Amanda cried as police officers handcuffed her father and took him away on drug charges. She was 8. To Amanda, he was the most trusted person in the world - strong, understanding, dedicated and quick to shower her with designer shoes and jeans.

His going to prison ended that. Today, Amanda suffers from anxiety. She has trouble in school. She runs away from her mother’s home. She has been arrested for fighting.

Even so, Amanda is pleasantly sunny. She dreams of finishing her alternative high school, going to college, and, one day, becoming a surgeon. She is the oldest of four children. She wears long braids, a radiant smile, and still loves her dad.
 

"[The stabbing] made me want to change my ways about…mainly how I feel about people. Instead of judging people just by looking at them, I’d actually have to get to know the person before I say something bad about them.

I’m less angry now. It was a lesson learned. My mom always told me something was going to happen if I don’t stop fighting, and I wouldn’t listen. So that happened, and now I never want to get into anything like that again. So I’m trying to do what’s right, instead of always being angry with someone for petty reasons.

[This incident] has made me a stronger person. As far as school, it’s made me want to finish school and become something. It showed me how easy it is to get in trouble and how hard it is to get out of it. You could be the most innocent person as far as what’s going on, and sometimes it’s not even your fault, but you end up getting into something that you didn’t think was going to happen.

[I’m not friends with a lot of people any more.] Some of them just weren’t good friends and other ones, I don’t know, I just felt like I needed to break off from everyone and have some space. I don’t know why, I just did.” 



 

“I call my teachers. I stay on the phone with them for like 45 minutes. I turn in my homework to a parent professional. They let me know what they want me to do. I do my work and my tests at home. The parent professional is like a teacher’s aid. She comes once a week and brings my work to me. It works good for me. There are no distractions. I don’t have to get up out of bed and get dressed to go to school. It’s basically school in your pajamas. It’s easier than being in school. My grades are good right now since I just started. The last report card I had, I passed all of my classes except for two of them.

I’m doing 10th, 11th and 12th grade work. I also do some of my classes online. Hopefully, I will graduate on time if I finish all of my classes on time.

I like English, and I like my childcare class. It’s like the basics for being a parent and helping kids as far as being a mentor and all that. Maybe I’ll get into that, but I also want to be a surgeon. I want to be a surgeon because I want to save lives. I want to be the kind of surgeon where if there’s a problem and somebody is hurt and it’s a life and death situation, as soon as they come in, I start working on them. I don’t know if I can be one though because I haven’t really looked into it too much, but if I put my mind to it, I’ll do it. If I don’t do that, then I’d like to work with kids and tell them the right and wrong things to do so they won’t have to go through the things that I’ve been through.” 


 
  
“I was sitting in lunch, and I asked this girl who I grew up with for 50 cents. She started to get loud and everything and told me she didn’t have it, and she called me a b*tch. I told her not even my own mama called me that, so she shouldn’t do it. She got mad and said something else so I told her off. I got up to walk away, and she walked up behind me, and we started fighting, and then she stabbed me with an X-Acto knife that she had in her purse.

I got stabbed three times: in my face, behind my ear and in my head. They had to rush me to the hospital without my mom. It hurt, especially when they were putting the anesthesia on my head and when they were stitching it. When they were taking me to the hospital, the cut on my face was burning.

I don’t know [why she was so angry with me]. I guess it was because of stuff her boyfriend was doing to her. She took it out on everybody, but what made her really mad was when we were fighting, her boyfriend told her, “Oh you’re letting that little girl beat you up.” So I guess she got mad about that, but I’m not sure. I didn’t think I’d get into a fight with someone like her, who I grew up with.

She got arrested and went to court and everything, but I didn’t press charges. I just gave her two years of probation, and I think counseling. I was going to press charges at first, but then her mom came, and she was crying. I know if it was my mom, I would want somebody to have sympathy on my mom too. So I just decided it’s not going to be me. If she messes up again during the two years she is on probation, then they can bring up my case again too and direct file her. There’s a lot of teens that get direct file that I know.” 


 
  
“I’ve been looking forward to coming here for many weeks. I really miss him.

We caught up on a lot of family stuff. I told him about my mother, my cousins and my step-dad. I did a lot of talking.

I haven’t seen him in a while. He looks good. He used to be fat when he was younger. But he’s lost a lot of weight in here. We all used to love to eat. He used to make some really spicy wings. They were so good.

It’s not easy being home without your daddy. I like being here with him, but I’d rather him be at home. But he won’t be home for a while. At least another four-and-a-half years. We’re going to try and stay closer connected. I’ll visit more and he’ll try calling me.

He’s been gone for so long. It’s not fair. He’s got kids and family.”



  

“There’s so much going on with family and stuff, and with boys whispering in your ear. I just stopped focusing on school.

I’m much better at writing than math. I used to keep a dairy and write about my feelings. But I threw it out because I didn’t want my mom to see it. She’s nosy. There’s bad stuff in there.

My dad was the only one who could control me. But he doesn’t know much about me now. It’s sad and depressing. I find myself stressing out about it. It’s got a lot to do with the way I was raised.

My mom made up her mind not to see my dad again. He was far away, and it was too much in gas to see him. She told me she never liked my dad even when she got pregnant with me. That made me feel bad. I’m daddy’s girl. I worship the ground he walks on. My mom doesn’t have a school education. She dropped out when she was in the 11th grade. She values education, though. But I taught her how to read. As for my father, I don’t know much about him. I don’t know if he ever finished school.

I was once an A-B student with perfect attendance. I had all kinds of certificates. What happened to those days? I’m an intelligent person. But I don’t put an effort onto studying.”
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.