When a Parent Does Hard Time, so Does the Family More than half of the prisoners living behind bars are parents. But what happens to children of the incarcerated, and what are the challenges of keeping a family connected? Farai Chideya speaks with a mother and daughter who managed to make it work.
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When a Parent Does Hard Time, so Does the Family

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When a Parent Does Hard Time, so Does the Family

When a Parent Does Hard Time, so Does the Family

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There are a million-and-a-half prisoners living behind bars in the United States. More than half of them are parents. What happens to the children once their parents are incarcerated , and what happens to the adults on the inside? How can you keep a family connected? In a few minutes, we'll talk to author Nell Bernstein. She wrote the book "All Alone in the World: Children of the Incarcerated." But right now, we have Teresa Roxanne (ph) Cruz and her daughter, Antoinette Rangel. Teresa spent 15 years in prison. Antoinette was nine years old when Teresa was sent to prison in 1991. So Teresa and Antoinette, thanks for coming on.

Ms. TERESA CRUZ (Former Prisoner and Parent): You're welcome.

Ms. ANTIONETTE RANGEL (Daughter of Ms. Cruz): You're welcome.

CHIDEYA: So Teresa, tell us just quickly why you were sent to prison.

Ms. CRUZ: Well, it was a long custody battle with my common-law husband. We weren't married but we had lived together. And he had stalked me and broken into five of my homes and stoled all my belongings. And he had physically abused me and I had police reports of it. But the crime happened behind a custody battle and that was what the - why I just crashed in. I was supposed to give him my son the following day, and he was five years old. And we had a long custody battle and I'd tried to kill him the night before I had to give him my son. And he was shot 47 times. I was not the actual shooter. I was in the car when it happened, and I was addicted to Zanex. I was on 300 pills a month now of Zanex. So my life was completely unmanageable by that time.

CHIDEYA: Antoinette, do you remember feeling like your family was out of control even before your mother was arrested?

Ms. RANGEL: No. No, I was actually too little to remember if things were actually out of control. We had a very stable home. The only thing I remember is moving a lot, seeing a lot of different homes, going to a lot of different schools. But I really wasn't aware of exactly what was going on.

CHIDEYA: And when your mom went to prison, what did that mean to you? I mean, how did - in your child's mind, what did it mean to you?

Ms. RANGEL: Being a child, having your mom taken away from you is something very hard. I felt - even though I had my grandmother taking care of me, I felt alone, embarrassed. In school, a lot of kids - there's a lot of activities I was - I played a lot of sports. And my parents were just - my mom was never around, and I was just more embarrassed and kind of depressed as a child now that I look back that I'm older of how depressed I was as a kid.

CHIDEYA: Teresa, you had four children, have four children, and your mother took care of them all. What did it take - how did you communicate with your mother about saying, well I want this for the kids, but knowing you couldn't be there to enforce it? And do you - your mother sounds like an amazing woman. How did you two get along, though, during that time that you were incarcerated?

Ms. CRUZ: It was hard. I would hear the kids gripe about, you know, how old-fashioned grandma was, and my mom was real protective of them. She had my grandmother drive them to school and pick them up. My grandmother retired from Kaiser and moved in with my mother while my mother worked at Lockheed. She had 26 years of Lockheed. But they both faithfully came every weekend to see me. They drove two-and-a-half hours and waited two-and-a-half hours in line and came in. So I had a very, very united family in that (unintelligible). Something that you very rarely, rarely see.

And at that time, they had family flu visits, so my mother would - the officer would tell me, Teresa, do you want this flu visit, there's a cancellation. And I would say, yeah, and I would call my mom at work, and she would say, OK, let me call Momma and tell her to come by and get a check and she can go with the kids. So they would come, stay for three days. And they took away those visits eventually because of people, you know, having kids in prison and that. And I think it would have been great. I mean, I don't - wouldn't have cared if they took it away for sexual reasons, but they should have never tooken away for the children, because they used to go and take their homework and we used to have time and it really wasn't about - because I used to cry my eyes out when they left from jail in shame and failure. It was really about them.

CHIDEYA: So during those visits, the children could actually stay overnight in prison?

Ms. CRUZ: Yes. And then they took them away for lifers.

CHIDEYA: You know, Antoinette, did you ever do those overnight visits?

Ms. RANGEL: Yeah. Actually, I looked forward to those visits. I believe we used to go about every three months. And we used to stay for about three days - three nights and four days. And I think I was a little bit older when I started going on the flu visits with my mom, and I actually really looked forward to them because my grandmother was so old-fashioned that there was no time to talk about what I was going through at the age, or how I was feeling. So my mom - that was a lot of time for me to spend with my mom, even though it's just four days. It was a lot for me.

CHIDEYA: It sounds like even though your mother was in prison and you had some very specific things that you had to deal with in terms of how and when you saw her, that she was still very much a mother to you.

Ms. RANGEL: Oh, yes. Before she went to prison, she was very involved with us. We were in basketball, cheerleading, softball, and when she left, that was all taken away from me, because my grandmother, like I said, again, she's very old-fashioned and she was very tired and stressed and already raised her kids. So there was really no time for us, and when we did join sports and stuff, it just - she never stayed, never to went to none of our games, she would just drop her off. And I would try to tell my mom, you know, that I want her to go, but my grandma never really understood me when I was little and what I was going through and how I was feeling, because she was going through her own problems.

CHIDEYA: She probably was so stressed out. I mean, do you have, now in retrospect, can you understand more about what she probably was going through?

Ms. RANGEL: Oh, yes. I can't even imagine, now that I'm a mother and I have two boys and I'm 27 years old, I can't even imagine, just with the little stress that I deal with in my life right now, I can only imagine what my grandmother was thinking and what she went through. And when I look back, I totally understand.


MS. RANGEL: I just - I also at the same time, I feel like there was more support around me as far as, you know, close friends and stuff like that, and more programs that I could have been involved in.

CHIDEYA: I want to bring in - sorry, quickly, Nell Bernstein, who wrote the book "All Alone in the World: Children of the Incarcerated" now. Nell, you actually spoke with Teresa and Antoinette, and are you happy that they now seem to have a relationship still, after all they've been through?

Ms. NELL BERNSTEIN (Author, "All Alone in the World: Children of the Incarcerated"): A relationship with the...

CHIDEYA: A mother-daughter relationship.

Ms. BERNSTEIN: Yeah. I mean, for me, there were very few happy endings in my book. But Teresa's release from prison, which happened after my book was published, was one of the great miracles. And I got to meet her briefly. You know, I didn't get to hear your interview with them just now, but I don't think there was any question that they were going to have relationship with her, because they always had a relationship with her. And that was what I heard from most of the kids that I interviewed. That just because their parent was in prison doesn't mean that that person isn't your parent, and that that relationship doesn't continue.

CHIDEYA: Well, we're going to talk to you more after a break. And before we go, though, Teresa, now that you've reached the other side, you went in, spent 15 years, and you're out. What kind of relationships do you have now with your kids?

Ms. CRUZ: Well I have a beautiful relationship now. When I first got out, it was kind of hard. I thought that I knew my kids and everything, but I really didn't. I had to accept that I had lost 15 years of being a mother, and I just - one day I just cried, and I just said, you know what, I'm just going to let go and let God in and just take it one day at a time. And slowly everything started coming together. And I have a beautiful relationship with my kids. I can say that I probably now have the mother-and-daughter relationship that I had before I went in.

CHIDEYA: Antoinette, how do you feel?

Ms. RANGEL: I feel that we do have a strong relationship. Everything's great. It did take a while for her to kind of understand that I was older and I make my own decisions in my life now. And I feel like I'm making up those 16 years now that I didn't have her around, and it's great.

CHIDEYA: Well, Teresa and Antoinette, I want to thank you so much for sharing your story with us. Thank you.

Ms. CRUZ: Thank you so much.

Ms. RANGEL: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: And Nell, stay with us. We're going to come back with you after a break. We were speaking with Teresa Cruz and her daughter, Antoinette Rangel of San Diego, California.

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