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After 15 Years in Prison, A Mother Gets to Know Her Daughter Again

When we hear phrases such as “mass incarceration”, we are tempted to think of the prison population in terms of large numbers.

However, it is important to reflect on the real human beings whose lives are disrupted, and even destroyed, as a result of our country’s all too quick resort to sending defendants to prison for decades at a time.

This is a story about a mother and a daughter whose lives were profoundly disrupted by our often heartless legal system.

In 2005, 4 year old Nia Cosby‘s mother was sent away to prison for 30 years. Chalana McFarland, Cosby’s mother, faced several counts of mortgage fraud. Yet despite this being her first offense, McFarland’s sentences were lengthened to deter others from committing the same crimes.

Loan officers with whom McFarland had been working at the time only received 24 and 5 months each, while others who committed the same crimes as McFarland, and had a prior criminal history, served 87 months. Because of the harsh decision of McFarland’s judge, years of McFarland’s life were stolen from her and her young daughter.

Today, due to the quick spread of COVID-19, federal prisons are taking action to cut down on the numbers of prisoners within their walls. According to The Marshall Project, by July 21, over 70,000 prisoners had tested positive for the virus.

Due to this dire situation, and in hopes to lessen the severity of COVID, McFarland, who had been incarcerated in a Florida prison, was one of the inmates chosen to be released and put on house arrest.

McFarland had many underlying health issues, and was potentially at high-risk for catching the virus. Because of these health issues, and because the prison she had been incarcerated in was so tightly packed, McFarland was finally able to see her daughter again, who is now 20 years old.

To this day, McFarland regrets the choices she made years ago. Her fear of dying in prison due to COVID was strong. The bond that she still has with her daughter, who is willing to help McFarland get back on her feet, proves that family bonds can be more powerful than prison walls.

Though this case had a happy ending, it is important to remember that though incarcerated, prisoners are still human beings with families of their own, and they should receive some degree of compassion.

When pandemics threaten the lives of people all over the world, we must not lose sight of the suffering of people who are incarcerated, and their loved ones.

A very touching conversation between Nia Cosby and her mother was recorded as part of NPR’s series “story corps”, and has been preserved at the Library of Congress. You can hear the conversation by clicking this link:

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