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Playtime on Hard Time : A New Policy for Mothers in Prison May Help Tear Down Imposing Barriers to Raising a Child

August 03, 1989|LINDA MEARS

"I'm scared, I'm real scared," whispered Rivas. "I don't want to mess up again." Although Rivas' mother cared for her children while she was jailed, she knows that can change if she is arrested again. And there may come a time when her mother is not considered physically able to care for three children. "They take your kids away, then tell you to get a job, and that's supposed to be your reason for living?"

To some, more legitimate reasons for living exist behind bars.

At least for awhile, the women are sober and drug-free.

As Jenny Martinez observed: "We come in here like the walking dead, and we come out looking great, brand new! Sometimes I think the police don't arrest us, they rescue us."

They go to substance-abuse workshops; they are tutored by a group of volunteer retired teachers called Roots and Wings. They work in the fields tending crops.

And, after an average stay of 90 days, they get out.

1 in 10

Then, said Martinez, it's the same old story. "Maybe one of every ten get off this wheel," she said.

McIlvain, an 18-year Sheriff's Department veteran, agreed with Martinez's gloomy assesment. McIlvain said she sees the same faces year after year--women who got involved with drugs and alcohol early on and dropped out of school, with no skills or money. More often than not, they ended up involved in petty crimes to support themselves and their addictions.

"Then it becomes a pattern, a cycle, that few seem to be able to break out of," McIlvain said. "If we can provide any impetus for these women with a program like TALK, we want to do it."

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