Only Ever Knowing Your Brother Behind Bars

A reader in Chicago details her first memory of her older brother—“behind the Plexiglas”:

Across from him is where I sit on the counter with my parents. There is snow on the ground, but I can’t see it. The only thing I see is my brother in his uniform, assigned to him a number—his name lost with countless others.

The mood is light, and the elephant in the room is being successfully ignored. It’s Christmas Eve, so why can’t I hug him? Instead I talk about what I asked Santa for Christmas and my mom is talking about the midnight mass we’ll be going to that night. My dress itches and my tights are uncomfortable. I hate this place, I hate the uniform, I hate the terrible lighting, and I can’t wait to leave—but I want him to come with me. He promised he would take me to Disneyland.

The elephant is still successfully ignored, as if it will no longer exist if we ignore it long enough. But that is not the case, and it won’t be for the years to come.


My brother has been in prison for 21 years, since I was 3 years old. The crime? Double murder due to gang affiliations. In most circumstances, that would divide a family, but it brought us closer.

While serving his time, my brother was allowed five visits per month—and my parents made sure that all five were met. He would help me with my homework when he could, and he would listen to my ranting about the latest drama. He is an artist, a syfy enthusiast, a Cubs fan. He is 13 years older than I am, but we are as close, maybe closer, than most siblings with less of an age gap.