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When Moms Do Time, Kids Also Pay the Consequences


Tony Adducci was pacing around with a packet of letters in hand. He and his pregnant wife had been apart for nearly a month, and neither was happy about it.

"She's sad every day," said Adducci, 26, a construction worker from Fountain Valley. "She's always sad."

Sad, maybe, but there isn't much sympathy out there for many women like Liz Adducci. After all, she wasn't away on business or caring for a sick relative. She was in jail in Santa Ana.

A mother of three, Adducci is among the increasing number of women incarcerated in Orange County jails. Experts say that when mothers do time, their children's stability is threatened. The kids, often forced to deal with the daily dangers of drugs and gangs, are also forced to confront the confusing reality that Mom's in jail.

"They don't have the support or reassurance that any family would provide," says Bob Theemling, deputy director of Children's Services in Orange County.

A team of social workers has been assigned to the three Orange County facilities housing women in direct response to the increasing number of mothers behind bars, Theemling said.

"There are women in jail, and they don't know where their kids are," he said. "Maybe they left them with friends, and they call to find out that they don't have them anymore. We noticed that they were asking, 'Where are my kids?' and 'How do I get my kids back?' It was hard for them to negotiate the system from a pay phone."


Paulette Gorscuch, one of the social workers stationed at the Central Women's Jail in Santa Ana, says that every day she sees the impact jail has on incarcerated mothers.

"The sensitive side of me is knowing that a mother and child are separated at a time when they should be bonding. And with every mother who is missing a child, there's a child who is missing a mother."

Gorscuch heads the Great Escape program at the facility, a pre-release planning group for inmates. The goal of the two-year-old program is to provide the women with access to community resources for when they get out.

"These women are in a crisis mode. But it is also an opportunity for them to deal with reality. They tell me it's a time for reflection."

Lisa, a mother of two, had 22 days to reflect after she was arrested on drug charges. While waiting to visit a friend at the Central Women's Jail, she said the place "still gives me the creeps" even though she was released almost a month earlier.

"Jail is the worst place to be," said the 24-year-old Costa Mesa woman, who spoke on the condition her last name not be used.

"But in a way, it was a good place for me. I wasn't a good mom to my kids, and I realized that after about a week in jail. I'm getting help and taking parenting classes now. I just feel bad. I was screwed up, but I didn't want to hurt my kids. . . . I never want to hurt my kids."

Theemling recalled a recent conversation with a girl at Orangewood Children's Home that made the problem all too clear.

"She said, 'I like it here because I don't have to explain or be ashamed. I'm not the only one.' "

The little girl has a lot of company at the Orange facility currently housing 240 children who have been placed in protective care, many of whom have mothers in jail. The feeling of separation and sadness is something they all share, regardless of individual circumstance.

"We try to make it a little easier for them, but it's hard on them," Theemling said.


Tony Adducci says his children know the feeling. Although relatives have helped to care for their 1-year-old son and Liz's two other children, life hasn't been easy since she was pulled over and arrested for a series of traffic warrants and failures to appear in court.

"We've told them to be strong and not to worry, that Mom will be home soon," he said. "They're happy because they get to visit her, but at the same time, they're a little bummed."

Tony, recently released after serving six days in jail, said his wife has had trouble with the large inmate population.

"She got into a fight because she was trying to sit down and there was no room. It's really crowded in there."

Adela Melgoza held her 15-month-old son, David, and watched her 5-year-old daughter, Jessica, spin like a ballerina in the dingy visitors' room of the women's jail. As she waited to talk to her sister behind the window of bullet-proof glass, the 23-year-old Santa Ana woman said her sister Christina's seven-month sentence has been very difficult on her five children.

"It affects them a lot," said Melgoza, trying to keep her daughter from playing with the bank of visitor's phones. "She wants to get out. . . . Its not a place she wants to be."

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