A story about a single mother struggling to get her life back on track after navigating a troubling childhood and jail time.
Cece (Carlandus) Elis is one of the 12 million single mothers raising a child alone in the U.S. Of this large demographic 29.2% of these mothers are living in poverty. Children who were raised by a single parent or often moved from varying homes, as Cece experienced in her childhood, are three times more likely to end up in prison before they turn Thirty. These unfortunate statistics practically predict the lives of many children like Cece before they have a chance to make a better life for themselves. Cece is now 30 years old, living in a children's home and ministry shelter with a child of her own. Scroll through to see how the generational impacts of her childhood lead her to foster care, group homes, incarceration, and unemployment.
Six-year-old son Amari sits patiently under a TJ-Maxx clothing rack while waiting for his mother to finish shopping. “The one thing about being a single mother is you have to bring your child everywhere, and I mean everywhere. It takes the relaxing part out of all of my favorite things because I have to be on mom lookout mode all the time. I am just so grateful Amari is so patient with me. The reason I really like shopping is that it makes me feel good to provide my son and myself with some of the small luxuries that my family could never afford when I was growing up.”
Amari shows his neighbors his action figures as his mother speaks to them about the mission's upcoming events. With everyone living so close together, this community of single parents is very tightly knit and committed to helping one another. They are currently living at Potter Children’s Home and Ministry in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The program they are in provides struggling single parents with shelter, food, financial planning classes, mentorships, and the means to get back on their feet.
Cece lights her Black & Mild as she rushes into her car. She is trying to make an effort to stop smoking in front of Amari, but she needs to on a stressful day like today. "I get overwhelmed quite easily and smoking is the only thing that calms my nerves. I know I need to quit, because I do not want Amari picking up these habits when he is older, but for right now it is what I have to do to stay sane."
One in four girl will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. 90% of the time, a child visit knows he abuser and 34% of abusers are family members. 32% of abused children had attempted suicide, and form the national average of 70% of people who have tried to take their own life had been abused.
Amari hugs one of his favorite volunteers from the ministry as he enters the building. Today Amari is going to be doing a Valentine's Day craft while Cece speaks to one of the counselors. "I am so grateful for the program here, it has helped me so much in the year that I have been here, it is hard for me to even express how grateful I am to be here and be a part of something like this."
The state of Kentucky has been the highest rates of child abuse in the country. Along with abuse, neglect and parent drug abuse are the main reasons children are taken from the home and placed in the foster care system. Children and adolescents with foster care experience are diagnosed with PTSD at twice the rate of U.S. war veterans. Children who have been in foster care are also four times more likely to attempt suicide. Cece is the prime example of how the generational curses of incarceration, drugs, and abuse impact the lives of so many Americans, and the cycle never seems to end.
Amari and his mother stand embracing each other while they speak to the Sensei about Amari joining his Karate class. Cece has growing concerns about Amari growing up without a positive father figure in this life, which is why she has enrolled him in many different sports and activities with male coaches and leaders. "I am so afraid he is going to miss out on all the important father-son things that many other children get to experience. I am hoping the coaches can be a positive male figure in his life and possibly teach him things like respect, self-control, and discipline. I am also concerned about how shy Amari has gotten over the past year. Because the pandemic put everything online, he hasn't had any interaction with children his age, and now when I see him with other kids he's gotten much shyer than he has in the past. I'm hoping between karate and basketball he will get to socialize more while learning some valuable life lessons I can't teach him."
6.5 million adults have an immediate family member currently in jail or prison. Research has found that rates of family incarceration were disproportionately higher for communities of color and low income families. With this the number of incarcerated individuals has been on a steep incline over the past decade. The number of women in prison has been increasing at twice the rate of growth for men.
Laundry piles up as some tasks have to be pushed aside when life gets busy and for a single mother, life is always that busy. Cece sits down for the first time today to work on some homework after she puts Amari to bed. Cece is in her second semester of online college, but finding time to earn a degree while trying to care for a child and find a job to support herself and Amari is difficult. "I almost feel like this is pointless sometimes. Like I am going to get my degree, for what? To get rejected again and again all because of my past? It is just so defeating when I am trying so hard for something that seems impossible at this point. All people will ever see when they look at me is a felon, they don't recognize who I am now and what I am trying to do."
Cece and her Best friend take their kids to the trampoline park, besides her family, Natessica is the only person Cece hangs out with. They often do homework together as they let their children play. Both being single mothers and coming form similar family situations is the reason they are so close. "She just understands me, she has been there for me when I needed her and I have always been there for her with no judgement. I know I can always go to her with absolutely anything and she will give me the best advice."
Cece greets the children playing outside as she exits one of her many cousins' homes in Owensboro Kentucky. "Although my family and I have been through so much with each other, I have learned to forgive them. I come back to Owensboro to keep up with my family and make sure they are all doing alright. I want them to know that Amari and I are still as much a part of this family as before, even though we don't live here anymore. It is mostly about trying to accept my family for who they are and showing respect to them despite my disagreement with her lifestyle. I bring Amari here because I want him to know his family and know where he is from, but also understand that this is not the life that I want for us."
Cece and her oldest sister speak to one of her sister's children about getting in a fight in school. "I'm proud of you for standing up for yourself, don't let anyone push you around out there girl."
Cece checks in for her therapist appointment for the first time in two months. Her depression has been becoming increasingly more intense over the past months so she has made the decision to go back to therapy.
Cece practices sounding out words with her son at her best friend's house. "Because of the transition to online school much of the responsibility of teaching my son has been passed down to me, and it honestly overwhelming. Amari isn't reading as fast as the other kids in his class, which is making him self-conscious about going back to school in person. It is making him hate school, which scares me because once you start hating school it is a fast track to dropping out and not going anywhere in life. I've seen it first hand with so many people in my family and I will not let it happen to my baby. I feel like I've failed him as a parent, I never want him to have any kind of self-doubt, but getting him to practice his words is almost impossible because he's so discouraged. I'm trying my best to be everything for him, but we're both struggling right now."
Cece falls asleep on her best friend's couch and Amari climbs up on top of her to watch TV. Recently Cece has been experiencing sudden waves of exhaustion and lightheadedness throughout her day. She believes she might be diabetic or have something else wrong with her. She talks about going to see a doctor about this daily, but between online school, trying to find a job, and providing for Amari she hasn't had the time. Sometimes being a single other with so many previous set backs means sacrificing your own health and wellness to getting all the other necessary tasks of the day done. "I really am just living day by day the best that I can."