Years after leaving prison, a mother still feels the consequences of her incarceration

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Part I: Lingering Effects

Janet Taveras has no pictures of her children when they were little. She missed the big occasions like birthday parties and the Christmas holidays. She never saw the intimate moments in their lives: when they spoke their first words or made funny faces.

She was far away–both physically and in spirit. When her children were born in the mid-80s, she was addicted to drugs and in and out of jail.

“I missed out on a lot of things,” said the 42-year-old mother. “I can’t tell you that I remember what it was to see my daughter walk.”

When she first went to jail, her son was three and her daughter was one. Seven years later, she had her drug problem under control and was finally out of jail. During her incarceration, family cared for her children. Raising them was a group effort, with Janet’s sisters pitching in.

“I am the oldest of seven,” said Janet. “My children were being raised by children, (by) my sisters who were probably twelve and ten.”

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Part II: Facing the Obstacles

Now more than a decade after her release, Janet still feels the repercussions of her incarceration on her relationship with her children. Her relationship with her son is fine, she says, but there is simmering tension with her daughter.

“My relationship with my daughter, to be honest, is a little bit strained because my daughter wasn’t raised with me,” she said.

Janet attributes this strain to losing custody of her daughter during her legal woes. During those long and difficult years of separation, her family adopted her daughter.

Janet’s predicament is similar to that of thousands of other women inmates across the United States who lose custody of their children when in prison and then struggle to regain it once they are released.

In the United States, there are close to 110,000 incarcerated women, and about 85 percent of them are mothers. Many are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes, serving an average jail term of 36 months. A majority of these mothers are held in facilities more than 100 miles from their family, making visits from their children difficult and rare. This lack of involvement with their children, paradoxically, often results in the termination of their parental rights under federal law despite the hardships caused by the distance.

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Part III: Guns & Drugs

As in Janet’s case, incarceration has long-lasting consequences on a family, particularly when the courts terminate parental rights. In the following interview, Janet talks about how her incarceration split her family and how she has struggled to bridge the gulf with her daughter since leaving prison.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: Long after his or her release, what lingering impact has a family member’s incarceration had on you?

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About Ana Toro