Student View

"My Mom Is in Prison”

A lot of kids have complicated relationships with their parents. But Xieara, 14, has extra challenges: Her mom is in prison several hundred miles from home. On a recent visit, Xieara opened up about the emotional ups and downs—and how they keep their bond strong.

Twice a year, Xieara travels by plane and bus to visit her mom.

An estimated 2.7 million children in the United States have a parent in prison. Xieara (pronounced “Sierra”), a high school freshman from New York City, is one of them. Her mom, Destiny, 32, has been in and out of prison since Xieara was 2 years old. At first she was incarcerated closer to home. But she’s currently serving a five-year sentence in a medium-security prison in western New York, a seven-hour drive (or an hour and 20-minute flight followed by an hour drive) away.

Twice a year, Xieara is able to visit her mom by going on a trip organized by the Osborne This bus took Xieara to the prison, where a sign (right) displays rules for visitors. Association, a group that helps incarcerated parents and their kids stay connected. In December, Choices went along as she and 14 other kids (from toddlers to teens) made the emotional journey. Because of an unexpected detour on snow-covered roads, the visit was shorter than planned (three hours instead of four), but the group still fit in holiday-themed portraits, a huge lunch, and countless hugs. Here, Xieara tells her story.

This bus took Xieara to the prison

I didn’t know my mom was incarcerated until I was 10. Everybody told me she was in a different state working. She called me every day, so for a long time I didn’t think anything was up. But then it hit me: She’s working every day? Summer’s here, holidays are here, and she’s not here. It wasn’t normal. I started asking her, “Where are you? Just tell me.” One day over the phone, she finally did. I cried hysterically. But then I realized it is what it is. I can’t change what she did, so I decided to forgive her. Eventually, I got used to our unique situation, but it’s still hard. I can’t see her when I want to see her.

Girl Talk

For many years I lived with my great-aunt, but she’s in her 80s now, so last year I moved in with my dad and my stepmother. Even though I have other women in my life, I don’t feel comfortable talking to them the way I talk to my mother. She’s my best friend. Despite the mistakes she’s made, I accept her for who she is. She’s able to call me every day—sometimes it feels like it’s every five seconds! We talk about everything—boys, friends, school, what I’m about to eat, what I have to do, my clothes. She’ll even help me with my homework. I tell her Every. Single. Thing—bad, good, all of it.

Yearly Visits

Before this trip, I hadn’t seen my mom in many months—I can barely remember how long it was. When she was in a prison close by, my great-aunt would take me to see her once a year. The first time I went, it was weird and confusing. Prisons have a lot of rules. The guards pat you down to make sure you aren’t hiding anything under your clothes, and I could only give my mom a quick hug when I came in and when I left. We couldn’t even sit right next to each other.

She was then moved to this prison in upstate New York. Osborne sets up 45-minute video visits for us once a month and plans a trip here in the spring and fall. They’re fun. The other kids and I stay in a hotel with our chaperones and eat a lot. But of course the best part of the trip is always seeing our moms.

On my first trip upstate, I was upset when I had to leave, and I didn’t know what to do or who to cry with. Now that I’m older, I help the younger kids. When I see them crying, I give them a hug and the love they need. Sometimes I think I want to become a social worker when I’m older because I like helping people, especially children.

The visits set up by Osborne are special because we don’t have as many restrictions in the visiting room. The day before we see our moms, we make homemade cards for them and they’re handed out at the prison. We can’t bring anything else inside with us. I wish I could have my phone with me so I could show my mom photos, and we could Facetime with other people, and she could see the outside world. But having no phone means more time together without distractions. I get to hug my mom, kiss her, sit on her lap. She likes to smell my hair and my hands, and she’ll ask me why I keep biting my nails. Since we only have a couple of hours together, we just want to get everything we can from each other—all the love and affection and memories we can pack into those moments.

My mom doesn’t tell me much about life in prison. She does say that even though it may look nice on our visits, inside it’s not that nice. I don’t worry about her safety, though. She’s tough.

Xieara tries her best to comfort the younger kids on the trip.

Ups and Downs

I have things together now, but after I learned my mom was in prison, I started acting out—running away from home and doing things I wasn’t supposed to do. When I get mad, I want to scream and cry. I thought a punching bag would help me, so I started boxing, which allowed me to let out my anger and relieve stress. I still have anger problems, but it’s not as bad as it was when I couldn’t see her regularly or have our video visits and phone calls.

“Having a mom who’s incarcerated doesn’t define me. I’m so much more than that.”

-Xiera

I wasn’t always comfortable telling my friends that my mother is in prison. In middle school, though, my great-aunt told some people, and then my friends were all up in my business. I thought they were being nosy, but then I realized that some of those kids were in the same situation I was in. It was amazing to have friends going through a similar experience. As I get older, I’ve started to tell more people that my mom’s in prison, and I explain the reasons why.

I have a close friend who complains about his mother a lot, and I remind him, “Your mother’s there.” She’s going to be annoying— my mother’s annoying!—but she’s your mother. She gave birth to you; she’s always going to look out for you no matter what.

Reunion Countdown

Some people assume that I’ll end up in prison like my mom. I tell them, yeah, I am just like my mom—but not in that way. Having a mom who’s incarcerated doesn’t define me. I’m so much more than that. I’m a good sister, daughter, and friend. I like to dance and shop. I go to school. I’m me. And you know what? My mom is a lot more than just someone who is in prison.

My mom is supposed to be released in May. She’s working on getting into a shelter in New York City for formerly incarcerated people. I could live there with her, and even though it’s not a mansion, I’m OK with that because we’d be together. I could wake up to her, eat with her, introduce her to my friends. I want to take my mom to get her nails and hair done. I want to go to sleep knowing she’s there. I’m also looking forward to getting to know her more than I do now. I just want to be with my mom and give her all my love. Xieara tries her best to comfort the younger kids on the trip. “Having a mom who’s incarcerated doesn’t define me. I’m so much more than that.”

Xieara can’t wait until her mom is released, likely in May.

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