Aleyda’s story is one of survival, surmounting enormous (sometimes Kafka-esque) barriers and — above all — persistent motherhood. It was for her newborn and toddler that she “first got into trouble,” as she says, stealing small sums of money and basics like clothing: the most common crimes of poverty among women. Through multiple incarcerations and custody losses, it was also love for her children that propelled her to stability and consistent involvement in the life of her older son (adopted out) and the day, in December 2016, when her younger son came home for good.
“That was a big 360 for me,” Aleyda recounts. “I was able to finally be a parent. That’s been my motivation: working and saving as much as I can to make sure my son doesn’t go through things that I went through.”
Now 33, Aleyda grew up in Alexandria. “When I was four years old,” she says, “I got removed from my parents because I was abused — then I went to foster care, where the same thing happened.” At 18, her first opportunity, she signed herself out of the system. She had survived.
Without support, life skills or a high school diploma, she nevertheless found a job at the then-$7.25 minimum wage. At 19 and 21, she gave birth to her sons. Eventually, need and opportunity collided and “I started taking money from the company where I worked. Also, I started stealing clothes and stuff like that.” She was arrested a number of times, with sentences escalating to the longest incarceration: three years. When that latter began, in 2010, her older son was placed in foster care and her younger son went to his father’s family.
Thereafter, as Aleyda worked mightily to build a stable life, barrier after barrier arose. In 2010, for example, the court had told her she could have her sons back when she was released and resettled; but in 2013, that same court gave her just four months post-release to find a job and housing — an impossible timeframe for someone with a criminal record — so she lost her eldest to adoption.
Those same four months overlapped with the Guest House Residential Program, which she’d entered trying to better her life; but she couldn’t both stay at Guest House and fulfill the court’s requirements (like housing for her sons), so she prioritized her quest for her children and left the Guest House…but lost her children anyway. She returned to our program a year later. Fortunately, and unusually, Aleyda’s older son’s adoptive family has kept Aleyda in his life. As to her younger son, “it took me four years to get him back.” Four years with way too much struggle, not to mention absurdity. Housing for kids was required for custody; but when she applied for such housing, she was told her current lack of custody disqualified her. On a home visit, a social worker cited Aleyda for insufficient furnishings—furnishings already on order, to be delivered in two weeks, in time for her son’s arrival. Aleyda persisted and “finally, a new judge saw me — my progress, my change — and granted me custody.” Ever since, Aleyda says, she and her sons have done well.
Soon, Guest House looks forward to welcoming Aleyda to our staff as a Residential Specialist. Who better? “Like I tell other women: I was there, I know what you all are going through.”