(Twins)
Tiffany & Emily Age:15
Grade: 8
Hometown: Miami, Fla.

Tiffany and Emily were in school when police arrested their mother. The twins were 9. Their grandmother told them their mother suddenly had to leave town. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that the girls learned what really happened.

The girls and their younger sister were very close with their mother until her incarceration. Their mother was the central figure in their lives -- their father walked out on them years ago -- who kept them focused on school and away from bad influences. With her gone, the girls struggled with school, got into fights and didn’t want to listen to adults. Soon, they lost touch with her.

Today, Tiffany and Emily are living with their grandmother in a neighborhood plagued by crime. They are doing better in school and have reconnected with their mother who remains behind bars. They both want to attend college, but they know they have a hard road ahead.
   

"Tiffany: I had fun. I saw my (half) brothers and sisters. I’ve met them before. My father has eight kids in all. We had a good time. My father wants us to come and visit again for Christmas.

Emily: I didn’t want to see him, to tell you the truth. I just didn’t. It wanted to go back, but we had to stay there for two weeks. I didn’t feel a connection to him at all. I just didn’t. I don’t know if I want to see him again.

Tiffany: I’d like to see him again. I want to learn a bit more about his childhood and stuff like that. He seems like a good person. My sister and I both feel differently about him. And that’s OK.”



  

"Tiffany: The classes are good. The teachers are easier. The math is easier to me as well. Science is a lot different, though. It’s a lot more writing. I like school a lot more. I’m getting better grades. My progress report is all Bs now. I study harder and I do more work in class and pay more attention. "

Emily: I’m doing a little better too. I pay more attention in class.
 [My motivation is that] I am trying to get out of school faster. I want to move on. I want to be on my own and travel. I don’t know where yet, maybe to Texas, the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls.”



   

"Emily: We live about 20 or 30 minutes away from our old house.

Tiffany: It’s quiet. That’s probably why my grandma moved there. You don’t have any problems with shootings, and we’re able to sleep at nighttime.

Tiffany: Our old neighborhood was kind of rough. People died on the corner. You couldn’t walk on the sidewalk by yourself. Sometimes I was scared to walk to school by myself…Then we had other problems like when we were sleeping at night time, we would hear the gate open and one day there was somebody in the backyard, and we didn’t know who it was, and it turned out to be a lot of drama. There were helicopters over our house. This happened last year.

Tiffany: [In our new neighborhood,] we have more kids to play with. We live in a bigger house. It has four bedrooms and four bathrooms. Our old house had three bedrooms and two bathrooms.

Tiffany: People are friendly. There are not a lot of people walking around on the street. It’s quiet and calm. We live right next to a Kmart store, and we have a bigger yard. I’m comfortable with it. We don’t have to worry about anyone disturbing our sleep.”



   

"Tiffany: We learned all about civics -- United States history, the president, and the Constitution.

Emily: We missed some credits because we missed some classes and work. So they allowed us to retake the class. They never told us how we missed those credits. They just said we didn’t have the credits.

Tiffany: It was a big class of 28 kids, but on some days it was only 16. These are kids from all over Miami.

Emily: It was hard. We needed to learn all about ‘We The People.’ I didn’t learn it in regular school so I had to do it in summer school.

Tiffany: I liked learning about our rights. The First Amendment was interesting, especially the part about freedom of speech, press and assembly. I didn’t know about those before.

Emily: I learned stuff we never learned in regular class. Our teacher made us study all the time.

Tiffany: This is the second time we had to take summer school. In sixth grade, we took something but I don’t remember what it was. I just know we both passed it."



   

"Tiffany: We clean the back closet. We file papers. We do work-related stuff on computers and printers. We do it for five to seven hours a day. We get to spend time out of the house and do stuff for the community.

Emily: I like to file papers. It’s fun.

Tiffany: I can use the money I make to help my baby sister and my cousins too. I can take her places and do stuff for them, now that I have a job.

Emily: I put my money in a savings account. I’m not sure what I am saving for, probably for college. I’ve got $290 saved.

Tiffany: This is our first paying job. It’s important to me, again because I can help my baby sister. I can also save for stuff I really want and need.

Emily: This feels good. It’s what I expected work to be. Working can be hard. It’s also good for keeping you busy so you don’t have to stay in the house and get into trouble."



   

"Tiffany: It’s tough where we live. People use profanity and wear their pants below the waist. There’s some people killing other people. We don’t go anywhere because of the neighborhood. It would be better to get out more. We don’t want to sit in the house knowing someone is getting shot outside. I’d like to live in the country. I like to be near cows and do farming when I am older and take care of animals.

Emily: In the morning, it’s fine here, but in the afternoon they smoke and drink. We moved here to be closer to our mom who is in prison in Miami. I want to live in a quiet neighborhood where there’s quiet and friendly people who wear clothing that fits them.

Tiffany: I like to be with friends and practice basketball. I like ice skating. I always want to be in the championship of skating.

Emily: I like to swim, dance and play music. I can dance anywhere. I don’t need a fancy place.

Tiffany: Life is fine. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not. I wish I had a job so I don’t have to wait to get what I want.

Emily: I wish I had a job as well. I miss my mom. If she was home, life would be different. We could probably go to more places and get what we need."
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.