murray tells the men. “Cause he called me that night and said, ‘do you want me to come home?’ If I had told him to come home he wouldn’t have been killed.”

Talking about Darreon’s death relieves some of that burden, she said. “I know I didn’t kill my son. Someone else killed my son. I think the more I share, the less weight I carry around.”

The men listen attentively and respectfully to both women, as well as to prerecorded testimonials from other mothers who have lost their sons. There is no opportunity for one-on-one conversations. The inmates offer a quick burst of applause for the presentation and then Temple and Murray are off -- back on the golf cart through the courtyard, through the front security system and back on the highway headed toward Kansas City.

“They’re eventually coming home to our communities. So we try to speak life into them,” Temple says.

“Me being a two-time felon -- they see that I’ve been through some things. I’ve lived through this. I’ve been to prison, did some calendar years in prison and got out, reoffended and went back. But look at me, I’ve changed my life. I was able to surrender my life to God prior to my son being murdered. They connect so well by knowing I have walked in their shoes.”

Temple and Murray receive no compensation for these monthly visits to Cameron, which take up a morning’s time. But they are clear about their ultimate reward.

“The best thing that could come out of this,” Temple says, “is that we save someone’s life.”