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As a mother in prison, Elizabeth Holmes faces an agonizing separation from son

Martha Ross, The Mercury News on

Published in Business News

During Elizabeth Holmes' trial, prosecutors portrayed the Silicon Valley wunderkind as the mastermind of a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme, but the stylish diaper-bag backpack she toted to court was a reminder that she's also the new mother to a 6-month-old son.

Holmes' maternal role will weigh heavily on her and her baby when it comes time for sentencing later this year. Some legal experts the Theranos founder, 37, could face more than a decade in federal prison, meaning that she and her son, , will face an agonizing separation experienced by who are locked up over the course a year in county jails and state and federal prisons, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. Some 57,000 women in state and federal prisons have minor children, according to a 2016 U.S. Justice Department survey.

Women who've been incarcerated describe a harrowing reality for any mother who must leave a child behind, even a mother who's rich, White and famous, as Holmes is. They talk about the limited opportunities for visits and physical contact. They also illustrate the lifelong trauma that children can suffer when they lose close, regular proximity to their primary caregiver at crucial times in their physical and emotional development.

Andrea James said she was on "the brink of insanity" from postpartum depression when she surrendered to serve two years at the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut, in 2010, six months after giving birth to the youngest of her four children.

"It was like a kick in the stomach, being separated from my son," said James, a former Boston-area attorney who was convicted of wire fraud. "This child doesn't understand, this infant who was in your body and slept up against you and breast-fed. You are there one day and the next day you are gone."

James now heads the . Like others, she cites extensive research showing that having an incarcerated parent is an "adverse" event for a child, which can lead to depression, anxiety, aggression and an increased risk of trouble in school and involvement in the criminal justice system.

 

Danielle Metz's son and daughter were 7 and 3 when she started three life sentences, plus 20 years, at Dublin's Federal Correctional Institution, for cocaine distribution. The New Orleans native said she's fortunate her children grew up "making good choices" because her sister raised them, moving to Stockton so they could see her at least once a month.

"Me bonding with my children was very important to my sister," said Metz. But then, as now, the visits at the Dublin prison took place in a large, crowded institutional room with children often crying when they have to leave their mothers.

"There was a toy area where you could maybe sit with your child, but, you know, at 3 and 7, it was hard to explain my sentence to them," continued Metz, who was granted clemency by President Obama in 2016. She's the clemency director for James' National Council and a community health worker for a clinic for formerly incarcerated people. "Even as they got older, it was hard to explain why I wasn't coming home with them and if not, when will I be coming with them?"

For the 23 years she was incarcerated, Metz missed her child-rearing day-to-day moments: Taking them to school, soothing them when they were sick or cheering them on in their many accomplishments. She remembers asking her daughter to wear her prom dress for one visit.

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