Prison Moms: Meet the Inmates

Prison Moms: Meet the Inmates

Warden Tina Hornbeak escorts Dr. Phil around the facility. As they pass by a field full of inmates in the distance, they are met with cheers and waves.

"They really like you," the warden tells Dr. Phil as he waves back.

Valley State Prison for Women houses nearly 4,000 female prisoners. The ethnic breakdown is a third white, a third Hispanic, and a third African American. Nearly 85 percent are mothers, and some, like Angela, even give birth
behind bars.

Dr. Phil asks how the prison accommodates the preponderance of mothers. "What do you do as far as visits with the children and their mothers?"

"Actually, we have our regular visits, which occur on weekends and designated holidays," says Warden Hornbeak. "Also, we have our overnight visits, where the immediate families and their children can come spend overnight with the mothers. Right here on the left, these are my family modules where the visits actually take place." She gestures toward a row of buildings which resemble small apartments.

 

Dr. Phil says, "The shrink in me has to ask, with mothers who have children outside, you would think that would be the greatest motivation to stay out of jail that anybody could have, being with their children."

"That's why the department has really put a focus on reuniting these families so when they parole from here, they look forward to going home to be with their children," the warden says.

Next, Warden Hornbeak and Dr. Phil tour a prison cell. The room is 12 feet by 15 feet and houses eight inmates. The place is furnished with bunk beds, lockers, and television sets.

"All right, that's good. They can see Dr. Phil," jokes Dr. Phil.

The eight women share one toilet and community showers.

Dr. Phil says, "I've got to say, in looking at this room with eight women living in a 12' by 15' plus community shower and bath, I would really be thinking they would be motivated to get home with their children, where they can put their arms around them. If these women get out of here, how likely are you to see them back in the system again either here or somewhere else?"

"Overall " this includes the men and women " we have like a 70 percent return rate," says Warden Hornbeak. "I'm hoping to change that as a warden here. You know, our purpose is to give them a skill that they're able to use when they leave here with hope that they'd be a productive citizen in society and not come back."

Dr. Phil thanks the warden for their tour. "It is obvious to me that you have great pride in the quality of experience that these women have here. We feel your passion here, and I don't think anybody wants to go to prison but if they do, it seems like they've got a better chance of getting a running start at life here than a lot I've seen."

Next, Dr. Phil sits down with four prison moms, including Angela.

"I'm really, really very interested in what your life is like now," he tells them. "What's the hardest thing about being in here when you have children on the outside?"

"I believe it's the separation and the overwhelming feeling of guilt," says Angela. "I know I feel that. The fear of the damage you might be causing."

Another inmate, Barbara, adds, "I truly believe that no one can love your children like you. And that no one's going to treat your kids like you would if you were there."

"Well, [it's a] hard question, I know," Dr. Phil ventures, "but what went through your mind at the time that you put yourself in the situation to not see your children? Do you ask yourselves that now?"

Angela explains, "I justified my actions that I was supplying a better life or doing this or doing that for my children."

"Yeah, but you had a second chance," Dr. Phil counters.

"Yes, I did," she concedes.

"You got busted once for forgery and counterfeiting, so you knew, ‘These things can send me to jail, and I must not be very good at it because I got caught and went to jail,' and then you did it again."

"Yes, I did," Angela agrees.

Dr. Phil says, "So you got burned once " and I'm kind of like, ‘If I put my hand on a hot burner, and I burn my hand, I don't have to put it on there a second time,' but you did. Why?"

"To be honest, it was easy," Angela says. "Easier than to stand in a shelter line. Easier than being homeless. In my community, the option to break the law, to make some quick money, is always there."

"And I think, for me, I was just young and I wasn't thinking," Joyce chimes in.

"But you did kill somebody," Dr. Phil shoots back.

"I was with somebody," she tells him. "See, the felony murder rule is if you're with somebody who kills somebody and you don't report it, you're just as guilty as the shooter."

 

Dr. Phil addresses both Joyce and Barbara. "So neither one of you killed anybody but you were with somebody who did. The point is, you'll never see your children on the outside."


But Barbara isn't so sure. "Well, I never say never," she says.

"Something could happen," says Dr. Phil, and Barbara agrees. Dr. Phil asks Joyce if she has hope.

"I have hope," she says, "but I know reality. I would just rather deal with what it is. And so when my daughter asks me, 'Mom, you're never coming home?' you know, I say, 'That's what I think.' I say, 'I don't know but, basically, yeah, that's what it is.'"

Angela is scheduled to be released in 2008. Dr. Phil asks her if she will stay out. "I will definitely stay out this time," she says. "Nothing can be worse than this."

Dr. Phil sits down one-on-one with Angela, who has been incarcerated not once, but twice, only a year apart. Angela even had her youngest child, Makayla, behind bars.

"What is it you know now that you didn't know then that makes you think you can stay out of here once you get out of here?" asks Dr. Phil.

"I know now that I'm more secure in myself, that if I only had, say, a one-bedroom, if we had to stay in a shelter, if we whatever, that it would be OK with them."

"But if you're standing in shelter lines," Dr. Phil begins, "I'm sorry, why are you having six children? Did it occur to you that you needed to stop getting pregnant?

"It did," says Angela, "but [I was] just young, and I figured that we were going through rough times, but we would be able to pull it together and do this, and that just did not work out."

Angela was convicted of forgery and counterfeiting in 1999 and received a 16-month sentence. She served eight months before being released.

Dr. Phil asks, "Didn't you come out of there saying, 'Oh, my God, I'll never do that " ' I mean, 'I've missed my children for eight months. I haven't been there for them. They've missed their mother.'"

"Yes, I did come out like that, and I was very stern," she says. "I got a full-time job. I was able to do the things that I was supposed to be doing. To be honest, Dr. Phil, I don't know what happened. I ran into rough spots. I wasn't bringing enough money in."

Angela admits to forging payroll checks and making counterfeit credit cards. She made money in the upper six figures, $800,000 to $900,000 by her estimation, and used it to pay for housing, cars, and basically to live. With the money, she says she was living well " well enough that she didn't have to hold another job.

"So, you got caught once, then you got caught again," says Dr. Phil. "Did it ever occur to you " did you just think, this isn't going to happen, you're not going to get caught?

"No. It didn't." says Angela. "I knew that I would eventually get caught."

"But you left your children behind," says Dr. Phil. "What has it done to them?"

"It's probably torn them up," she admits. "I know that I have a lot to account for. I haven't seen three of my children in over three years, haven't touched them."

"What does that feel like?" Dr. Phil asks.

"It feels terrible," says Angela, "because I've never considered myself that type of mother. I've always thought that I was a good mom, a good, nourishing mom. But how could I have been if I'm in this situation? I can understand that they would feel like I chose things over them."

"Well, there's no question about it," says Dr. Phil.

Dr. Phil says, "The thing that I'm trying to get inside your mind about is you got caught and went to prison, so it wasn't like, 'Wow, I never really registered consciously what could happen here.' It did hit you. You did go to prison. You were away from your children for eight months, living in a cell."

"Yes," Angela acknowledges.

"And that didn't stop you, obviously."

"No, it didn't," she says. "The first time I got arrested, I was gone for the eight months. It didn't really seem like much. I will say this: if I had gotten eight years the first time, and I was sitting in a cell for all these years, like I am now, yeah, I would have never, never, ever thought twice."


"So eight months just didn't get your attention," says Dr. Phil. "So, you're going to get out again. You're going to have multiple felony convictions and two incarcerations. That doesn't look good on the resume, so it's going to be tough to get a job when you get out there."

Angela says, "I understand that it will be harder, so now I've learned, say, to weld. Now I'm in woodworking. I'm learning to do more things with my hands. I can't go into a store, or I can't go into a business with these felonies and expect people to just " OK hire you. So, I know that I need to take other routes, and that's what I'm trying to do."

"Tell me about Jasmine," Dr. Phil probes.

"I haven't talked to Jasmine in a while," Angela says. "I haven't seen Jasmine in a while. I write to her, but she hasn't written me back in a while."

"She's upset with you because you left her," Dr. Phil says.

"And she has every right to be," Angela acknowledges.


Dr. Phil asks Angela how she feels knowing that her child has to bear the burden of mothering her younger siblings.

"I feel terrible," she says. "I can't say that I'm going to make it up to her. All I can say is that I'm going to be better and work on myself that I don't do it again."

"What are you going to say to her?" asks Dr. Phil.

"I was wrong. I can't tell her, Dr. Phil, that I didn't know better, because I knew better. I don't know why or what was in me that caused me to make these awful decisions, but I just know that that's no longer there, no matter what I have to do, I'll do it to stay out of here and be a mother they can be proud of."

"Because you realize it's not too late," says Dr. Phil. "You will be their mother for a long time to come to come."

"Yes," says Angela.

"You're going to get a third chance," says Dr. Phil. "They deserve something different."