Canyon State housed roughly boys, and at 13, Angel was one of the youngest.
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Why am I even here? Angel wondered. He says he only heard from her once in six months. Angel dreaded the weekends, when kids went home or talked to family. He rarely heard from anyone. He was allowed to speak with his mom and sisters, but coordinating with the prison was difficult. The visits, though, never happened. To mask that he felt deserted, he shut people out.
Other times, his rage just took over.
Once, a roommate tossed a pillow at him, and Angel felt his body stand up and run toward the kid, swinging punches and backing the boy into a wall. After a while he used the techniques he had learned in treatment groups. When his thoughts turned more violent, Angel asked for therapy. It took weeks before he was enrolled for counseling. Soon after, his counselor left, and Angel waited weeks to see a new one.
This delay was not a surprise to staff. Wait times for foster kids can range from two to six months in Arizona, and CPS caseworkers have no system that tracks whether their kids are getting therapy. Some days he fought back a taunting voice in his head. In November , five months after Angel had entered Canyon State, the staff tracked down Yesi, and Angel called her. She was in a group home for teen girls and moms in Scottsdale called Girls Ranch.
Child Protective Services had placed her and her daughter there in August. This was the first time Yesi was allowed to use the phone.
Can you take me with you? The Marin kids were now all separated. Evelyn was on her own in Phoenix. And Angel and Yesi were in group homes, 30 miles apart, with no way to know where the others were or where they might end up. White baby gates partitioned the maze of hallways. Fifteen or so girls shared a one-story house, two to a room. Their kids slept in cribs by their beds. When the other girls went home for the weekend, Yesi was alone.
Yesi would walk around the vast backyard and try to peer over the concrete wall, where babies toddled around in an adjacent group home for infants. They created fake accounts and pinged their siblings. Eventually Evelyn replied, and once Yesi convinced Evelyn that it was really her, they could talk in short, typed exchanges. After six weeks at the home, Yesi started therapy. She was afraid the staff would put her on medication and that CPS would take her baby away. The therapist asked her to close her eyes and think of the bad. After a while it felt easier to forget the world outside the walls.
Yesi was provided an aide to help her prepare for adulthood. Yesi finally reached Briza, who still lived with their aunt, but she says that Briza gave her one-word responses, like a robot, and she could hear their aunt breathing on speakerphone.
The aide also escorted Yesi to a new therapist. She had one recommendation: Yesi needed to talk to Gloria. When they crossed the border into Nogales, the women filed out, clutching clear plastic bags with their only belongings. Gloria carried her court records, a packet of letters from her kids, and two 4-by-6 family photo albums. At the end of orientation, Gloria approached an officer. Compared to America, everything looked smaller: the one-room shops, the narrow, stony roads, the brightly colored houses up on the hills.
She knew no one in Nogales, but to go deeper into Mexico, to move back to her hometown, would mean living farther from her kids. Coordinating a U. On the U. These obstacles can make some parents feel they have no choice but to give up. Through the Integral Family Development office, she took parenting classes to prove to the U. Each month or so, she phoned into her hearings at family court in Phoenix. At first, Yesi, Angel, and Briza all said they wanted to go with Gloria. The months stretched on, and Gloria called often. She sounded different.
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She talked about God on every phone call, and Angel felt far from her. Angel still harbored anger, too. None of the kids dared start a conversation about how the separation had changed them. It was easier to fantasize about the future. The Mexican consulate can escort kids, but the logistics are difficult: Most government offices close on the weekends when kids are free, and the children need a court order before they can go.
One former case manager, who has worked with approximately 20 kids in these circumstances, told me that, at best, the children saw their parents once a year. In the spring of , five months after Gloria was deported, Maricopa County Family Court approved her for family visitation. Angel had reached a higher status at Canyon State, earning home visits with Briza and his aunt, who could drive the kids to Mexico.
When Angel and Briza crossed the border, they caught sight of Gloria. She wore no makeup, and her hair was flat, silver strands framing her boxy face. A baggy sweatshirt had taken the place of her glittery tops. Crowds gathered on the sidewalks; musicians sang in the restaurants. Do you have enough food?
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Angel kept hugging her. Gloria told them not to worry, and to behave so they could be back together again soon. Then, four hours later, it was over. The kids were in the car headed north, a thick rain glancing off the hood. She was now 16 years old, a young adult, and she had to think about her child and finishing high school. Is she going to be the same? Angel was also torn. He wanted his mom, but like Yesi, he was scared. He figured that even if he went, his family would still be separated; Yesi and Evelyn were likely going to stay in Phoenix. Mainly he thought about how hard life was for Gloria in Nogales.
She was barely able to support herself. On the day before one of the final hearings, in July , Angel called his mom.
He was nervous. He knew he was adding more pain.
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