♪ i got the game online please this is "nightline." >> tonight, prison moms. their kids growing up without them. but on one special day, these mothers and kids can finally be together. we are right there behind bars for the tearful reunions. >> she ran up to me and hugged me, just feels like everything is all right. >> the invisible victims of mass incarceration. missing out on a mother's touch. >> i'm trying not to cry. the great christmas light fight. >> every square inch is covered in 60,000 lights. >> a holly jolly game show for colorful characters dreaming of a bright christmas. and with 50,000 bucks at stake, they're looking to glow you away. and swift surprise. taylor dropping her first single
in two years. "i don't want to live forever." a sexy song for the movie "fifty shades darker." collaborating with former one direction heartthrob zayn malik. ♪ i don't want to live forever >> but first the "nightline 5." >> make this holiday sparkle with the best from jcpenney. gorgeous gold jewelry and stunning diamond stud earringings. feel the joy worth giving. that's getting your penny's worth. want longer-lasting heartburn relief? try duo infusion, goes to work in seconds and lasts up to 12 hours. tums only lasts up to three. try duo infusion from the makers of zantac.
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good anning. thanks for joining us. tonight we zoom in on the often-overlooked victims of incarceration, children. you're about to witness powerful mother and child reunions behind bars. but it's not just emotional healing for these kids. some believe a day like this can change the course of their lives. we take a look for our series "face to face." >> reporter: behind the laughter, years of heartache. >> cassandra. >> a little hot. >> bad things can happen to anybody. it's been hard on the girls. but we've been trying to make it as best we can. knowing that their mom will be back, you know, as soon as she gets out. >> reporter: andrew leechak is raising four daughters alone. not by choice. >> she's missed christmas every year.
the girls' birthdays. >> reporter: for three years worth of birthdays and holidays mom ruby has been in prison. tomorrow he and his girls will set out to visit. >> it can be rough when she's not here. especially when there's something exciting going on or something that happened that's painful or even for a little concert for me. >> reporter: 98 miles from home, ruby is here. at the only women's prils son in michigan. serving a four-year sentence for home invasion. >> i didn't think about my kids, my husband, my family, people i was hurting, nothing. it spiraled out of control. >> reporter: they were like any american family when it all fell apart. ruby trying desperately she says to be the perfect wife, perfect mother. >> just -- life in general, like making sure they're off to school, cooking dinner, making sure they have baths. i just wore out. >> reporter: overwhelmed, she turned to the drugs. >> i got hooked on cocaine pretty good. i started breaking into houses to feed my addiction. >> reporter: but mom's punishment is taking a toll on
her kids. andrew is left to pick up the pieces until she's released next year. >> i'm missing out on my daughter beginning high school. i missed my youngest going to kindergarten. field trips. i mean, they're becoming young ladies. i'm missing that. >> reporter: the girls are up early. they can only afford to visit a few times a year, and this day is special. >> i don't know where it is. >> reporter: they'll get a few precious but fleeting hours with their mom outside the confines of the visitation room. it's part of a program designed to soften the damage done to kids when a parent is incarcerated. the younger two, kelsey just 8 years old, and cassandra, who's on the cusp of adolescence, both eagerly packing. >> i'm tired. >> reporter: the oldest, carol, is now 14. she's had to step up while mom is away. >> she's grown up, you know, a lot faster. >> reporter: but kaitlin is
quiet. she didn't speak to her mom for months after she went to prison. what did she say? >> it was just too hard for her to talk on the phone. she would wave off, in tears. >> in order for this to happen you've moved your family closer to the prison. you've worked two jobs to try to make ends meet. why make all these sacrifices? >> family's family. i'm never going to pull the girls. they need their mom. >> reporter: as they head towards michigan, mom ruby is at a prison workshop with 51 other inmates. the lucky few who, through good behavior, have qualified for the program. >> i'm giving you some homework and then you can be that mama tomorrow. >> reporter: they're learning what it takes to be a good mother. this, the first step of the one day with god camp, founded by scotty barnes, who herself grew up with a father in prison. >> their actions is what's brought them here. they've made mistakes. but it's like fixing an old piece of furniture. you have to take off the old
paint, prepare it, and put on new paint. >> reporter: for a moment, these women are not prisoners. just moms. with tiaras and smiles and hope for tomorrow. the next morning the kids wait here, about to reunite with their moms. >> what are you most excited for today? >> to see my mom. >> do you miss her a lot? ♪ >> reporter: with booming music, the moms are announced one by one. for 7-year-old kyla, it's complicated. her mother's behind bars after stabbing her boyfriend, who had been like a father to the little girl.
finally, it's ruby's turn. >> i felt sick for a minute. every time i see them it's like they've grown up so much. pure joy. >> girls, what's it like being able to hold your mom? >> it feels like family is closer together. >> reporter: literally clinging to each other. daughters who have missed out on their mother's loving touch. >> how about you? what's the nice part of being able to hold mom's hand? it's hard for you, isn't it, yeah. you don't need to talk if you don't want to, honey, it's okay. it's all right. it's okay, honey. i'm sorry. it's okay to be sad. >> yes. >> reporter: andrew and ruby's girls are just four of the roughly 3 million american children with a parent behind bars. >> what was that running across the gym this morning? were you scared? or happy? >> happy. >> reporter: mercedes has been
away from little takyla for almost three years. nearly six more to go. >> how old will she be when you get out? >> she'll be 13. >> you'll have missed much of her childhood. >> yes. >> you said you were literally feeling nauseous as you saw your daughter. >> yes. seeing her, it made -- everything went away. everything. when she ran up to me and hugged me. it just felt like everything is all right and it's going to be okay. >> reporter: mercedes is 24. she says she suffered years of domestic violence and one day she just couldn't take it anymore. >> we abowere in altercation, fighting over a knife. he tried to stab me and i got it and stabbed him. >> where is he now? >> he's deceased. >> oh my goodness, what happened? >> it was second degree. they got me for second degree. >> i didn't realize that he died. >> yeah. >> oh my goodness. >> yeah. >> so that's a lot of -- that's
a lot. >> sometimes she tells mom, i'm still a little angry. she misses him dearly. she tells me every day. i should have left. the love, that's a powerful thing. >> reporter: all those mixed emotions. there's also forgiveness and a shot at redemption. what these moms are hoping for. but first they have to come face to face with what brought them here. this month's statistic on new prisoners here tells the story. 60% suffered trauma as in mercedes' case, domestic violence. nearly 80% like ruby struggle with drugs or alcohol. what did the drug dozen to who she was? >> completely changed her. she went from a loving mom, you know, always there, to not wanting to come around as much because she was getting high all the time, didn't want the kids seeing. >> reporter: perhaps most striking, reports that nearly 70% of inmates are themselves children of prisoners.
how do you break that cycle? >> i want them to invest in their children's life and be honest with them. make them accountable. so those children don't follow in those footsteps. >> tell me about the benefits for the kids. why is it so important for them to get that sort of unfettered love from their mother? >> these children are just starving to be loved and their parents to be proud of them. >> i love you. >> some of these mamas have been in for years. some are going to be here for years. this may be the only day until they're adults that they can feel that unfettered love. that love that reaches deep in their heart. >> they say this program is about forgiveness. not just your family forgiving you, but you forgiving yourself. is that hard? >> absolutely, yes. >> do you blame yourself? >> yes. i don't think there's anybody else to blame. >> so how do you get over that? >> it's a work in progress. i've been here three years and i still don't know how to exactly forgive myself. >> how did something else get in the way? >> it's hard to explain how
something can come before your children. but it just -- it spirals out of control really quick. >> where do you find it in your heart to forgive her? >> just down deep. just, you know, want to do it for the kids. want to make them happy and not have them hurt as i've seen other families. >> reporter: even though this one crucial day offers so much hope, the hours slipping away. every moment one closer to saying good-bye. >> when do you miss your mom the most? >> when she's here and we don't get to see her. >> do you miss her most at night? or during the day? >> both. >> you want some of this? >> reporter: ruby's prison time may in the end be what saves her and her family. >> what do you see in her that's worth giving her another shot? >> her attitude now. that she's been sober. she wants to prove to not only me but the kids and her friends and family that she's done her time, she's done with it, she's through. >> how has it changed your
perspective, being here? >> it's changed it a lot. it's like -- i just think about the things i could have been doing rather than what i was doing. >> reporter: and before you know it, it's time to say good-bye. >> i love you. >> till next time. >> i love you. >> love you. >> reporter: so much left unsaid. and yet the scars of past sins perhaps beginning to heal. our sincere thanks to warden anthony stewart for allowing the women of the huron valley correctional facility to stay up late for "nightline." thanks for watching, ladies. up next, santa is sure not to miss these houses. the brightest stars of this year's great christmas light fight. and later -- ♪ i don't want to live forever >> taylor swift showing her darker side for "fifty shades"
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you know, it's nice to light up your home with christmas lights. but when you're lighting up the whole neighborhood, you've gone a little far. tonight behind the scenes of the great christmas light fight. here's abc's david wright. >> reporter: 'tis the season when even a divided nation can still get carried away. the hopes and fears of all the year overwhelmed by a flurry of lights. >> i'm always thinking how to make it bigger, brighter,
better. >> wow. you go all-out. >> i go all-out. >> front yard, backyard, sideyard. >> every square inch of building is covered. 17 days till christmas. >> reporter: stamford, connecticut, santa's little helper is tony pampina, aka tony christmas. >> how do you like it? >> it's amazing. >> thank you very much. >> this year we're heading into a holiday with the nation kind of divided. do you think christmas lights can bring it back together? >> i think christmas lights makes people a lot more happier and more festive. that's my goal. if you leave here and you don't have a smile on your face, you can't be helped. >> reporter: in red states and blue states plenty feel the same way. >> they're perfectly nice and straight. >> reporter: host of abc's seasonal reality show "the great christmas light fight" -- >> it's definitely been a crazy year with the election going on. people decorate and people want to see these lights and they
want to share in that magic of christmas. >> reporter: just ask youtube. from the house in chaska, minnesota, that kicks off its big display with a "star wars" theme, to the prestons family home in kingland, arizona, where they design their display with drones in mind. there's a bus driver in pittsburgh who decks out a city bus so that commuters feel like they're riding in santa's sleigh. sometimes bigger is better. that's the case with keith shaw, whom we met last year. he claims to have the most dazzling christmas tree in the state of new jersey. so there's over 47,000 on this tree? >> 47,000 lightbulbs. >> more than on rocker fell strer. >> reporter: this year some upstart millennials from nearby east brunswick hope to have him beat. competing for $50,000 in prize money on the great christmas light fight, they did up their mom's new jersey house. the results are jersey-licious.
our friend tony christmas has been doing up his house longer than they've been alive. >> grew up in this house. started decorating with my dad. i took over. 31 years later, 60,000 lights. 60,000 lights. >> reporter: he's also a contestant on "the great christmas light fight." >> beautiful! >> reporter: for him it's not about how many lights you've got. >> even that flat roof up there on the second floor has lights on it. so my neighbors who live second floor behind me can see it. >> i'm pretty sure the space shuttle can see it. >> reporter: tony christmas is no clark w. griswold. >> aah! ♪ hallelujah >> reporter: if you look at his display it's all about clean lines and careful placement. >> notice the lightbulbs. one up, one down. one up, one down. >> you're familiar with the term ocd, obsessive-compulsive disorder?
>> obsessive christmas display. >> reporter: obsessive christmas display syndrome. tony admits he's got a serious case. his family tells him so. >> they think it's nuts but good nuts. the candy cane tree, up, down. up, down. up, down. six inches between each line. >> reporter: his ocd extends to what's under his lawn. some of the hopes we've visited over the years have been rats' nests of cables and extension cords. not tony's. >> have you seen any extension cords? >> not one, i was marveling about that. >> there's 150 extension cords buried about 3 to 4 inches down. again, have to take them up at the end season. >> reporter: that approach won him points on "the great christmas light fight." >> as the viewer, you want to see good design. lights put up that are interesting. so sometimes you get the griswold of the neighborhood who just throws lights up everywhere. that's not always the best thing. >> reporter: will he win the contest? you'll have to tune in to find out. ultimately it's not about prize
money or bragging rights. it's about bringing people together. and brightening the season. i'm dade wright for "nightline" in stamford, connecticut. >> the great christmas light fight airs monday on abc. up next -- ♪ i don't want to live forever >> taylor swift's new song for the "fifty shades darker" soundtrack. lemonheads/schoolhouse rock) zero really can be a hero. get zero down, zero deposit, zero due at signing, and zero first month's payment on select volkswagen models. right now at the
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finally tonight, the many shades of taylor swift. ♪ i gave you something but you gave it back ♪ ♪ what has happened >> swifties rejoice. taylor is back. and just in time for the new film "fifty shades darker." the pop star's surprise release "i don't want to live forever" her first in two years. the duet with former one direction band member and current gigi hadid squeeze zayn
malik all a part of the upcoming soundtrack to the film. zayn taking to instagram to announce the collaboration. ♪ you got me looking so crazy >> reporter: and although fans are already crazy in love with the first single, the "fifty shades" sequel looking to match the first soundtrack which featured beyonce, the weekend, and the rolling stones. ♪ i don't want to live forever >> it's all so tete. thanks for watching abc news. as always we're online at -lois pricese. [ifrom grocery outlet. - hi, it's... the rest of us! - hey there. - hi! - hey. loifor over 60 years now, grocery outlet has been selling the brands you know and love,
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