Dedication

Theresa Azochar?s life changed the moment her daughter, Theresa Cruz, was arrested for conspiring to murder the man who had abused and stalked her. Over the next thirteen years Theresa Azochar fought battles in the courts, in the state legislature, before the parole board, on the radio and on T.V. She always said that she was not just speaking for her family but also for the hundreds of thousands of families around the country who have a loved one in prison and suffer from the daily brutality of incarceration.
For her brave endurance of multiple forms of pain inflicted by this society, for her boundless love for her large, multi-generational family, for her capacity to change as a person and her will to change the prison system, we dedicate this issue of The Fire Inside to Theresa Azochar.

To All Mothers in Prison

Edaleene Smith, CCWF
There is no one on earth who can mother your children better than you. Yes, I sit here every day, hurting, thinking about my son. Praying and hoping he will be OK. He didn’t have this coming. The blame is on me. But my son acts out, blaming himself and others because he lost his mother, who is away in prison.
When you come to prison you feel just left, all alone. The separation, especially from your children, is hard. It is a punishment in itself. You try not to blame the world or your family for not doing things you would do if you could. You try not to trip out on your family for not bringing the children more often. Or because you can’t call because their phone does not accept collect calls. After all, it is me and you who are in prison. But at the same time, it’s hard not to hear from your kids as often as you’d like.
When I was on the street, I was a real mother. My sisters were running wild. My mother was already taking care of many grandkids, but she never had to take care of mine. So when I caught this case she was mad as hell at me, not just that she had to take care of mine, too, but that I was no longer there.
Since I came to prison in ’98 I saw my youngest son very few times. I can’t blame my mother, she has all the other grandkids to take care of. But I am worried not just about the things here, but also about them–out there. It’s all a part of being a mother. It’s hard not to be there (he is now 13) as he is facing the society outside. He told me that he loves me very much. But when other kids talk about their parents they ask him “what does your mother do?” He is ashamed to say, “she is in prison.” He gets angry at me for putting him in such a bad situation. I understand that. I understand that he is angry at me. But I want him to know that just because I am here, it does not make me any less his mother. There are lots of mothers here. Working hard to come out, to look ahead and not so much at the past. We know it’s hard on our children. We all love our children.

A Bill of Rights for children

Legal Corner
by Cassie Pierson, Staff Attorney, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
The San Francisco Partnership for Incarcerated Parents (SFPIP) was formed in 2000, with the support of the Zellerbach Family Foundation. SFPIP is a coalition of advocates, social service providers, and government agencies, who are concerned about families impacted by incarceration and, in particular, the children of incarcerated parents. Legal Services for Prisoners with Children is part of this coalition.
Children who have a parent in prison or jail face many obstacles in their lives and often suffer from the stigma of having an incarcerated parent. In addition to the physical separation from their mother or father these children must endure, they are often viewed only as statistics and fodder for the prison industrial complex. Those of us involved with SFPIP work to change society?s perception of children of incarcerated parents and to give these children a voice so that their needs will be met.
In October 2003, SFPIP published, ?Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Bill of Rights,? a document that was based on an original concept by Gretchen Newby, Executive Director of Friends Outside, several meetings and discussions of the SFPIP, and interviews of over 30 young people conducted by journalist Nell Bernstein.
Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Bill of Rights:
1. I have the right to be kept safe and informed at the time of my parent?s arrest.
2. I have the right to be heard when decisions are made about me.
3. I have the right to be considered when decisions are made about my parent.
4. I have the right to be well cared for in my parent?s absence.
5. I have the right to speak with, see and touch my parent.
6. I have the right to support as I struggle with my parent?s incarceration.
7. I have the right not to be judged, blamed or labeled because of my parent?s incarceration.
8. I have the right to a lifelong relationship with my parent.
Of course, merely formulating a list of rights is not enough. So, in addition to listing those rights that all children should enjoy, the personal story of one young person is used as an introduction to a specific right and each listing is followed by a ?Next Steps? section which gives suggestions on what legislators, law enforcement, social services, and the community can do to enhance the lives of children of incarcerated parents. For example, in number 1 above, ?I have the right to be kept safe and informed at the time of my parent?s arrest,? the story of ?Dave? is told and two ?next steps? are discussed, (1) Develop arrest protocols that support and protect arrestees? children but do not necessarily involve the child welfare system and increase the risk of permanent separation, and, (2) Recruit and train advocates to support children during and/or after a parent?s arrest.
The Bill of Rights has been distributed at several conferences and it is hoped that it will be adopted by the legislature.
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If you would like a copy of this booklet please write to Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, 1540 Market Street, Suite 490, San Francisco, CA 94102. There is no charge.

Stress on families

Debi Z. CCWF
My whole family turned against me since I got arrested. My own mother, my sisters, aunts, uncles, everyone. Their initial reaction was that the dysfunction of my past was going to come out of the closet and they could no longer live in denial.
My mother was angry that the facts of my childhood abuse and my molestation was becoming public knowledge. She has been trying to suppress it for years. Recently, when she became aware that by pursuing my legal recourse I might get in the papers again she was furious and told me, “why can’t you leave this alone and just do your time?” I told her it had nothing to do with her. It is my life and my mistake, but it is nice to know where I stood with her.
Since my arrest in 2000 I have spoken with my teenage daughter one time for five minutes. That was 3 years ago. She refuses to take my calls.
I am envious of other people with a good family support system. I think it will help them to successfully parole and re-integrate into society.
For myself, I am eternally grateful for the support I found with women’s rights organizations and Tanya Brannan of Santa Rosa’s Purple Berets specifically. She is now my family.

Mother-daughter in prison

A moving memorial was held at Valley State Prison for women in Chowchilla, CA, for a woman who died on the outside shortly after being released. This is her daughter’s tribute. She was able to get to know her mother only when she herself was sentenced to the same prison.
I think about how different my life may have been, if my mother would have never entered the system.
I wrote this a few hours before my mother went to heaven. For the first time, I finally had my mother in my life. Granted, we were sitting in the Pen, yet it was what I had dreamed of my whole life. It had finally happened, no one could keep her from me any more.
It seemed that no matter how hard I tried when I was growing up, nothing was ever good enough to get my mother to stay out of prison. Each trip seemed longer than the last one, and each time I tried even harder to understand what I had done *that* time to make her *want* to go back. No one could tell me it wasn’t my fault, though no one ever bothered to try. I just knew it had to be that test I took last week and only got a B+. It was the day she was arrested again. Or maybe it was because Dad said I didn’t do the dishes right.
She didn’t write because I don’t spell good enough. Not because it’s easier on her, or because Dad wouldn’t let her write.
The worst part is now sitting here, doing life without parole. I was finally given my life-long dream, a chance to see my mommy. The worst part was hearing her say she came here to be with me. The fact is, that was the benefit but not the cause. Yet the same guilt is alive and strong in me. It only sealed all those childhood beliefs.
I never thought I would hurt as bad as I did the day she walked out of those gates a little over a month ago. I knew I should be happy for her, yet feared I may never see her again. You see, for the first time I actually saw her change and seem to want to stay out of prison. She will stay out of prison. On August 25th, less than a month after getting out of prison on her third W#, she went to heaven to play with her grandson and the angels.
Looking back, I was very blessed for the time I had. As I watch women walk in and out of this prison, I wonder if they realize they are not building the children of tomorrow, but are destroying hopes and dreams.
Live each moment as if it was your last. You can change a child’s tomorrow with a letter, a smile or a hope for the future. Have you taken that time today? My mom did and I will cherish that time. Can you say that?