Set Free – Donna Gail Ellis

by jenniferwilliams on May 18, 2015

One of the things I love most about doing the show is sitting in the wings on show night while each reader stands at the podium and pours her heart out to the audience. As she reads, you can feel her words grow power. You can almost see the weight drop off of her as she lets her burdens go. That’s how I felt watching Donna. Today Donna shares what the experience of being in Listen to Your Mother meant to her.

Donna Gail Ellis recaps the experience of sharing her essay How to Raise a Criminal with Listen to Your Mother.

The walk to the podium that night was the longest and hardest I think I’ve ever made with the exception of a day in court a few years back. With a couple of stumbles but quick recovery, I put my secret “out there”, wherever there is, for eventually anyone who follows me and watches YouTube to see.

I knew I had Elaine and Jennifer’s full support and that they would stand with me, but this was something I knew I had to do on my own, but not alone. I had nine women and one man on stage with me. Ten family members, four good friends, and my man were in the audience for emotional support. As Andy was finishing, Summer reached across Andy’s chair and grabbed my hand. That was all I needed to know that it was going to be fine. Thanks Summer! So off I went with a photo of my mother in one pocket and a photo of my son in the other.

As scary and frightening as it was, with everyone’s support, I did it. Briskly leaving the stage and returning to my seat, I felt an enormous burden lift off my shoulders. I finally did not care what others thought about me and my son.

I believe at some point soon, I will talk openly about my son’s progress as excitedly as you do about your son’s first steps or his latest ‘A’ on his spelling test or that he got picked for homecoming king (such as, he passed his EPA exam with flying colors!). I shamed myself for too long for something that was not my fault, nor was it his dad’s fault.

The title of my story was How To Raise A Criminal. My son is a prison inmate. He has made wrong choices for quite a while, however, he is owning them as I type. Josh is excited to read and hear this story once he is released from prison. During Sunday visitation after the show, I discussed with him what I’d hope to accomplish by sharing our story. Before I had a chance to mention my desire to write a book, his response was “Mom, you need to write a book about all of this!”

I came across the Listen to Your Mother Show the first year it was in Austin. My son had already been to prison. I was toying with the idea of writing a fictional story based on my experiences. I was not quite ready for exposing this to more than my small circle of friends and family. Instead, I watched from the sidelines and wrote for myself.

Then in early February 2012, I received the phone call that set me reeling and it took several months and good friends to help me recover. After a few setbacks in my career and due to financial reasons, I reluctantly moved back to my hometown area. Much to my surprise I saw the ad for Listen to Your Mother producing its first show in Beaumont last year; however, I didn’t find out about it in time to send in my selection. So I waited… and watched and waited… When the 2015 audition announcement was made, my mind was made up. I auditioned and was selected.

Little did I know that I would also be the catalyst of bringing a new friend of mine to the show, Betty, who has a story so extraordinary that if your faith is lost, it will be restored. Listen to her story on YouTube later this summer. Betty and I now have plans of building together a program to work with young women and help them.

One of my co-castmates wrote to me about someone she knew who had experienced pain like me for many years due to her son being imprisoned. The phrase she used stood out and resonated with me. “In silence.” Prison mom’s struggle in silence. We suffer in silence. That evening on the stage, I hope that I gave all mothers of prison inmates a voice. We do not have to be silent.

Thank you, Jennifer and Elaine, for stepping up to the plate and bringing Listen to Your Mother to Beaumont. And Thank you, Ann Imig, for bringing a voice to motherhood.

Donna Gail Ellis

Donna Gail Ellis, a single mother, has worked in the field of criminal justice for over 30 years. she began blogging to interact with other Red Sox bloggers, but instead, her “Don’t Mess With Tex” site became an avenue to write again. She has three sayings: believe, never settle, and finding yourself isn’t as hard as it may seem. Just look in the mirror, then in your heart.

Summer Lacy May 18, 2015 at 1:53 pm

Love this, Donna!

Mary Van Meter Landry May 20, 2015 at 3:23 am

My heart goes out to you. So proud of you standing up with a voice to tell your story. You are a strong woman.

Julia May 20, 2015 at 8:18 am

Donna, I had no idea. I have tears of joy for you. You are the strongest woman I know. Follow your dreams and you will achieve them all!!! I can’t wait to read your book!

Kim May 20, 2015 at 1:41 pm

So proud of you DG! You are a very strong woman and will be the voice for other mothers. Love you

Phyllis May 21, 2015 at 1:36 am

You’re an amazing woman. Stay strong, many people are counting on you!

Judy Ybarbo May 22, 2015 at 8:42 am

How inspirational are you Donna Gail! Thanks for sharing your story. I admire you for having the courage to stand up and write about your story. I am honored to call you my friend. Love you girl.✌✌

evon May 22, 2015 at 9:32 am

Donna, I am so happy for you……

carla steele May 22, 2015 at 11:36 am

Donna you are super woman , I can’t wait to see your story on you tube. God Bless you sister and I’m keeping you and Josh in my prayers…Carla Jo !!!

Donna Gail May 22, 2015 at 9:17 pm

I wish so much I could like each and every post that is here…some of ya knew my secret but many didnt…and ya still love me the same…how silly we women are that we are so afraid that people will judge?? Because some do…but as long as I know that I have friends from long ago and current stand with me and not against me…I AM FREE!! Thank you ALL!!!!

Donna Gail

Dana May 25, 2015 at 10:36 pm


I’m so proud of you. I will definitely be ready to buy your book. God is always on our side. Even through the ups & downs of life. You’re an amazing mom & friend! My love & prayers are with you & Josh. Hugs my friend.

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