Desmond was crying and scared when police surrounded his car and arrested his parents for drug trafficking. He was 6. To him, his mother and father were caring people who rooted him in good values and a strong work ethic.

Their 25-year sentences left Desmond in the care of his grandmother and aunt, who pushed him to strive in school and avoid trouble. Still, he had a hard time focusing on schoolwork, his mind preoccupied with his parents behind bars. He also got into occasional fights when other children made fun of his incarcerated parents.

Today, Desmond is hurting again. His grandmother, a dominate figure in much of his life, died at the end of 2009 after a bout with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The quiet, serious, and heavyset boy is now, again, building the confidence to go on.

“I feel I am more mature than my friends because of my life. Physically, mentally, and verbally. My actions are mostly based on how I respond to people. I learned this from the situation with my parents and grandma. It taught me a lot about life.

If you choose to be a good person, good things will come to you. If you choose to do wrong things, bad things will come to you. My grandma taught me that.

Since my grandma died, if you get into an argument with me, I’ll just walk away. It’s not worth it to me. It keeps me out of trouble.

I still do fight sometimes, but it takes a lot more for me to fight you. It used to be, if you say the wrong thing to me, I will fight you. But now, if you say the wrong thing, I’ll say something back and just walk away.

It’s not worth getting into trouble with ignorant people. I don’t want to end up where my parents are.” 

“I saw my mom last week for nearly four hours. She’s doing fine. Every visit is getting better for me. I’m happy to see her. We play Monopoly and Connect Four. She misses my grandmother and my daddy. She’s been in the same prison for about seven years.
I like seeing her. It’s really special. I hug her and talk to her. It takes like 10 minutes to get through security. That’s bad. The hardest part is leaving. I know it’s going to be a while before I see her again.

We talk on the phone every night, including weekends. I talk until the phone hangs up after like 13 minutes. She tells me the same thing: How she’s ready to come home.

I wish I could see my dad more often. I only see him a few times every year. He is ready to come home too. And he too wishes he could see me more often. We talk about the same stuff every night on the phone.
I’m looking forward to seeing my mom out of prison. To me, everybody should have an open relationship with their mom. You need to see her and be able to talk to her. She should be the person you go to talk to about everything and cry to if you have to.”


“I’m an honest person. But with the situation with my parents, I have to lie about it. With certain people, you have to.
At first, my grandmother said I shouldn’t tell anyone about my mom and dad because it’s not their business. I had lied so much to my friends that I started wondering how they would react if I actually told them the truth. Some of my teachers know, but that’s OK.

My friends have asked, but I don’t tell them. I just say they are out of town. I have opportunities to tell them, but it’s none of their business and they don’t need to know. It’s very personal to me. I’m not really ashamed of it because it’s my business. It’s between me and my parents.

Maybe someday I’ll share it with my friends, but not now. They will have to be really good friends.

I know backstabbing and cold-hearted people. They are hard to get along with. They think they rule people when they can’t. I know a lot of people like that.

I have a hard time trusting people.”

“My mom taught me to work hard. If you want to get somewhere in life, you have to work hard. You should work for it. I love cleaning and taking care of myself. I like to take care of animals.

I’m generally happy, but I feel sad about my mom and dad being in prison and about my grandmother passing away. We were really close. I was having a hard time. I was always thinking about my grandma and what she was doing. I was thinking about my mom and dad too. Nobody should grow up without their mom and dad.

I’m not angry at my parents or the police. I feel sad and depressed and devastated. I hope they’ll be home early in like two years. I’ll hug them and tell them how much I missed them when I see them free.

Another thing I don’t like is catching a bus to school in the mornings. That bus is too long and it’s really annoying. I go far because it’s a better school. I get Bs and Cs. It’s not hard to get As but I don’t push myself to get As. At school it’s really busy and hectic. I’m overwhelmed.

I like math and science. I’m behind in geography. The work can be a little hard sometimes. It’s hard to memorize things.

I get home at 5 or 6 and am tired. I do homework, take a shower, and go to bed."
Journalist Leon Fooksman chronicles the lives of children in the Service Network for Children of Inmates organization in the Miami area. Listen, as they rebuild connections with their parents in prison, as they work to stay on track in school, and as they focus on healing from the trauma of families separated by the crimes of their parents.

Note: The names of the children in this blog have been changed to prevent them from being stigmatized. These stories are edited transcripts of lengthy conversations with the children.