Financial hardship adds to a family’s struggle with incarceration

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Every corner of Jenny Carrasquillo’s home bears the memory of her husband, Jose, who is serving a 32-year sentence for sexual assault. There is a large framed picture of Jose, 45, in a prison uniform posing with Jenny in front of a poster of a waterfall. His clothes still hang neatly in her bedroom closet, as if ready to be worn.

But despite Jenny’s efforts to downplay Jose’s absence , his incarceration has hit her hard. For the past six years, since he was convicted, Jenny, 41, has struggled to make ends meet to support her three children and to pay for Jose’s legal expenses.

“When he was sentenced, I lost everything,” says Jenny, whose children were 14, 11, and 10 when Jose was imprisoned. “I feel like this is a dream and I want to wake up from this nightmare.”
Jose’s own children from a previous relationship in the Dominican Republic have been bearing the brunt of his inability to earn money.

To ease their money troubles, Jose’s mother, Bibiana, 68, along with other family members, had to step in with financial help. They also regularly contribute to his commissary account to cover basic necessities, such as shampoo and deodorant, inside the prison.

A slideshow about the financial impact of incarceration.
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However, the greatest difficulty for Jenny, Bibiana and their family has been paying for Jose’s defense attorneys, who charge thousands of dollars to take on complex criminal cases such as Jose’s.

From the beginning of his case, they have felt that private attorneys can do a better job of defending him and securing his freedom. They were distraught when, after paying for the best defense services their money could buy, Jose ended up losing at trial in early 2001.

Now, the family is once again pooling together their scant earnings from cleaning jobs, working at factories and babysitting to pay for a private attorney to re-examine his case. They are steadfast in their belief that he is innocent, and are doing all they can to put an end to what they consider a gross injustice.

Jose’s case is a recurring topic of conversation between Jenny and Bibiana, as is the pain of physical ailments that became manifest after Jose was arrested, and which they attribute to the stress of his entanglement with the law.

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Bibiana suffers from nosebleeds and high blood pressure. She has come to depend on pills to calm her down before going to visit her son in prison. Jenny has developed diabetes and suffered through the shock of her youngest son’s suicide attempt shortly after Jose’s incarceration.

Though her children have learned to deal with their stepfather’s imprisonment, Jenny does not think they are okay and is saddened that they grew up without him. He raised them since they were small, she says, and they consider him their real father. They visit and speak on the phone with him occasionally, but continue to lament his absence.

The slideshow and videos in this entry show how different members of the same family are coping with a loved one’s incarceration. Jose’s mother, wife, and stepsons talk about what life has been like since he was imprisoned, and how they have are getting through such a difficult time as a family.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: How has the incarceration of a family member impacted your pocketbook?

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About Ana Toro