Vanessa Hulliger is a founding member of Stronger Together, Never Alone, a support group for parents of incarcerated youth. She gave this speech at End Mass Incarceration Day at the Roundhouse during the 2024 Legislative Session.
I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to tell my story. I want to tell you a little bit about my son Noah. Noah was always very bright and did extremely well in school. He started playing football at 8 years old. He was not naturally athletic and lacked confidence. He made up for it with his intellect and hard work. He grew to love the game and became quite good.
Noah’s biological father struggled with substance abuse and mental health issues. He was in and out of his life. This affected Noah more than he is willing to admit.
In February of 2020, Noah transferred to a new high school where he met a new group of friends. We noticed a change in Noah not long after the pandemic shut down the schools. His grades began to drop, he became more defiant, going out with these new friends and not obeying curfew.
Over the next couple months this escalated to experimenting with drugs and alcohol, making decisions that were out of character and becoming more withdrawn. We attempted to get him into therapy, we were put on a waiting list. A few months later he was finally able to see a therapist but was quickly referred to another who specialized in pediatric drug abuse. He was placed on another extremely long wait list. His drug experimentation quickly turned into addiction. There were limited resources for children, lots of waiting lists and what I felt was nowhere to turn for help.
There were limited resources for children, lots of waiting lists and what I felt was nowhere to turn for help.
On October 29, 2020, at 9:13 pm, I received a call that forever changed my life. I was informed by medical staff that my 17-year-old son had been shot and I needed to come immediately. I walked in and saw my Noah barely conscious. I was able to kiss him, tell him I loved him and to keep fighting before they rolled him back for emergency lifesaving surgery. He had been shot 4 times. He suffered a collapsed lung, broken ribs, internal bleeding and fractured pelvis. My world completely crumbled when I found what had occurred that night. He had been involved in a drug deal that turned into a shootout where another was fatally wounded.
On December 8, 2020, Noah was 17 years old, halfway through his junior year of high school and now facing serious adult charges. Two years and two trials later Noah was convicted and sentenced as an adult to 29 years in the Department of Corrections.
The past three years have been nothing short of a nightmare for my entire family.
December 8, 2020, was the last time I was able to hold him longer than three seconds, hold his hand or touch his beautiful face. He will be in his late 40s when I can do it again, even though he was a child who made the worst mistake of his life.
The past three years have been nothing short of a nightmare for my entire family. We continue to struggle mentally, financially and at times physically. Noah has two younger siblings. They have had to transfer schools and are receiving therapy to try to cope with the trauma they have endured. I have a daily battle with anxiety and depression. How do I continue to raise my younger children with the intense fear this can happen to them?
My story is not unique. I share this story with far too many others. Situations like these do not discriminate. I look around the support group I created for families with incarcerated children, and I see families from all walks of life. The lack of resources is a common theme amongst the families who attend.
We need better access to mental health services, drug rehabilitation programs and resources for families who are financially struggling.
I believe in rehabilitation and second chances. I’ve learned that it is crucial to address the root causes of incidents like these. We need better access to mental health services, drug rehabilitation programs and resources for families who are financially struggling. It's essential to create a society that focuses on healing and providing opportunities for growth. This is why I have dedicated my time to helping families in similar situations to my own.
My hopes are to continue to do all I can to improve conditions for the youth in New Mexico. I want to prevent this from happening to any other child. No family should feel this loss. No mother should lose their child to guns, drugs, or prison.