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The impact of incarceration on a family: ‘sometimes I stays at home because he's not there.’

Cousin Shae Bryant (right) and Mom Betty Cummings (left) sat down in January-Wabash Park in Ferguson, Missouri, to talk about their family member, Paige Spears, who has been incarcerated for nearly 35 years.
Rebecca Smith
/
KBIA
Cousin Shae Bryant (right) and Mom Betty Cummings (left) sat down in January-Wabash Park in Ferguson, Missouri, to talk about their family member, Paige Spears, who has been incarcerated for nearly 35 years.

Paige Spears has been incarcerated in the Missouri Department of Corrections for nearly 35 years. At the age of 26, he was given a life sentence plus 30 years for an armed robbery he committed in 1988 – where no one was physically injured. He’s now 62.

Betty Cummings is his mother, and still lives in Ferguson, Missouri. She’s now 87 years old and spoke about how the many years of Paige’s incarceration have impacted her.

Due to a clerical error, Spears' sentence is listed at 1,001 years, and he is potentially up for parole after serving 40 years, which will be in 2028.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words.

Betty Cummings: Since Paige’s been gone, I have been under doctor's care. My nerves is bad, I take blood pressure pills, and I have laid awake many a nights praying and crying that he would get out.

And don't let me go visit him and leave – I can see the sadness in his face, and that particular night, I definitely don’t sleep cause it’s like I can just see him looking at me.

So, it’s been kinda, it’s been hard watching him grow up, and now I've seen the way he really changed. He said, “My name is Paige Daniel Spears,” he said, “but Paige Daniel Spears is not the same.” Changed his life to do good. He said, “because he didn’t raise us like that,” and he always gives me credit for that.

A lot of time when I hang the phone up, I’m crying, but he don’t know it.

"I have laid awake many a nights praying and crying that he would get out."
Betty Cummings

The first thing I would do – we would go and have dinner together, and I’d just hug him and lay [it] on him and just be happy. And that Sunday, we going to church. Going to church cause God make it happen.

I see him like maybe once a month, once every two months, but I talk with him twice a day, every day. He talking about when he gets out, what he wants to do, and I'm going to take care of you. He said “I'm gonna buy you a house,” and just be talking about great things we’re gonna look for himself and me.

Sometimes if I don't feel good and he asked me, I say “I’m doing fine. I’m doing good. How about yourself?” Getting it off of me because I don’t want him worried.

When he in their sad and worried, I am too. So, a mother always gonna feel that way about her child, but sometimes I visualize – I say, “Oh, I would just love to see him walking through this house.”

Yep, that’s my baby.

It’s been hard, real hard. Sometimes I just – like if someone in the family is giving a little party or going to the park or whatever, sometimes I stays at home because he's not there. Some people tell me, “Maybe you should suffer like that because he don't want you to do that.” I said, “ I know he don’t, but that's the way I feel.”

Paige Spears family gathered at January-Wabash Park in Ferguson, Missouri, in October to talk about Paige Spears. He has been incarcerated for nearly 35 years, and his mom, Betty Cummings (center) says she's still waiting for him to come home.
Rebecca Dmith
/
KBIA
Paige Spears family gathered at January-Wabash Park in Ferguson, Missouri, in October to talk about Paige Spears. He has been incarcerated for nearly 35 years, and his mom, Betty Cummings (center) says she's still waiting for him to come home.

Rebecca Smith is a reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth desk. She was born and raised in Rolla, Missouri, and graduated with degrees in Journalism and Chemistry from Truman State University in May 2014. Rebecca comes to KBIA from St. Louis Public Radio, where she worked as the news intern and covered religion, neighborhood growth and the continued unrest in Ferguson, MO.