Paying the price for her father's crime

Nov. 5, 2004, midnight | By Katherine Duncan | 16 years, 2 months ago

A junior's struggle with the incarceration of a parent

The date flows out of her mouth as easily as her name. July 14, 2003: the day that junior Aracely Blanco's father was imprisoned for illegal immigration from El Salvador; the day that upturned Blanco's entire life.

Fifteen months ago Blanco watched helplessly as her father was driven away in a blur of blue and red flashing lights. It has been seven months since she has last seen him and will be another 20 months before she will see him again.
Blanco is among the over two million children nationwide who have an incarcerated parent, according to the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). Having a parent in jail is difficult for children like Blanco, according to the CWLA, whose lives typically become disrupted and chaotic upon their parent's imprisonment. Despite the emotional and financial turmoil of her father's incarceration, Blanco has matured and developed better relationships with family and friends throughout the time without her father.

Blanco was at a program in Washington, D.C., when she received a fateful phone call from her father. "He didn't tell me right away what was going on, but I knew something was wrong," she says. Blanco's father kept saying "don't worry" and "everything will be okay," she says, and he repeatedly told Blanco that he loved her.

For the next week, Blanco locked herself in her room and cried. Blanco's extended family came to her house to lend support and help out but inevitably everyone just ended up crying together, says Blanco. "Every time someone brought it up, we would all just cry," she says. Aside from feeling depressed, Blanco was also worried about her father and wrote him numerous letters. "I was really anxious to see him," she says.

Blanco's father came to the U.S. mainly to help support his family, says Blanco. Instead he was sent to jail, leaving the family financially unstable once again. "The only thing my Dad is guilty of is working to help his family," Blanco insists. Despite his good intentions, however, Blanco's father broke the law by immigrating illegally. While Blanco and her family members do not know exactly how her father was caught, they surmise that it was because he was not paying taxes.

The last time that Blanco saw her father was seven months ago when she visited him at a prison in D.C. Blanco has been unable to see him since then because he was moved to a prison in Georgia. He worked at the Hyatt Regency Hotel when he was arrested, according to Blanco, and he was the primary source of income for the family. To compensate for the loss of income, Blanco's mother currently works two jobs, and her family rents out the basement of their Silver Spring home.

Just as significant as the financial effects of her father's imprisonment are the emotional and psychological repercussions that Blanco has faced. "[My dad] spoiled me," says Blanco. Every Saturday, the two would spend time together, going shopping, visiting museums, taking bike rides and walking in the park. "Saturday was our day," she says.

Blanco's father frequently took her to Washington, D.C., taking pictures of her in front of monuments, the Capital building and other D.C. landmarks. "He loved to take pictures," Blanco recalls. "He was obsessed." While her father enjoyed taking her to D.C., Blanco preferred the Saturdays when she and her dad took the Metro to malls like Pentagon City and Crystal City. "He always had lots of money with him from his two jobs, so he would buy me anything I wanted," she says.

"I miss our little Saturday routines," says Blanco with a sigh. Her nostalgia of the Saturdays that she and her father used to share is a typical reaction, according to psychologist Sharon Cooper. "There is a loss of what is considered to be a so-called normal life," says Cooper.

Even with her current fatherless situation, Blanco manages to stay grounded and maintain good relationships with the rest of her family. Blanco has grown closer to her mother in the recent months without her father. "I used to see [my mom] at home, say hello, and that's it," says Blanco. "Now I tell her everything. She knows all of my secrets." Though Blanco misses her father, she says that she, her mother and her sister get along better now that her father, who used to "stress out the family with his attitude," is gone.

Since her father's absence, Blanco has also felt an improvement in her own behavior and maturity. "When my mom used to tell me what to do, I would forget and my dad would yell and ground me," says Blanco. Things are different now, however, and Blanco is becoming more responsible and proactive. "I do chores on my own now because my mom is proud of me," Blanco explains. "[Back then], my dad always expected me to do them."

Along with the rest of her family, Blanco says that her father has also changed for the better. Since his incarceration, he has become closer to God, more religious and closer to his family. "He has apologized for many things that he's done to my mom and our family," Blanco says. In addition to his newfound spirituality, Blanco's father calls his family every weekend. Blanco says that on the phone, her father typically lectures her, jokes around "and tells us how much he loves and misses us."

While she is pleased with his turning over a new leaf, not having a father is difficult for Blanco. "When he was taken away I was crying like crazy," she says. "I kept thinking about how tight we were [going to] be financially." While initially Blanco felt "kind of weird" without her father around, she adapted fairly quickly since her father had been in and out of her life before. "I already knew how to deal," Blanco says.

Since she no longer has her routine Saturdays with her father, Blanco spends that time attending church with her mother and sister and teaching a class there. Blanco also hangs out with her best friend more now and they have gotten closer, she says.

The words flow out of her mouth just as easily as before: June 2006. But this time, the date is for her father's scheduled release. He is going to stay with his family for two months when he is released and then will be deported, Blanco says.

Blanco is upset with the government and struggles to understand why they will not let her father stay in the U.S. "I am just confused because everything is so complicated," she says. For now, all Blanco can do is reminisce about the good times that she and her father shared and look forward to the day when she will see him again. The fact that Blanco's father is gone lingers in her mind. "There are no more Saturdays," she says sadly.

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Katherine Duncan. Katherine Duncan is beyond excited to be in her senior year of high school. A perpetually tired, slightly spaztic girl, Katherine enjoys many things--including hanging out with her friends, going shopping and being lazy. Though she is still license-less, she has a permit (finally) and … More »

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