Reporter's Notebook

Your Stories of Siblings in Prison
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Readers describe the painful and complicated feelings of having a brother or sister behind bars. If you’ve had a sibling in prison, or if you served time yourself with a sibling growing up, please send us a note: (And if you, or someone you know, need support, the Directory of Programs Serving Families of Adult Offenders is a good resource.)

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Loving a Sibling Despite His Unmentionable Crime

Stephen Lam / Reuters

A reader writes:

My brother is serving his second prison term, this time for five years. I visit him when I can, have taken my mother to visit him, and then dealt with the emotional fallout of her distress at seeing her boy in those conditions. I love my brother—I’ve never stopped loving him—and I was in court to see his trial and sentencing. I wanted him to know he had my love, but afterwards I thanked his lawyer for representing him and the police for helping to convict him—because he deserved to go to prison.

His crappy choices put him there. I don’t blame the system, his upbringing, or anything or anyone else.

Sure, it has taken a huge toll on our family, financially and emotionally. And I am quite honest with him about that when he asks. Ultimately though, we are not the victims. There are real victims of his crimes out there, and I cannot and will not make excuses for him or feel that the impact on us should have been taken into account in the whole process. I love him but hate what he did. He knows, once again, that we will be there to support him when he is released—unless or until he makes crappy choices again. The love will never go, but the support will go if he messes up again.

I asked our reader what crime her brother was convicted of, and her answer is more heartbreaking that I imagined:

It’s odd, really—there’s a big part of me that is reluctant to answer that question, as I fear that by doing so I’ll get the pariah treatment and you won’t want to publish anything about my situation. But by writing in, I guess I started it, so here goes.

This week I wrote a six-part series that explored the myriad effects on the siblings of young people who serve time in prison:

The reporting was heartrending, as several conversations were accented by tears and long silences as siblings recalled their pain and loss. The reporting also had some dead-ends, as we have scant information about the lifelong impact on the so-called “non-offending sibling”—the little brother or big sister at home whose world changes irreversibly. As we prepared the series for publication, we realized that part of that void could be filled by our readers with similar experiences, so we sent out a call for personal stories. We received many, and are so thankful for each of them. We will share some of the stories, anonymously, in an ongoing series—starting with the following note, which a reader sent last night:

As I’m lying here unable to sleep as I think about my incarcerated brothers, I happened to stumble across your series on the subject and I thought I should send my own story.

Today, I had to make a difficult choice. My youngest brother (I’ll call him Chris) is currently making local headlines because he is the star witness in a trial against his alleged partner-in-crime in a tragic murder case. As I was driving this morning with tears in my eyes, I chose to drive to work instead of the courthouse.

Chris committed first-degree murder at the age of 16. This happened just a day after one of our two other brothers had been arrested on unrelated charges that brought him a couple-of-decades-long sentence.

I was always rather protective of my three younger brothers growing up. Together, we experienced abuse and trauma as a result of our parents’ actions. We were made to believe that we were utterly worthless. My mother struggled with suicide attempts and ideation for a long time. My brothers struggled with untreated mental illness. They each began by acting out in school, suspensions, self-medication with illegal drugs, minor crimes, expulsions, suicide attempts, further trauma, and felonies.