By the time guards ushered the 63 inmates into the stark chapel of Miami-Dade’s Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, visitors had bundled carnations, poms and other blooms into beautiful bouquets for a Mother’s Day giveaway.
These female inmates, from 18 to 60 years old, would spend their Mother’s Day Sunday as they had for days, months or years before — behind bars, awaiting trial or serving time for crimes ranging from fraud to murder.
But Friday, for a brief moment, all was forgotten as the room full of inmates — some hardened from their revolving stints behind bars and their harsh lives on the outside — choked back tears and clutched bunches of blooms.
In all, the 63 women had more than 100 children among them.
“It a was tough reminder of being a mom,” said inmate Herminia DeLarosa, 38, serving five years of an organized crime conviction, for helping a relative fence stolen goods.
“I have five kids, 9 to 20 years old. I had a decent job as a certified nursing assistant. And then I messed up. And I’m here, away from my kids. I’m a mom in name. But I’m not living it, ’cause of what I did.”
The pre-Mother’s Day flower giveaway was organized by Miami Shores wholesale florist Bill Armellini and a crew of friends. Also on hand were Sophia Montenegro, community liaison for the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office; James Martin, the prison chaplain; and John Schmidt, a former addict and ex-felon.
The flower giveaway was a first for the department, said corrections spokesperson Janelle Hall.
Armellini at first caught some criticism from friends and associates when they heard about his decision to give flowers to inmates.
Later, florists across South Florida joined in to donate a few bundles.
“I’m not a complicated guy,” said Armellini, a father of two. “I just think help or charity should be given where it’s needed most.”
He drew laughs from the inmates when he stopped bundling flowers long enough to look up and say, “I don’t do speeches.”
Montenegro, however, gave a serious, emotional talk, telling the women to “put the negativity and the bad activities behind you, so you can go home and take care of your families.”
“There’s nothing more amazing than being a woman,” said Montenegro, whose own mother raised her alone after her father was killed in the 1979 Nicaraguan Revolution.
“We carry so many burdens. Turn this journey positive by learning, and detoxing, and cutting free from those things that are not good for you.”
As inmate Pamela Gaines, in jail without bond on charges of kidnapping and child abuse, sang His Eye is on the Sparrow, Martin, the prison chaplain, expressed hope.
“Flowers aren’t going to change anyone. But sometimes after years of stubbornness, all it takes is one simple kind gesture to push someone to change her life,” he said. “These women have had lots of thorns in their lives. Maybe these flowers will signal a new start for some.”