CLEVELAND -- A mother of six who lost her children during her life of crime has been slowly reuniting with them.
Jurlee Thomas had to wait nearly 40 years to feel like she could honestly celebrate Mothers Day. With her previous life behind her, Thomas has been reaching out one by one to the children who were taken from her.
Thomas, now 63, did "a life sentence on the installment plan." She used that description to summarize her life beginning at the age of 24, in which she says she spent "two years in, one year out. One year in, two years out" in prisons in Ohio and Georgia.
"It took me 35 years to do that."
While Thomas was in prison her six children were placed in foster care, and some were adopted. All are now adults, and for their most part lost contact with their birth mother over the decades.
"They kept them from me to keep them safe," Thomas says of authorities' decision to remove her children from her custody while she was serving her various prison sentences for most "white collar crimes" as she describes them.
"I did it for the money," she now admits, "bad checks, things like that. Back in the 60's and 70's, back in those days, we were actually taught to survive," Thomas says of her life on the streets.
About her children, who were all young when she was first imprisoned, she says, "I could not nurture them because I was not nurtured. I was a foster child and had no natural family. I did what I could to survive."
When Thomas last left prison more than 10 years ago, she decided to complete her education, and when her children were ready, see if they were open to hearing from her.
She was assisted by adoption services and by the Cuyahoga County Community Re-Entry program. Over the last six months, she has reconnected with each of her six children.
The last was her oldest Kurtis Thomas, who lives in Casper, Wyoming. He and some family friends recently celebrated the reunion at Thomas' home.
"Twenty seven years, that's a very, very long time being away from my brothers and sisters, and my mom," Kurtis Thomas told WKYC. "This is a very special day. It's a dream come true."
At the celebration of the reunion of Kurt and Jurlee Thomas was Rakin Abdul-Aziz of community re-entry.
"Just to be able to bring them together sends a tremendous message," Aziz said, "to those who have lost their children, who have had some adversity in their life, not to give up. Not to give up."
Jurlee Thomas knows the lost years can never be made up, and that there are still wounds left to heal. One of her children, now a respected professional in the Cleveland area, met with her for about two hours recently.
"He was not ready," Thomas admits, "even though I thought I was. I reached out."
Thomas says she began to realize what she had lost while she was in prison. "I desired through all of those years during my behavior, my desire as a mother was to find my children."
"It's important to know that God will always give you the desire of your heart."