“I couldn’t sleep last night,” said Brown, who became guardian of two of his sisters, Brianna Petteway, 15, and Destiny Petteway, 12, after their mother was incarcerated for a second time. His other two sisters, China Petteway, 13, and Johnnycia Petteway, 16, live with other relatives. “This is my first time to see my mom in two years. She will be proud of me.” About 650 California kids hopped aboard similar buses Friday to visit five women’s prisons and celebrate Mother’s Day through an annual program created through the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Many have fathers in prison or who long ago abandoned them. Those living with remaining family members or in foster care typically lack reliable transportation to see their mothers in prison, especially because those prisons are usually in remote areas of the state. Once chance a year Shuffled among foster care facilities nearly all his life, Derric Brown recalls a brief time when he lived with his mom and life felt normal. He was in ninth grade and needed a note for school. Mom wrote it. It was the first time his mother had signed anything for school, a job usually relegated to guardians or his grandmother while his mom was in prison for selling drugs. Still grinning with pride about the memory of that day, Brown, now 22, wants his four younger sisters to have more traditional family experiences like that one – holiday gatherings, homemade Sunday dinners and movie nights. And on Friday, the five from Palmdale boarded a chartered bus with about 20 other children from the San Fernando and Antelope valleys on a 250-mile journey to Central California Women’s Facility and Valley State Prison in Chowchilla to celebrate what millions of others in the United States recognize today – Mother’s Day. In California, there are about 11,846 female inmates and 160,000 male inmates, Department of Corrections spokesman Bill Sessa said. For nearly all those on the buses, Friday was the one chance of the year to see Mom. Most are children of addicts who have seen their family lives derailed because of drugs. It was 5 a.m. when Brown’s bus pulled out of Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Encino and 11-year-old Isaiah Anderson rolled up and down the aisles in his heelies, trendy gym shoes with wheels in them. This was the second year on the bus for the sixth-grader and his 6-year-old sister, Lacresha Collins, to visit their mom, Janet Collins, who is incarcerated for drugs at Valley State Prison. The children live with their aunt, 42-year-old Brenda Collins, in Van Nuys, but Isaiah had concerns about the visit. “My mom is going to give me a talk,” he said. “I got in trouble at school, and she sent me a letter saying she wants to have a talk with me today.” For these moms, the connections with their kids serve as life preservers in their gritty prison lives, said Lupe Rios, prison family services coordinator. “You have to shut out what’s happening to survive here,” Rios said. “Contact with the outside world reminds them that there’s more to life.” Rios said the more contact the women have with their children, the less chance they’ll return to prison. Program buses kids But unlike visiting days each week at men’s prisons, there’s usually never a line of loved ones. Typically the men in their lives desert the women after they go to prison, said Sister Suzanne Jabro, who works for the nonprofit Women and Criminal Justice. In fact, men’s prisons have so many visits by moms, girlfriends and wives that a third visitors’ day was recently added. For women’s prisons, the state is using the $625,000 it would cost to staff a third visiting day to instead run an 18-month program to bus children four times a year to visit their mothers in Chowchilla prisons. Called Chowchilla Family Express, the bus made its first trip to the prisons March25. Jabro said the additional visits create much-needed connections for the children. “These kids are in pain,” Jabro said. “We have to do something about this. This is damaging people who are victims to all of this, and they are the children.” That means more trips for 16-year-old Kristian Daniels of Lancaster and her mother, Cora Murry, 43, who crammed a year’s worth of conversations about boys, school pressure and college plans into the four-hour visit Friday. Throughout the year, they stay in touch through letters but do not talk on the phone because calls from California state prisons cost about $1 a minute. The two struggled to say goodbye when their visit ended. “She’s growing up on me,” said Murry, who has about 10 more years left on her sentence. “When I left, she was my little girl.” As the Petteway girls caught a glimpse of their mother, Sharon McMillian, coming through the locked prison gates, the stony faces of Johnnycia and Brianna softened, and the two sisters cried. The family spent the afternoon deep in conversation. When it was time to leave, McMillian quickly hugged her kids and briskly walked away. “I don’t like goodbyes,” she said to them. “So I’ll see you all later.” [email protected] (818) 713-3746160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!