Leaving a Light on for Ash: Explorations into the Activist Mothering of Coralee Smith (Mother of Ashley Smith, 1988-2007)

Josephine L. Savarese


Over the last decades, scholars have investigated mothers’ roles in ensuring their daughters and loved ones unexplained disappearances and deaths by violence are publicized and acknowledged. Here, I draw from previous scholarship to explore whether there are commonalities between a mother’s quest for justice after her daughter’s death in a Canadian prison and other mothers who similarly demand accountability after a loss. The mother’s name is Coralee Smith, the mother of the well-known teenager and deceased prisoner, Ashley Smith. In this text, I work to theorize Coralee Smith’s agency by drawing parallels with other mothering actions to demand redress for disappearances and losses. In this text, I offer fresh insights to the mothering literature by focusing on activism by parents of criminalized children, rather than adding to the studies on criminalized mothers. Incarcerated mothers are the subject of recent scholarship, but little research is available on the experience of mothers who provide support to incarcerated daughters and who demand accountability following deaths in custody.

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We are grateful to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) for its ongoing support of the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement.