"Having a loved one in prison is hard. You're doing time with them," says Karen Roscigno. Her story of love and sacrifice reminds us why we must remember those in prison, as well as their families.
From 9 to 5, Karen Roscigno works as a child advocate manager serving children and families in the Tampa, Florida, area. Off the clock, she knows their experience all too well.
Her daughter Anastasia was kicked out of public school at 15. The troubled years continued into Anastasia's 20s, leading to a life of crime to support her drug habit. Soon she was a struggling single mother of two.
Anastasia went to jail when her oldest was 5 and her baby was 3 months old—then on to prison. Karen got custody of the children.
A FAMILY SERVING TIME
When moms and dads go to prison, their children suffer emotionally, mentally, and often financially, at no fault of their own. Many families report difficulties getting by with the basics—food, shelter, clothes—not to mention the additional costs of traveling to visit their loved one in prison. It’s common for a caregiver to grapple with mixed emotions toward the imprisoned family member, along with the immense burden of providing for a family.
"Having a loved one in prison is hard," Karen says frankly. "You're doing time with them."
Karen was already the sole financial provider of a teen daughter at home when Riley and Angel moved in. Anastasia would spend five years behind bars. Karen spent that time caring for Riley and Angel who, having two different fathers, could have ended up in separate homes or in foster care.
"If you can keep the kids together, and it's a good, safe situation, that's what’s best," Karen explains. "The kids ended up forming this strong bond with each other."
Caring for Riley and Angel was more taxing for Karen than her first round of motherhood. The girls would cry for Anastasia even after she'd been gone for three years. Once a month, Karen drove four hours each way so her grandchildren could visit their mom. Meanwhile Karen was still employed, in school, and committed to taking care of her own mother, who had dementia.
THE GIFT OF ANGEL TREE
Through it all, Karen depended on friends and local support group to come alongside her. At Christmas, she found strength in Angel Tree®, a Prison Fellowship® program that allowed Anastasia to provide gifts for her daughters in their mother's name even though she was still in prison. Angel Tree was a gift to Karen, too—the gift of relief. "When I read the personal message from their mom, it was as if their whole holiday was complete. They felt their mom didn’t forget them."
Over time, Karen got Anastasia into a work-release program, supporting her daughter's success despite their often rocky relationship. "She was my nightmare child," Karen remembers. Still she made sacrifices to keep the family together, selling her home in Ocala to rent a place near Anastasia's release area. At the time, Karen was still tending to her elderly mother and keeping up with her job and studies remotely.
REDISCOVERING HOPE TOGETHER
"We set up a plan. Anastasia did her part," says Karen. "People can actually change, and my daughter is living proof of it. Sometimes, you just have to hang in there and support them as much as you can and help them get back on their feet."
And her daughter doesn't take it for granted. "My mom made a major sacrifice. She was the only one who's always been there for me," says Anastasia, who spent much of her sentence in recovery and life-skills classes. "I had to realize, 'This not only affects me, and not only am I hurting; my whole family is hurting, too.' I came out [of prison] a way better mother and person altogether."
After Anastasia's release, Karen helped file the motion for her daughter to regain guardianship of her children. And, Karen and Anastasia are closer than ever. They recently partnered with Anastasia's employer to organize an Angel Tree fundraiser.
Returning to the role of "Grandma" is still a process, but if Karen had to do everything over again, she would.
"I get the youngest almost every weekend, and sometimes both girls come over," says Karen. "As much as they missed their mom ... they felt a little scared [when they left Karen's to live with Anastasia]. But they've grown closer, both daughters and their mom. Now I can enjoy the fun of being a grandma."
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