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WUWM & MPTV Special SeriesWhy are so many Wisconsinites behind bars?And, what are the costs?In the 2010 Census, Wisconsin had the highest percentage of incarcerated black men in the nation. One out of every eight black men of working age is behind bars. In Milwaukee County, more than half of African American men in their thirties have served time in prison.Over the course of six months, WUWM and MPTV explored Wisconsin's high rate of black male incarceration, through expert analysis and personal stories.Why is the rate so high?How does imprisonment affect the men and their futures, as well as their families, neighborhoods and the region's economy?What are possible solutions?Contribute Your IdeasDo you have questions you'd like to have answered? Stories you'd like to share? Please share your questions and comments with us.

A Milwaukee Mother Reflects on Son's Life In and Out of Prison

Wisconsin incarcerates black men at a rate higher than every other state. For thousands of parents this is more than a statistic. A mother shares her reflections.
On the day of Velma Tombs' interview, she learned her son was being released from the Milwaukee County House of Correction. A portable cot stands in the corner of her Milwaukee apartment in an assisted living complex. Her son will stay with her until “he’s settled.”

Tombs says it’s difficult to share the fact that her 35-year-old son has been in and out of prison for 15 years.

"Because I didn’t raise him that way. He chose to take another way. James is very smart; he got As in school and for him to turn the way he did really disappointed me. But I took it and made the best of it,” Tombs says.

Tombs says wrote to her son and talked with him by phone. She drew strength from her faith.

“And then I got help through a meeting with other mothers whose sons are on drugs and I learned what do and what not to do,” Tombs says.

Tombs says she learned the importance of not putting her son down or telling him he would never amount to anything. “Instead say, you are somebody and you can do this; you have to fight,” Tombs says.

Tombs admits she did hit a low point in the past when her son came to her and demanded she give him money. “And when I didn’t give it to him, he tried to become violent. That really got to me because I wondered what in the world can make a child turn away from his parent,” Tombs says.

Tombs continues to hope in her son’s healthy future.

“To get a job, get married, have children, a meaningful job. I never give up on my children. I think they can be whatever they want to be in the world. They’ve just had a minor setback. But I still say there are people out there willing to help and give you a chance,” Tombs says.

She plans to keep on advising her children as long as she is able.

“Because there’s going to come a day, when they won’t hear my voice and they’ll wish I am here. But I want to tell them now while I’m here now, that there’s a better way,” Tombs says.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.