York family split apart after dad's incarceration
Angela Perry started to cry.
She was sitting in the bright, windowless cafeteria of the York Rescue Mission women and children's shelter, where she has lived with her 8-year-old daughter for about two months.
Perry, 29, became homeless shortly after Christmas 2013, when she was evicted from her Baltimore apartment.
"I couldn't afford all our bills on my own I've been struggling ever since," she said.
Perry said she and her three children have moved between homeless shelters, temporary housing and the homes of relatives — in York, Hanover and Baltimore — since the winter they lost their place.
Since Perry's household fell apart, her daughter, now in third grade, has switched schools twice.
"It was hard because I had to split my kids up," she said.
She has two sons: Javar, 2, and Keevon, 3.
Life became worse because the boys' father was gone — sentenced to prison.
"The hardest thing about it — my daughter went with my mom, and my boys went with their father's mom," she said.
"But in order for (the boys' grandmother) to help me with them, she wanted partial custody of them," she said.
At the time, granting partial custody seemed unavoidable, Perry said, because she was in such a vulnerable place and their grandmother might well have been able to get full custody if she'd wanted to.
What happened: The first time Perry's ex-boyfriend was locked up, on drug charges, he was in his early 20s.
In his late 20s, while he was living in Georgia, he was charged with manslaughter, she said. He was released on parole about 10 years before the end of his sentence.
Now 33, he has struggled for years with addiction to heroin and crack cocaine, she said.
In the four and a half years they were together and the time after they broke up, he has been in and out of prison many times.
"It seemed like every couple months he would get locked up for dumb stuff," she said.
Even a minor crime lands him back in a Georgia prison. Once when he was working as a contractor, he was traveling to a job in Pennsylvania, which constituted a violation of his parole, she said.
He was only allowed in Maryland and Georgia and had been assigned parole officers in each state.
That time, he was locked up for three or four months, she said.
Another time, he went to jail for about the same amount of time for riding in a friend's car where police found drugs, she said.
Each time he went to jail, Perry struggled to pay the family's bills. She felt like she was starting over again and again.
"There've been times when he deserved (to go to jail)," Perry said.
But sometimes, she thinks, they have been unfairly harsh.
"They look at his original offense" each time he's arrested, she said, and treat him accordingly.
On a fateful Christmas Day nearly two years ago, Perry's ex was arrested and jailed for eight months.
Javar was only about 6 months old at the time.
About a month after the father went to prison that time, Perry broke it off with him. "It's too hard to get my life together and worry about his life at the same time," she said.
She doesn't have a car, she said, so she can only visit her boys when her ex picks her up and takes her to see them.
Not just one story: Perry and her children are in a common situation.
At the York County Prison, 1,395 of 2,221 inmates report having a total of 3,626 children.
Nationally, a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that in 2010, one in 28 children had a parent incarcerated. That's up from one in 125 in 1985.
The increase in America's prison population is the outcome of harsher sentencing laws, inmate release decisions, community supervision practices and other correctional policies that determine who goes to prison and for how long, the report states.
Fifty-four percent of 2010 inmates were parents of children under 18, and most were men. The vast majority of children with a parent behind bars were African-American or Hispanic.
Two-thirds of the children's parents were jailed for nonviolent crimes.
"Before being incarcerated, more than two-thirds of male inmates were employed and more than half were the primary source of financial support for their children," the report states.
Family income is adversely impacted during and after the parent's incarceration.
Parental income, the report states, along with education is a strong indicator of a child's future economic mobility. A child with a parent behind bars has a 23 percent chance of being expelled or suspended from school, while a child who doesn't has a 9 percent chance.
Broken up: Perry's sons' dad was arrested again about a week ago, she said, and she hasn't seen her two little boys in almost a month.
She hasn't told her daughter, Iayana Cooks, about the latest brush with the law for the man she thinks of as her dad — he was charged with theft, Perry said, and is being held at a facility in Baltimore before he is sent back to Georgia.
Even if it were feasible to take her kids to see their father, she wouldn't want to.
But it's hard to respond to children who wonder where their dad is.
"One minute he's there, and the next minute he's not," she said. "They ask me where he is, and I don't want to tell them he's in jail. They're constantly asking me where he is."
Since she lost her apartment almost two years ago, it's been difficult to find and keep a job, Perry said. But she's now working at a warehouse and has been able to save money to get back on her feet.
— Reach Julia Scheib at email@example.com.