Clemency recipient Chalana McFarland and her daughter Nia on PBS

Watch this extremely poignant segment on PBS entitled Mothers leaving prison encounter uphill battle as they try reconnecting with family that focuses on the reunification of Chalana McFarland and her daughter Nia, who were severed due to harsh mandatory sentences back in 2005. Fifteen years later…they beat the odds and celebrated the miracle of clemency prior to Chalana’s outdate in 2030! Chalana was on home confinement due to COVID when she received the good news on January 20th.

  • Amna Nawaz:For 52-year-old Chalana McFarland, the wounds from missing her daughter Nia Cosby, are still fresh.
  • Chalana McFarland:It hurts even to this day that I wasn’t able to be with her.
  • Amna Nawaz:In 2005, McFarland, then an attorney, was convicted of mortgage fraud and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Cosby went to live with her grandparents. She was 4 years old.
  • Chalana McFarland:When she’d cry on the phone and say, “Mommy, I want to see you,” I mean, my heart would just break. And there are a lot of ladies that decide that they would just rather not have the visit because it’s just too hard.
  • Amna Nawaz:What did you decide?
  • Chalana McFarland:I wanted every visit that I could have, because I have a 30-year sentence.And I can recall my daughter, when she got a little bit older — she may have been about 6. And she went up to the officer and she says: “Can we take my mommy to McDonald’s for just a little while? I promise we will bring her right back.”And the officer just told her: “No, sweetheart we can’t let her go right now.”
  • Amna Nawaz:Cosby, too, has vivid memories of those visits.
  • Nia Cosby, Daughter:Whenever you go to visit, you’re not allowed to, like, lay on them, snuggle them, cuddle them. You’re allowed to, like, hug and, like, hold hands across the table. That’s about it.
  • Amna Nawaz:She’s now 20 years old, a college sophomore, studying finance, and still struggles with the moments her mother missed.
  • Nia Cosby:I did dance. I played basketball. I did choir for many, many years. And I always wanted my mom to be able to see me do those things. I did want her to be a part of those things.
  • Amna Nawaz:But last summer, an unexpected turn. As COVID-19 spread across the country, McFarland got word she was getting out.
  • Chalana McFarland:I have a number of respiratory issues that all make me extremely vulnerable to the virus.
  • Amna Nawaz:In June of 2020, 15 years into her sentence, she was released to home confinement, and walked out of prison. Her daughter was outside waiting.
  • Nia Cosby:I saw the door open. And she walked out, and I just walked up to her and I just gave her the biggest hug.
  • Chalana McFarland:It just was probably the happiest moment of my life. I was just amazed. Just to see her and hug her and be able to touch her, it was wonderful.
  • Amna Nawaz:Cosby studies and works in Tallahassee, Florida. McFarland was under home confinement outside Atlanta, monitored with an ankle bracelet.
  • Chalana McFarland:So, what else do you have to do today?
  • Nia Cosby:Oh, I feel like I have way more work.
  • Amna Nawaz:So, calls like this were often their only connection.
  • Chalana McFarland:We FaceTime nearly every day. And I’m always sending her pictures. Like, how does this makeup look, or do you like this outfit, or look at these shoes I bought. So, she’s like my stylist now.(LAUGHTER)
  • Amna Nawaz:And on President Trump’s final day in office, McFarland was among those granted clemency, so more in-person visits are now in the works.All these years later, the two have a lot to talk about.
  • Chalana McFarland:I feel the guilt and the pain and the shame of not having been there to raise my own daughter.
  • Amna Nawaz:You feel guilty about that?
  • Chalana McFarland:Absolutely. She didn’t deserve to have to serve the sentence with me.
  • Nia Cosby:We’re not going to be able to go back in time and make up for those lost memories, but what we can do is build for the future.

    You can read more about Chalana’s story here on her CAN-DO Profile page
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