Yvonne’s dad was in and out of prison most of her life. He was a career criminal dad. Yvonne spent many years visiting her dad and taking care of the family when there were no other adults around.
This is a two-part interview. The first part will concentrate on the story of her dad going to prison. The second part will tell about her mother’s encounter with the law and how Yvonne had to step up to ensure everyone in the family was cared for, while she was barely an adult herself. She had a choice of how to live her life, and she has chosen to live a successful life, in spite of life’s adversities.
(Edited for ease of reading)
I really needed to set some boundaries with my father because his life is not my life.
Today I’m here with Yvonne and her story begins when she was a young girl and continues to present day. Her father was a career criminal and in and out of prison for 41 years, but no matter what happened she was there for him. They share a strong father-daughter bond that many would not be able to endure based on the trials and tribulations of their relationship. Her story shows the strength and fortitude of a child who grows into a strong woman. She learned how to set boundaries and no matter what, she always took the high road. She has triumphed and has a beautiful family and a productive life. Below are excerpts from her interview:
How did you find out that your father was in prison and when did you visit him?
I was very young when I was first taken to visit my father in prison. I was about five or six years old. My mother took us to a place that she described as a hospital for my father. I noticed there were all men there and they were dressed in the same blue jean type of clothing: dark blue jean pants, a dark blue jean jacket and a light blue shirt. We would visit for a little while and then leave.
My father was incarcerated every few years so as I got older I could read the signs as we were pulling into the parking lot. I read “State Correctional Facility”. So I asked my mother a little bit about that and she said, “Oh, he just has to be here for a little while”. Then fast forward another few years I remember going in and visiting my father again with my brother and my younger sisters. At that point I kind of knew that this was someplace he had to be and he was forced to be there. It was not a hospital.
So you said that you realized that it was a prison when you were able to read, do you remember how you felt when you first saw that?
When I first saw it, it didn’t really have much meaning to me because I didn’t understand the context of what it was. I didn’t understand what a State Correctional Facility was. I did sense very strongly he had to be there and it wasn’t by his choice and that the other men had to be there, too. So that felt a little strange like he must of done something to get put in there. I resented being in the long lines out in the heat with the flies and all of the dust and all of the other people who wanted to go in to see their family members or friends. I remember growing very weary of it and I resented having to go after a while.
When you visited the prison as a child, what did you do when you were visiting?
As a little child I remember having very limited resources to do anything with, so it got boring. Eventually my mother would bring crayons and coloring paper or I’d play with my brother. It just was not a real fun place for kids to be. My conversation with my father only lasted a few minutes; the rest of the conversation was taken up by my mother. So it was not a fun environment for children to have to go to. It just wasn’t homey. If you really have a lot to talk to someone about then it would be a better experience, but my father wasn’t the friendly, chummy, let me get to know you kind of guy. He mainly just wanted to talk to my mother. So that was boring.
Note from Editor: Yvonne mentioned that her mother could bring crayons and coloring paper for children. Check with the prison before visiting to find out if you are allowed to bring anything into the prison. Rules have gotten stricter and I do not believe that you can do this anymore, however there are many prisons that provide coloring books and/or some type of games for children.
What would’ve been a good way for your mother to have told you that your father was in prison? Could she have handled it differently?
I think that she shouldn’t have tried to mask it as a hospital, however I guess that was the best explanation that she could’ve come up with. I think that certainly by age 10-12. That is when a child has the mental capacity to understand and grasp that their parent did something wrong and has to be there to pay his dues to society and serve out his sentence. I think she should’ve been straight forward because after I found out what was really going on I could clearly see that it was a pattern. There was a bit of a disengagement that happened because he became this person in our family that I knew but didn’t really relate to him as my father. I could just talk about him so plainly because I really didn’t feel he was so close to our family. It felt good just to be able to talk about it right out in the open, and my mother felt better as well. She accepted that and we were very frank after our family was really aware of what was going on.
When your father was incarcerated did anyone in your neighborhood or school ever say anything to you?
No one ever said anything to me. We didn’t really discuss it outside of the house. Our immediate neighbors across the street knew that he was gone. My mother was very close to our neighbor and I was close to her daughter. So that family knew, my older sister knew, and I think my father’s children from his first marriage (my older half-sisters) knew. Nobody ever made any sideway comments. Nobody really knew from school.
When you first went to visit your father you said you were about five years old. How often did you go back to visit him?
He was going back probably every three years or so. When I was a teenager I was working with my mother for the summer. One day when it was just the two of us in the office she told me that my father was in jail again. She had been trying to mask it while she was waiting to find out what his sentence was. If it was short term then she wouldn’t have needed to tell me, but if it was long term she felt she should tell me. I think I was in 10th grade this time. She was embarrassed, but came right out and told me.
Was it difficult not having a male role model growing up?
It was a little bit difficult but at the same time when he was there he could be hostile and abusive. There were times that things were fun and if things were going well for him the whole family felt that wake of his joy and happiness. If things were not going his way we felt that too, so most of the time we were happier when he was gone – it was always a nice break.
Did you feel some resentment towards him?
Yes, I started to feel the resentment of us having to travel so long and taking up our weekend to go and visit him.
I felt that if he wanted to see us he should be home.
When you went to visit him was it nearby or far?
Depending on what the sentence was and where he was assigned the average ride was about an hour away. The facility was out in the rural areas of Southern California. There were two times he was transferred about six hours away to an institution and that was just too far to visit.
So when he was further away you didn’t see him as much?
I only went one time and my mother went the next time by herself. I didn’t want to go again after the first time. Being in the car that long with our siblings felt like a punishment because we had to drive so far to visit him. I felt that if he wanted to see us he should be home.
What was it like driving up to the prison? Was it a scary experience and were you ever afraid when you were inside?
You definitely get an introduction as you’re driving up to park. You see enclosures, barbed wire fences, a tower with a guard in it, and you start to put the pieces together. This is pretty serious environment. As I got older into my teen years I really started to resent going because I felt that the other men were looking at us as we’d walked in. If you were a female, they were looking at you, and I felt that very strongly. So I didn’t like all those eyes being on me. I felt a little bit like the men were undressing me with their eyes. I made a decision at that point that I wasn’t going to continue to going back.
Did you ever visit him alone, without your mother?
No. I always went with my mother. I never visited him alone.
So at what age did you decide that you were setting your boundaries and deciding that you were just going see him when he got out?
Then after that did he go back anymore?
He did. He went back another several years after that and I didn’t go visit him. I told him I wouldn’t. I would take his phone calls, but I would not go back and subject myself to that. I just told him that if he wanted to be with his family and see us and visit us and find out what’s going on in our lives he needed to make sure he didn’t do whatever he was doing to be arrested and confined. He didn’t like that very much, but he understood.
You now have a beautiful family of your own. How did you tell your daughters about their grandfather?
I wanted until they were ten years old so they would understand. They knew my father; they would see him when he came over for different holidays and we’d visit him briefly at his house. Our girls never spent the night at his house and he never babysat them. There were only visits when I or my husband was there. We explained to them that my father wasn’t around a lot when we were kids and we laid the foundation with that. As our daughters got older we started explaining to them some of the things that my father would do. The most obvious thing was that he married so often; he had five wives after his divorce from my mother. Our girls noticed that he had an awfully high turnover with girlfriends and wives. They also knew that he was abusive to a few of his wives because they would overhear conversations when he’d call me from jail. He called me collect. I just let them know it this wasn’t the first time that this has happened. It was a pattern for him – it was his way of life.
You said you drew the line when you were a teenager and that you weren’t going to visit him. So when he called you when you were an adult, what kind of support did you give him?
Well I did talk to him since I wasn’t going to visit him, but I did visit him one time when he got released to go live in a halfway house. I visited him because it was close and it was a very short visit. I did support him this time because he was transitioning out and would be back home. I told him I was hopeful that he would be able to get back to work and reestablish his life. My relationship with him was probably closer than any of other kids because at least I did touch base with him. I did support him and was encouraging, but I wouldn’t let him pull me down or pull me into his drama. If it didn’t work out then that was okay, too. It was whatever he wanted to do, but he knew I did care about what happened to him, and that made a big difference. He always did appreciate me at least taking the phone calls if not coming to see him; at least he felt some kind of contact with family.
So we were talking about what it was like when your father was in prison and growing up with it and I know as you got older he still came to you for help. And are there any times that you remember that he asked you to help and it was an intrusion on your privacy?
Yes, definitely. I can remember this was well after my parents had divorced because he couldn’t rely on my mother to help him with his financial affairs or his property. He had two properties at the time: the one he lived in and then a rental property. I remember being at work and he would call me collect – of all things he would call me at my job and impose those charges to my employer. I had a very understanding employer and he was okay with for a little while.
My father would call and be very demanding about saving his house. “Yvonne you better get my house rented before you lose it, the house payment has to be made, what are you doing to get it done, it’s been a month and a half and I’m going to lose my house”. He was just so stressed, yelling at me on the phone, and just being so demanding. I felt so imposed on and I told him I’m doing the best I can. When he would call back and if the house was still not rented he started this tirade and he said “You mean to tell me as smart as you are and all the money I put into your college education you can’t figure out a way to save my house?” I remember looking at the phone because I had it about three inches from my ear because of the volume and the yelling, and I just said “You don’t need someone with smarts, you need someone with some money” and then I just hung up the phone. It was at work and it was so terrible and embarrassing. Thankfully my boss already had known the history and the background so he understood, but it was always very disruptive and upsetting. I’d have to take a few minutes to collect myself and once again his life intersecting with my life. It wasn’t fair to me. I felt that he would put that burden on me to handle his affairs, take care of his dog, empty the house out in order to get it rented, it was a lot of work.
Did you live there at the time?
It wasn’t the home I grew up in; I never lived there. It was a very nice property and I wanted to try to save it for him so he had a
home to come back to. When I asked him where some money was that I could use to cover his payments and his expenses, he told me to go to a bank where he had an account. My father had given me power of attorney so I went to the bank to get the money. When I got there the teller looked up the account and said, “I’m sorry but this account was seized by the police department”. I just was stunned because I thought: what am I going to do now? He was so upset with me and he didn’t have anything to work with. He basically just left me floundering.
How old were you at the time?
At that point I was about 20 years old, maybe 22, because I was in college. That was the thing he was harping about, he did help put me through college. So he was saying now he was owed a return for that. I just felt the imposition that he put on me and it was all his doing, but now he was leaving the mess for me to sort of clean up.
You must have been really upset. How did you get the power of attorney then?
I was able to see my father before he went to the courthouse and had him sign a few documents. Among them was the power of attorney and the others were escrow documents because he was closing a sale. So it was terrible pressure, it was unfair, it was irresponsible of him, and I basically told him “If you want to keep any of your assets going forward you better set aside money somewhere for me to do that with, or you need to stop doing what you’re doing, because really that’s the ideal thing.” I couldn’t be expected to save everything, that’s what he risks when he gets arrested.
He is my father and he did do a lot of wonderful things for me in spite of his career criminal behavior. I’m grateful for what he did for me, but I had to set boundaries.
So you were his go to person.
I was definitely his go to person. Most of the other family members were not interested and they wouldn’t take his calls so much. He relied on me very heavily. We sort of had a close relationship, but I had my boundaries because if I didn’t he would just lean on me so hard. This was his mode of operation he was used to: manipulation. This is how he made it in his street life, so I just got tired of it, I didn’t want to be a part of that.
How did you set your boundaries? Did somebody help you, or you just woke up one day with resolution that this is it, and this is what I’m going to do?
It was a combination of me being so tired of it having grown up with it as a child: this in and out of prison, this commanding, controlling person when he was home and then he’d be gone, and how he leaned on me each time. So I built up a resistance. I was so tired of it. Then the attorney I was working for sat me down and had a talk with me. He told me that I really needed to set some boundaries with my father because his life is not my life. He said that while I wanted to help my father, he can’t lean on me so hard that it’s intruding on my life and my work. I agreed. So at that point I had the resolve and encouragement to set boundaries. The attorney that I worked for could see what I was going through taking these calls. I worked for the same law firm for 10 years, so he saw a lot of it. My father was designated as a career criminal, so this was a cycle. He was constantly in and constantly out of prison – so during that 10-year period a lot was repeated.
So one other story I was recalling is in regards to saving his property. I remember making the comment to him, and this was after I just had really put my foot down because I was tired of the abusive behavior, this really leaning in on me. First you need to know that his house was up on a tall long include road. I told him that “as far as I’m concerned your house, your belongings, your dog, all of it can roll right down the street because I don’t have anything to save your property. You think about that the next time you get into trouble”. So this was the beginning of the role switching and role reversal going on at this point. I was feeling more like the parent and he was more of the child because he couldn’t seem to get his act together well enough to keep his freedom. So now I’m starting to give him advice, right, for what he needs to do so he can at least try to live a life outside of prison and keep his own affairs in order. I felt: don’t lean on me, don’t get into trouble and then lean on me to clean it up. That I really resented. So those boundaries were definitely going up, stronger every day.
That’s really important to set your boundaries and I think it’s really helped you become who you are today and especially with your family. One of the things you had talked about was that he called after you had already gotten married and started your family. When he did that did you ever bail him out, or how did you support him when he made those calls to you?
He did call me when I was married and I had two children at the time. He had been arrested for domestic violence. So not only did I have his phone calls coming in, rapid fire, he was just panic stricken and wanted me to again handle his house. He also wanted me to get his wife out of the house so he could come back and not be in conflict with her because he had a stay-away order.
So he is leaning on me to handle all of these kind of things. Things that were really burdensome. I just said, “You know what, I can’t do that, I have a family”. I had guests in our home at the time; I had some exchange students. I couldn’t just drop everything to handle all of his affairs again. I resented it so I just stood my ground and said I’m not going to do it. We did not bail him out and he ended up staying 3-5 days I think, but we did pick him up.
My husband picked him up from jail when he was released at one o’clock in the morning. This happened several times. It seems like that’s the time they release people. I don’t know what it is about processing the paperwork, but it’s always at one or two o’clock in the morning and we had to arrange someplace for him to go. He’s getting older at this point, so it was a burden. We couldn’t bring him to our house. We had to try to just do this tap dance trying to put him someplace while we arranged for the wife to either leave or sometimes they wouldn’t leave. He has had five wives and they wouldn’t leave all the time. They’d say, “I don’t have any place to go”. So then it was up to him. He had to figure it out; go to a hotel. It was such an upheaval of life just the way he would impose himself, and then again my siblings were not involved.
No other family members would take his calls, no one else would be bothered. He seemed to have my number memorized, so he always called me. I was always the go to person, but my husband helped me, too. My husband helped me establish those boundaries, and he actually had to have some talks with my father and let him know Yvonne is my wife, the mother of our children, we have our life to run and we don’t live like you live. He told him that it isn’t fair that you try to dump all of your affairs when you are gone onto her lap, and my father respected that. He didn’t stop doing it so much, but he appreciated the talk and he backed off a little bit.
It’s just a constant burden when they are in and out and don’t make the changes they need to make and this was what was so bothersome. I really felt that he needed to grow up and grow out of that stage and figure out a straight pathway in life to live. The impact and the wake that he leaves for his family is just very unfair.
And today you still have a relationship with him
I do, I’m actually the closest one to him. I describe myself as being fiercely loyal. He is my father and he did do a lot of wonderful things for me in spite of his career criminal behavior. I’m grateful for what he did for me, but I had to set boundaries. He is elderly now; he’s 90 years old and he lives in a retirement home.
I have kind of a little funny story. When I was talking to a friend of mine that I grew up with in high school (he’s a police officer now), and he knew well of my father’s illegal activity and the constant arrests. His department had arrested him at one point, too, and I’ve stayed in touch with my friend.
One day my father receives a letter from the Police Association; it was fund raising for an event. My father said, “You know what: I want to make a contribution to the police association so that they’ll see me in a different light and they’ll think that, you know, I’m a better person now”. I said, “OK, how much do you want to send”? He wanted to send a $15 check. So I wrote that out and he signed it. He also had me write a little note that he dictated. I can’t remember exactly what it said, something to the effect of “I’m enclosing a contribution. Thanks for all the good work you do”.
My friend was at work and they had posted my father’s letter on the bulletin board in the hallway of the police department and my friend was looking at it. He told me he read this letter and when he saw the signature on the bottom he almost hit the floor, he was howling laughing. He said some of the other younger officers he was training asked him, “What’s so funny, what’s going on?” He said, “If you knew this guy and his path and his past you would just be appalled that’s he’s writing this letter trying to chummy up to the police officers now.” When my friend and I got together and we talked about it we had such a howling laugh that my father would write a letter to the police department with a little check. He just thought it was so hilarious. I told him that one good thing is he’s out of circulation now, we can all be grateful for that; you don’t have to worry about him anymore. He’s too old to do any more damage. So I thought that was kind of funny.
I know you’re still in contact with him and you still support him as a daughter.
Yes I am.
Yvonne continues to support her father by calling him and visiting him at the Nursing Home. They go out to dinner when he is able and he attends gathering so he can see his family. He has two children from his first marriage and three children from his marriage to Yvonne’s mother. He did not have any more children after his divorce from Yvonne’s mother which will be discussed in more detail in the second interview. Yvonne makes sure that he is taken care of and maintains relations with her family.