Meet Carlos, The 5-year-old Boy Behind Bars For Nearly 700 Days

I’ve partnered with Amnesty International to create a video series about the children and their parents fleeing horrific violence, conflict, and persecution in their home countries only to be thrown into detention here in the United States. They have come here asking for asylum, a form of protection recognized under U.S. and international law. Please join in urging our government to stop locking up families merely seeking safety.  Please join in demanding an end to family detention. 


Carlos, 5, greets me with a warm and curious smile. Peeking up at me, from behind his mother Lorena’s legs, he clutches a book given to him a day prior by Kristin from Amnesty International’s team. As I ease my way into earning this sweet little boy’s trust, he shows me how he’s already memorized his new book, naming all the animals in both English and Spanish.


I soon learn that Carlos can’t wait to go to Kindergarten, dreams of riding a bike, enjoys coloring, and loves to spend time playing outside. I sing a song that my mother used to sing to me as a child. Carlos joins me; he knows the lyrics. This song from my mother’s childhood is one of the many commonalities we uncover – yet the stark difference in our trajectories from South and Central America is never lost on me.


Although Carlos reminds me of my own children at age five, his story is far from typical. At an age where most kids enjoy unstructured play as they come into their own, Carlos spent his time behind bars. Alongside his mother Lorena, this loving little boy spent nearly 700 (yes, seven hundred) of his early childhood days detained inside what is known as the oldest “baby jail” in America, the Berks County Residential Center in Berks County, Pennsylvania.

Carlos learned to talk behind bars.


As Lorena unravels personal accounts of their story it shakes me to my core. The trauma inflicted by our government, and along every step of their escape from violence is beyond unfathomable.

Despite all that Lorena has endured, she is incredibly resilient and affectionate. She is the sort of person who carries (and spreads) such palpable joy. Spending time with Lorena is indeed a gift, and her openness in revisiting her layers of trauma (which often triggers debilitating migraines) is entirely rooted in helping others still behind bars.

Lorena and Carlos fled gang violence, extortion and kidnapping threats at gunpoint in their home country – a place where Amnesty International has documented horrific violence. This mother left everything she knew, with her 2-year-old son in her arms to make the arduous and dangerous journey to the United States in hopes of a simple human right: safety. Lorena and her son could have lost their lives, like so many others, had she stayed paralyzed in fear and not fled.


As a mother, I cannot even begin to imagine being in this impossible predicament. But I sure as hell know that I too would flee with my family wrapped in my arms if conflict threatened the lives of my children. I would leave everything I knew, and trade every dollar, for the hope of a path to safety, and security.


Lorena and Carlos were apprehended crossing the border to Texas. Lorena was holding her young toddler in her arms as they were pulled out of the water. The details which weave their testimony together are gut-wrenching, cruel and unjust – along with the experience of their time in Berks, behind bars.

The Berks is not a hotel stay or a home. It is a jail with guards and cameras. Berks is a place where families, babies, children, and teens are woken up for bed-checks at all hours of the night. It is a place where kids can’t consume home-cooked meals. It is a place where children and parents are forced to eat unfamiliar processed, cold foods. Berks is the place where a guard was convicted of sexually assaulting a teenager detained there.

Mothers and fathers are facing an impossible choice – flee violence and persecution in their home countries – or stay and risk their children’s lives. If you aren’t outraged, sickened and profoundly saddened by the brutal reports of the U.S. government forcibly separating children from their parents, then you are not paying attention. Sadly, this is hardly over. Thousands of children and babies forcibly separated from their parents at the border must be reunified. President Trump’s recent Executive Order is not a plan to stop violating the rights of people feeling unimaginable violence. This Executive Order imprisons families indefinitely, inflicting further harm on children and their parents.

Detaining families seeking asylum together is not a solution.

We must be morally obligated to demand this stop.


Carlos and Lorena are now free, thanks to Amnesty and its dedicated supporters – but so many others are in dire need of help.

Amnesty International is tirelessly working to stop the inhumane practice of jailing families seeking asylum. Please join in taking action today:

CALL YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS: Call upon your representatives to end the inhumane practice of jailing families seeking asylum. The number for the congressional switchboard is 1-844-879-0282.

SIGN THE PETITION: I always thought that signing petitions felt like the most inactive form of activism – but my time spent with the Amnesty team taught me that signatures on their petitions absolutely make a difference. If you do one thing today, please sign the petitions here and here.

USE YOUR VOICE: Talk to your family, friends, neighbors, and social media communities about how the Executive Order only inflicts further harm. Talk about the families behind bars on U.S. soil at places like Berks, and spread the word that we’re fighting for the end of family detention, and for the recent ruling baring family separation and ordering reunification to be implemented.

I will be sharing further. Thank you so much for reading.

Carlos and Lorena are not their real names. *

Thank you, Amnesty International USA for sponsoring this post.


Midwinter Pause

kids looking out a snowy windowWe had big plans of hopping on the train to local museums and galleries and filling our days with the sort of spontaneous adventure that typically leads an entire week of school vacation.  But the cold was simply too cold, and the kiddos could hardly handle walking to the train during our attempts to explore.  So we spent the majority of our time hunkered down together, and while I honestly prepared for the sort of conflicts anticipated when the kids are cooped up for long periods at a time – I was pleasantly surprised.

The were amazing, actually.

Two kindred, silly spirits, plotting made-up games and running every single wheeled toy, stuffed with animals and buckets of make-believe across the hardwood floors.  Temporary-tattooing their chests and leaving a trail of disaster throughout their tiny sanctuary.  Carefully arranged abandoned toys became vestiges of life frozen in childhood creativity. And during a week of carrying an unexpected heavy heart – I was grateful for all of it.

Inside the snowy windows – all that seemed to matter was the love cocooned between four walls and evidence of an incredibly vibrant life with children.


On Not Giving Up – Lessons In Motherhood

She barrels into the indoor gym, slapping her legs, bolting forward with a look of determination.  Sometimes, her nervousness is palpable. Manifested in the flip of her braids, the tug of her jersey. Tell-tale mannerisms that only a mother would know.  She’s the only girl at Saturday soccer.

And she never gives up.

What my daughter taught me about not giving up

Even if she rarely has a go at the ball, she runs and gives her all.  Flushed cheeks, dramatically squirting her waterbottle over her head during breaks – always excited to return the following week.

This sort of 7-year-old determination makes me think about my own metaphorical playing field, and the countless times that I’ve been complacent, paralyzed or held-back in some way.  She has no idea that she’s made me revisit the words strewn in draft form that weren’t quite good enough. Questioning my recent risk-taking or lack thereof.

Only time will tell if this sport will stick.  In the meantime, I’ll continue to cheer inwardly and from the sidelines for my girl.  And as of now – it looks like she’ll continue to show up and bring her best.


The Getup

Somewhere in toddler-hood, well before the age of two, Lucia became infatuated with dressing up.  I quickly fell in love with the imaginary play that accompanied it.  I remember her tears after her second birthday party because she didn’t want to take off her “beautiful dress”.  And that following summer she sported a felt pirate hat nearly every single day.  As Lucia has grown older, her love for wearing costumes hasn’t subsided,  and her fantasy-woven stories have become more elaborate.   A few days ago, I sent Lucia into her room alone to prepare for her swimming lessons while I waited outside with her stroller-sleeping brother.  She followed through with my instructions and returned wearing her bathing suit, with a bit of a surprise on topWe had just enough time to indulge in her Puppy Fairy antics at a nearby park prior to swimming lessons:

I’ve been thinking a lot about Lucia’s imagination and wondering how much longer this dress-up stage will last.  For now, we’re indulging in fantasy and perfectly appropriate little girl attire.

Dress: c/o Princess Expressions by Almar // Pooch Purse: c/o Poochie & Co // Headband made by me.


My Best Girl

She speaks beauty and hope and five-year-old magic.  Our time spent alone together is so important to both of us.  I hope that she always remembers that she is loved just as she is.  She is absolutely my best girl.

A Letter To My Son On His Third Birthday

To my darling Adrian,

I awoke yesterday, on your third birthday, to the sound of you discovering giant balloons overhead. You came racing into my room, with your best partner in crime, so excited to share the news of your discovery.  I looked at you and said happy birthday my love and you screamed mama it’s my birthday and jumped in bed to lay on top of me.

Oh Adrian, what a privilege it is to be your mama and to experience the depth of joy that you have brought to our family.  You demonstrate kindness every single day, and you say things that are far beyond three years. I want to make you coffee, you say every morning as you drag a chair to the counter to help me make a cup.  Before you could even speak in full sentences, and one for Lucia was always heard when you received something special.  To this very day, there is never a time that you don’t think of your sister’s inclusion in your moments of joy.  For your birthday, you asked to walk to the market to ride the horse and buy trinkets at the machine. When we arrived you stuck your little head up to the glass, peaked inside and said, let’s get that one for Lucia  and so we did.  The compassion you exude, constantly blows us away.

Almost three has  proven to be a wild age for you.  You feel things so deeply.  You want to do everything yourself.  When your meltdowns occur they are of epic proportions and when your tender words come out they are truly soul touching.  When I least expect it, you grab my face with your tiny hands and say Oh, you’re the best mama ever and smother me in kisses.  And truthfully, your sweet words and tender touch have lifted me up in love and carried me on days when I most needed it.

The thing about early childhood is that you guys are quite sneaky with this growing up business.  In my five plus years of mama-hood, I have learned that all the cliches about time hold true.  Not too long ago, I sought acupuncture to bring you into this world, ten days overdue.  And then we were on our way to Essex to ride the Thomas Steam Train and celebrate your first and then second years of life.

And now we have celebrated three blessed years and I am so excited for what will come of you.  Today I want to remember your sweet smile and the way that you nestle your head in my neck.  I want to remember your love for the moon and Eric Carle books and the way you say thank you for my beautiful peppers when I give you vegetables.  I want to remember the way that you appreciate simple pleasures, like riding the supermarket horse and playing outside.

Cheers to being big and mighty, my sweet  boy.  Let’s do three well and enjoy our fluid days together.  Let’s run match box cars across the hardwood floors and smile so big until our faces hurt. Thank you for the immense love and light that you bring.  We adore you Adrian.

In love,