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  • Heather Lewis

Submitted with a Mother’s Hope and Love: A Letter for my Daughter's Social Biography

Editor's Note: Participatory Defense organizers and families often make social biography packets for their loved ones facing charges. The packets consist of letters, photos, achievements, records and more to help humanize our loved one moving through a system designed to strip them of their humanity. Very rarely do these packets or letters get viewed publicly as they sometimes only exist with in the context of the courts but Heather Lewis, a participatory defense organizer from Montgomery County, PA, felt compelled to share the letter she wrote for her daughter who was facing charges. It is a compelling example of a mother's love written to the courts and an example for all those searching for the words to write for their loved one. The letter begins with a message from Heather as to why she wanted to share such a personal letter.


Message from the author:

I am sharing Ava's letter of support for multiple reasons. From a mother's perspective, I wanted to show love and compassion, my hopes and dreams, but also recognizing how mental health and or substance abuse issues can alter the course of life. I wanted her to know that I saw her. I saw her as a perfectly imperfect human daughter. I saw her delight and I saw her darkness and I loved them both. I want her to know that it is ok to love them both, that it's ok for other mothers and fathers to love them both. I wanted her to know that I was paying attention, but that I missed some things. As parents, we have a tendency to see things through the lens of a protector, a teacher or disciplinarian vs being a safe space because of our own fears. 

Heather and her daughter, Ava

Your Honor, 

Thank you for the opportunity to tell you about my middle daughter Ava Lewis. She is 23 years old and is the 3rd of my 4 children. Ava will be 24 on January 5, 2024. Ava is the most caring, considerate and passionate young person I know. She feels the pain of injustice when she sees or hears of it. She is a solution oriented person who gets fixated on finding a way to help someone or fix something. 

Ava’s father and I had a nasty breakup that included a custody battle and a long absence from her father. In the 2nd or 3rd grade, Ava was diagnosed with seizure disorder and needed to take medication until she outgrew the disorder and was cleared after about 5 years. 

When Ava was 10, I remarried which quickly turned into a very abusive situation where all of my children suffered. It took me nearly 10 years to escape that situation, but not before the damage was done. Ava was hospitalized for attempting suicide and lived with her father’s family for nearly a year before returning home. I was still in the abusive marriage but desperately wanted my Ava back home with her family. It was a difficult situation for all of us but she eventually came home, but was hospitalized again, had bouts with depression and revealed that she was gay. 

I think that was a weight off of her because Ava excelled in middle and high school until her senior year when a darkness came over her. She began to struggle academically when school used to come easy to her. She was a beautiful girl who loved to get dressed and accessorize, and her eye glass game was undefeated! Imagine my confusion when she traded dresses for khakis, blouses for white tees and Italian leather shoes for “Walmart Specials” or medicine shoes as her baby sister calls them. She transformed from being a beautiful expression of herself to a reflection of the darkness, confusion and wanting to disappear, no color, no sparkle, no life. 

She could no longer live at home as her suffering began to have a negative effect on her little sister who is 7 years younger than her and struggling with similar issues with her own father who was in and out of the house with an addiction. She reconnected with her father and lived with him for a little while, but anger overtook her and she had to leave. She was homeless, lived at the covenant house and traveled out of state in between being hospitalized for manic episodes. This has been Ava’s life for the last 5 years. 

As you read letters from her sisters, grandmother and friends you will see that family is resilient and that they miss her…we all miss her and want her home to heal and find her way. Her family will do everything we can to help her find stability in her mental health and her life, to mend relationships and identify her triggers. 

If you can find it in your spirit to show her mercy and reduce the felonies to misdemeanors so that she can have access to programs that will help her succeed in leading as independent life as possible. That she can contribute to society and her family in a meaningful way as unique as she is. That her 3 nephews get to know the goofy auntie whose skin is a beautiful chocolate brown, who’s smile can light up a room and who can outdress any man or woman I know. Despite being a darker shade there is no denying the resemblance, you know that she belongs to us. 

Submitted with a mother’s hope and love,

Heather Lewis

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