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Permanent punishment, part 2: women and caregivers face specific challenges in the legal system

Economic sanctions. Collateral consequences. Permanent penalties. There are 44,000 restrictive federal laws, rules and policies that continue to penalize people long after they have served their time in prison. Permanent punishment, a four-part series, examines this harsh reality faced by nearly 3.3 million men and women in Illinois. Airing on “Chicago Tonight” October 3-7. Read and watch the series.

Timesha Brown recently stopped by the Chicago Furniture Bank to purchase her new apartment in Aurora.

At 30, it’s the first one she had on her own.

“It’s a three-piece,” she said. “My eldest daughter has her own room, my two youngest, they share a room, I have my own room. The kitchen is really nice… It’s mine, so it’s really nice!

It’s a big step for the single mother of four.

“I had a hard time finding [the apartment] because I’m on parole and I have a background,” Brown said.

Brown served six years in Illinois State Prison for armed robbery. She has been out of prison for two years.

For many people with criminal records, finding housing is a challenge.

“I filled in for DeKalb Housing, Marshfield Gardens, Section 8,” she says. “I filled in for all of this – for subsidized housing. But, I was always refused.

And in Brown’s case, stable housing was needed to regain custody of her four children — a goal she achieved just this summer.

“Going to court, they investigated me. I had to zoom in for them to see my place. I had to show them I was working,” Brown said. “I had to get a paper from my parole officer saying I did well.”

Brown is one of thousands of women whose imprisonment contributed to the 475% increase in the number of women in prison across the country between 1980 and 2020, according to data from the Sentencing Project.

(WTTW News)

According to the researchers, the reasons why women commit crimes are different and often overlooked.

“Women experience trauma and violence at a level that men don’t have, or at least go unreported,” said Rueben Jonathan Miller, associate professor at the University of Chicago. “The literature tells us that approximately 60% of women who go to jail or jail have experienced some form of victimization, physical, sexual. And this half experienced it in childhood. And so it is a group that is particularly vulnerable. There are also all kinds of mental health issues that go untreated, undiagnosed, but when diagnosed, they are diagnosed at a much higher rate among incarcerated women than men.

And since 58% of incarcerated women are mothers of children under the age of 18, the permanent punishments they face affect not just them, but their entire families.

“When DCFS is involved, there are a number of things a parent must show they are capable of in order to gain custody of their child,” said Nneka Jones Tapia, a psychologist and former county jail warden. of Cook, now working with chicago beyond.

“As part of that, they have to have supervised, supervised visitation with the child, and that’s a lot of scrutiny,” Tapia said. “They have to show that they can keep a stable job, have stable housing.”

“So for women, you are the main caregiver in your household. You come home with the same restrictions as men, with the added problem of having to take care of a child who is dependent on you for shelter, food, shelter, etc. said Miller.

Research compiled by the American Psychological Association shows that upon release, women tend to be poorer than their male counterparts. This is partly explained by the fact that they are generally the only ones looking after children and have limited incomes.

The stigma faced by women on parole is also greater than that faced by men.

There are fewer transition programs or shelter beds for women after incarceration.

And women have a harder time getting jobs and housing, putting them at greater risk of homelessness.

“The unemployment rate in this country in general is around 5%. For incarcerated people, the unemployment rate is around 27%. But for black women, the unemployment rate is around 43%,” Tapia said.

And some of these permanent punishments hinder efforts to be an active mother.

Celia Colon had been a volunteer at her daughter’s school for years. But a new principal asked her to submit to another background check as Colon’s daughter’s eighth grade graduation neared.

“And I didn’t mind, because my child has been going to the same Catholic schools since he was three years old,” Colon said.

Colon’s daughter attended school in Hammond, Indiana. As in Illinois, schools in Indiana can determine whether volunteers are subject to the same background checks as employees.

“And then the principal calls me and says, ‘It’s sad to say, but because of your violent past, you’re not allowed to participate in eighth-grade festivals. You can only come and pick up the report card, you cannot volunteer at school.

“I was speechless,” she said.

Celia Colon runs her own non-profit organization called Giving Others Dreams to help women with shared experiences.  (WTTW News)Celia Colon runs her own non-profit organization called Giving Others Dreams to help women with shared experiences. (WTTW News)

Colon went to prison at 17 and was already a mother. It was 26 years ago. Today, at 47, she has been out of prison for 22 years.

Today, Colon runs his own non-profit organization, called Giving dreams to others (GOD)to help other women with shared experiences.

“Why are you being judged for something that happened 26 years ago?” she asks. “I am a 46 year old mother. I don’t even know what happened when I was 17. I was a wounded child, I was still treating. I was still full of trauma. Who I am today does not reflect what happened when I was 17. And who I was at 17.

When Maria Garza, 47, entered prison for drug trafficking, her children were 8 and 9 years old.

She has been home for a little over a year. Now her children are adults and her place as a parent is not the same as when she left.

“The first thing you really want to do is come back and connect with your kids, you know the kids you left behind,” Garza says. “It’s hard because as a mother you think that even though you’ve seen them grow up, you still think they’re the 9-10 year olds that you left many years ago. And then you have these restrictions, these barriers, and you see it’s not as easy to come in and pick it all up where you left off,” says Garza.

But that’s not the only difficulty she faces.

While dealing with the income inequality that all women face, Garza tried to boost her credit rating with a secured credit card from Capital One.

But one day, she received an email from the bank telling her that Capital One was closing her account.

The letter, which Garza shared with WTTW News, reads, “Capital One has discovered a past or present adverse legal action involving someone associated with the account.”

“These one-sided stories where they’re just watching something without knowing me as someone who paid off the card and tried to get me back on track,” Garza said.

Maria Garza trains service dogs, a skill she learned in prison.  (WTTW News)Maria Garza trains service dogs, a skill she learned in prison. (WTTW News)

Permanent housing was another challenge. She relied on her family and friends for support.

One source of income — and therapy — has been something Garza learned in prison: training service dogs, like the golden lab named Holly.

What Garza, Colon and Brown have in common is facing the struggle to move forward for their own future – and that of their children – despite the ongoing punishments stemming from their past.

For each woman, the support of other women who have been through it has been essential in getting back on their feet.

For example, the Women’s Justice Institute sponsored Brown’s furniture purchases at the Chicago Furniture Bank.

“When you’re independent and you’ve been down for so long and been through struggle for so long, you have to find yourself. So it’s a big step for me to have my own place, to have a job, to have my car,” Brown says.

“Sometimes it gets hard, but I don’t give up because I know my kids are watching me, they’re watching me,” she added.

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