On Mother’s Day, 2020, I’ve chosen to pay tribute to mothers of prisoners by telling the story of Maurice Carter’s mother. Our guest writer was a student at the University of Wisconsin when the Carter story was being played out.
Taken from The story of one man, the face of 200,000, By Clarissa Driban, CURB magazine, 2006
In the modest living space of a rundown Gary, Indiana home, they gathered: Doug Tjapkes, Reverend Al Hoksbergen and Elizabeth "Mama" Fowler. A Mother’s Day tradition, they piled in the crowded room, bearing gifts, and hoping to bring happiness to an aging woman whose health was failing. Meant to be quality time with Fowler, for Doug, it was a constant reminder of someone’s absence. He forced a smile, masking his thoughts to cover his pain. It was to be a joyous ceremony. It’s for Maurice, he reminded himself. “Maurice sent this pretty flower to you,” Doug said, offering the plant to a delighted Elizabeth Fowler.
“He did? That Maurice, he never forget his mama. He was always a good boy!”
They chatted and ate. The phone rang. Maurice. “Hi Shorty,” he said lovingly, teasing his mother as she put her ear to the receiver. “Is that my baby?”
As the visit neared an end, the three stood together and held hands in prayer. From across the circle, Fowler stared into Doug’s eyes and asked the question he dreaded, bringing forth emotions he had fought to keep hidden.
“When is my baby coming home? He didn’t do nothing wrong!”
The truth was, her baby wasn’t coming home. Despite unwavering claims of innocence, Maurice Carter remained Michigan prison inmate number 145902, convicted for the 1973 shooting and attempted murder of off-duty Benton Harbor police officer Thomas Schadler. Had it not been for the tireless efforts of Keith Findley, co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, and Doug Tjapkes, Carter’s closest friend and ally, Carter may have never been granted medical commutation and released. He may have never walked into the arms of his 90-year-old mother, finally a free man at the age of 60. Freed from bondage, but not fully liberated from his tarnished name, Carter died of liver failure three months to the day after his release in 2004. The Michigan courts never proclaimed his innocence. He never returned home to Mama.
Mrs. Fowler welcomed her baby into freedom on July 24, 2004, at a reception we prepared for him in Spring Lake, Michigan. Our warmest wishes to all mothers on this special day, especially remembering the mothers of prisoners.
Curb is a lifestyle magazine produced annually by 23 University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication students.