What it’s like to have your Mom and Dad in Prison when there’s nobody to take care of the family
In Part 1 of Yvonne’s story she spoke of her dad being in prison. In Part 2 of that interview, Yvonne described what it was like having a mom and dad in prison and taking care of her siblings.
I took the baby with me and my other two younger sisters. All three of us in my little 67 Volkswagen Beetle you know, toddling out to the prison every Sunday where my mom was serving time with the Manson women.
(Minor edits for easier reading)
Hi Yvonne. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today. We spoke about your dad being in prison in the previous podcast, and there you told me your mom was also imprisoned. This story is amazing. When you told me what you did to take care your family, I thought, anyone that thought they had too much on their plate had to listen to this. So, during that time that your dad was in prison and you were living with your mom, you were also telling me that there was a period that your mom was incarcerated and your dad wasn’t available. How did you feel having both your mom and dad in prison as a kid? I couldn’t even imagine.
Yes, well thankfully my mother did not get incarcerated until I was about to graduate from high school. Whereas my father was in and out since I was about age five or six, and my mother was fighting a case. For eight years she fought her charges and her court sentence and finally at the end of all of these strings of appeals she ended up having to serve time. During that appeal period she was divorced from my father. She had a man that she dated and had known for a long time, and eventually did marry him. The interesting thing is, before she was taken into custody to start her sentence she was six months pregnant. She was 45 years old and was a high-risk pregnancy. She went in knowing she was going to have to deliver this baby and the burden on her of what she was going to do. The sentence was about three years, but she served about a year-and-a-half and it was really stressful. I was 18-years-old and I had just graduated from high school. She had gone into custody before my graduation ceremony so she wasn’t able to attend, but my dad was able to attend.
OK, so at this point your mom is in prison and your dad is out and is he supporting you?
He was there at this point. Yes, now my dad was supporting me, exactly. He was just a revolving door. He just happened to be out during the time that I was graduating from high school. My mom was very upset that she could not attend. She was very hurt because she felt she had been involved in our lives a lot more, and she was. She was the mainstay, the more stable of the two, and she just happened to be taken into custody a few months before I graduated. So it was a very somber time for her.
So, what about you? You must have felt horrible not having your mom at your graduation.
I did. It was nice that I had two staff members from the Explorer Scouts, two deputies that were full-time, active police officers and their wives came to support me. They took me out to dinner after the graduation which was really nice. They did support me and try to fill that gap a little bit. I took pictures to show my mom when I went to visit her next. I would go and see her every Sunday.
Let me back up a little bit, I did see her after my graduation and I would visit her every Sunday with my younger two sisters before she had the baby. Then she was released for three months to be able to deliver the baby, stabilize my little sister, and then she had to turn herself back in.
I was playing the mom and dad role, going to work, taking the baby to nursery, and taking my sisters to school. Our day started very early, but we managed; we did it.
So, you said that you graduated high school when she was taken into custody and you had two younger siblings. Were you living at home at the time?
Yes, we were living in our family home that we had been in for about 15 years and I became the caretaker of my younger sisters who were 14 and 11. I had an older sister who was there, but unfortunately she was floundering; she was on and off of drugs. She had a son and I was taking care of him, too. He was about five years old. So, we were all trying to make it, and at least we had a home we had to live in, but that was another problem too, because now who’s going to make the house payment? Well, that house payment was not able to be made.
My dad actually did help to process a claim from the homeowner’s insurance claim for wind and rain damage to our roof. So it took a few months, but eventually a $5000 check came in. Well my mother didn’t give that check to me. She gave it to my older sister, who was on drugs, so that money, needless to say, did not go towards saving the house.
That would’ve gone a long way because our house payment was only $750 at the time for a very nice home with a pool; it was beautiful. We were in an upper-middle-class neighborhood, but that money frittered away. My mother said to me when I went to visit her, that she knew the minute she handed that check over to my older sister that it was gone and she shouldn’t of done it. So anyway, that put us on the fast track to foreclosure.
So, my mother came home, had the baby, and stayed a few months. Then she had to go back in. I was not living at home at that time because she was there and I couldn’t get along with my older sister very well. We were just clashing.
My mother asked me to go by the house about two months after she left and the baby was being taken care of by my 14-year-old and my 11-year-old sisters. My older sister was just in and out; she was in her own world. Then the neighbor called me and told me that I need to come back home and take care of my sisters because they need me. She told me that she was seeing my younger sisters walking up and down the street, carrying the baby while visiting friends at the neighbor’s houses. So, I returned and tried to pull the household together as best I could.
I was working full-time and my younger two sisters were really the mainstay. My brother wasn’t living with us at the time. My younger sister did night duty with the baby and she was just 11-years-old. She would get up in the middle the night, get the baby a bottle, change the diapers, and put her back to bed. She was only in elementary school; it was unbelievable.
I was playing the mom and dad role, going to work, taking the baby to the nursery, and taking my sisters to school. Our day started very early, but we managed; we did it.
I can remember this other story about my sister, who frittered the money away. The groceries had to be purchased by me so I could feed our younger sisters. I really didn’t worry about my older sister; it was me down and that was it. I was just worried about taking care of us and her son, by the way.
So, I would buy the groceries for the family and if my older sister was able to contribute something it was just a bonus; I didn’t rely on it. Well, my nephew was constantly eating all the snacks as soon as he got home from school. He would just raid the kitchen unsupervised so I can remember thinking: okay I have to ration the food out so that I can have things for the kids’ lunches, my lunch, and we had to make it last each week. We were on a serious budget. I was earning five dollars an hour as a legal secretary so trying to make it stretch was tough.
At that point the baby, my younger sister, had to be put into daycare. There was also bottle supplies and baby food that I needed for her. Now her father started to send me money to help with those expenses. He was in an alcoholic rehab facility somewhere. So I’m thinking okay, great, but least, I was grateful for whatever I got. The $75 a week was the fee for the nursery care and at least that was being covered.
So back to the story, I assembled this box of food and I put it in the closet. I’m occupying the master bedroom with my younger sister at this point. She’s 14 and her and I are sharing the master bedroom in the king-size bed. I put this box of food up there in the closet and I don’t tell my older sister that it’s there. So, I get a call at work one day and my sister just lays into me about how angry she is that she found this box of food. “How dare you hide food from the family,” she said. She went off on me. So, I had to go into my boss’s office, close the door, and we had this conversation, and I told her that I needed to talk to her when I get home because I was at work. I told her “I can assure you I’m not hiding the food from the family. Those are school-day supplies for lunches and for my lunches. Every day when I come home and if your son was there, he would raid the kitchen and eat up all those things that were designed for the lunches.” So she calmed down.
I was constantly having run-ins with my older sister, which is really why I didn’t want to move back up to our house, but I did it for our younger sisters. I just thought to myself, I’m to look backward one day and my younger sisters are going to be very thankful that I at least came up to our house to take care of them, so I’m doing it for them.
So anyway, there was this one event that I haven’t even mentioned this to you. We were all women at the house, just all the sisters living there except for my little nephew and occasionally my older sister’s friends are coming in and out. They were just partiers that used our house as a flophouse. There was one day that the phone rang in our house and I was trying to get ready for work. I sent my younger sister in the back bedroom to answer the phone because my older sister had the phone in her room. She came running back and yelled at me to come look. So I go into the bedroom. Of course, it was a mess and there was drug paraphernalia around and there was this strange man in the back bedroom that my sister had brought to sleep there for a few nights. I had no idea he was there. There’s young girls here, I’m there and my sister mentioned nothing about it. She just had this big guy in the back bedroom. I was so appalled, but I just looked at him. I said, “Excuse me, I’m Yvonne, I live here and I need to answer my phone”. I answered the phone and my older sister wasn’t even home. We had our morning routine, we had to get out of there and get to work and get to school. I called her when I got to work and I went back to my boss’s office. I caught her at home and I laid into her. I just told her off so strongly. I was furious that she would put us at risk like that.
Another time I woke up in the middle of the night and my younger sister was talking to someone in the living room. So, I got up to see what’s going on and there’s two drug dealers in our house and my 14-year-old sister is in the back with one of them and my younger sister is talking to these men in the living room in the middle of the night. Oh man I couldn’t stand it. I wanted my older sister out of there so badly I just could not stand it. We were constantly clashing. There was a time that she had to leave our house for about two weeks because not only was my older sister a drug user, but she started to deal in order to pay for her own drug use. So there was a time she could not pay for her supply or order whatever it was, and she was afraid they were going to come after her. She was afraid they would do something to our household, to us the family members, so she just stayed away. We didn’t hear from her for two weeks. I’m just taking care of her son and trying to keep my routine going. Every Sunday my younger sisters and I went to visit our mom.
So who watched the baby?
The baby always came with us. I took the baby with me and my other two younger sisters. All three of us in my little 67 Volkswagen Beetle you know, toddling out to the prison every Sunday where my mom was serving time with the Manson women. It was quite an interesting experience going in there, carrying this little baby carrier, signing everybody in. My mom’s there serving time and I see Leslie Van Houten out there every weekend. It was really very interesting, very interesting dynamic. It was very surreal. Here’s these women who committed heinous crimes and I’m seeing two of them and I knew who they were. My mom would point them out. That was a whole other culture to get used to.
We had lunch out there on Sundays and my mom got to connect with the younger kids and she really appreciated that. It really made the time go by so quickly by having this regular schedule. We were just trying to do life, my siblings and I, to get through it together until my mom could get home and regain control over the household. I was just trying to fill in for her and just tolerate my older sister and her behavior. She was just a mess at the time. That’s a whole another story, but I was trying to cope with that.
So my mom is relying on me now to take care of the household and the kids and keep everybody in school and just keep everything going. It just had to be done. I had to step in for their sake to take care of them and make sure they weren’t being taken advantage of. Who knows what would’ve happened to my teenage sister if she would’ve been there alone and my older sister has no regard for any of us.
I remember my older sister coming in one evening and I’m at my mother’s desk in the master bedroom. I was paying bills and she walked over and she was going to ask me a question. She looked and saw all these bills on the desk and what I’m trying to process. She said, “Oh my gosh, I’m so glad you’re doing that. There’s no way I could handle any of that and she just walked out.” She’s seven years older than I am. I just looked at her I said, “Yeah I know, I know.” I was running a household at 18.
Then when your mom came back, you moved out?
When my mom came back she showed up in the middle the night. I don’t know what it is about inmate returns, it’s always the middle of the night. She showed up with her husband, because he got out of rehab around the same time, or maybe he was out and was just trying to time it with her return. They were going to start anew.
So we remained in the home and the home was in foreclosure. If it hadn’t been for the fact that I was working for a law office and they were making calls on my behalf to try to stall the foreclosure, we wouldn’t have a place to live. They stalled the foreclosure for a year. It was absolutely a miracle because I had no place to take these kids and it just worked out.
I remember coming home and seeing notice after notice of foreclosures posted on our front door that in X amount of days this house is going to Trustee sale. I would rip that notice off and march right into the bedroom placing it on the master bed, get on my knees, and lift it up to God and say, “God here you go, I’m doing the best I can. What are you going to do about this? I can’t do anything about it, this is so far beyond me. I’m making five dollars an hour. What am I going to do? I have these kids to take care of, but I know since I’m doing the best I can, that if you have to drop it from the heavens you will, you will drop some kind of help.” You know what he did? He said go and talk to your boss. I was working for three different attorneys and he told me which one to go and talk to: the senior one. So, I spoke to him and he made the phone calls for me on a regular basis and got the foreclosure postponed up until two months after my mother returned. We were able to stay in that house and it was good because she needed that time to mentally regroup. She needed time to get used to not being told what to do, when you go to the bathroom, when you eat, and to get on her own schedule and take care of the baby.
I remember the first time she did find a job and the first time she was getting ready to go to work. She was in and out of the car three or four times because she kept forgetting things. It was all still new to her again. So we stayed there until it went into foreclosure and then I got a really nice size income tax refund. My mother had done my return and made me head of household because I was, you know, at the end of the day, I was. I got that tax credit and when the refund check came it was almost $5000. I handed the full refund over to her and we found a house to rent.
She relocated and I stayed there very briefly, just long enough to help her with the transition and then I moved. Once I knew she was stable I moved and let her resume her maternal duty so that I could go to school. I wanted to go to college so that’s what I did. I returned back to junior college and continued working. It had been a lot of responsibility, a lot of work, a lot of stress. I’m so grateful that my sisters made it through.
How are your sisters now?
They’re doing fine. They’re doing great. They’re married. They have families. My older brother as well and I’m just glad that I did it for my own peace of mind. I owed it to them because who knows what would’ve happened. When the neighbor called me and said you need to get up here, I did. She was like an adopted auntie and I said okay I better respect what she’s saying and do it. She’s seeing what I’m not seeing every day and she said it’s out of control over their and I better take care of my sisters.
So when this was all over I just think that a lot of your feelings must’ve been suppressed because when you are doing things, when you’re doing what you know you need to do, going through the motions and taking care of other people and you’re your outside of yourself, when it was all over did you decompress somewhere?
Well I sort of decompressed along the way because I did have a lot of support from church and church members. I was part of a regular Bible study and that was another avenue where people were so generous to me and would bless me. People would come up to me and say, “I know what you’re going through. I really felt led to give you a gift; just take this.” I would get checks in the mail and get money orders in the mail anonymously. So God really provided, but I would rely heavily on my faith and I would talk to a couple of people that were like mentors to me and it helped me so much.
Again, they focused on telling me I need to do the right thing to take care of my sisters and give them a chance. So I did decompress that way. At this point I’m full on adult, with adult responsibilities and I’m talking to my parents on that level and that helped a lot. My mother was always very grateful. My dad was unfortunately sort of exploiting the situation because I remember him coming over and wanting all the kids’ names and if they had a Social Security number. I believe he was getting benefits for them. I’m taking care of the kids, but I think he applied for some kind of aid. I think he was declaring them as dependents or something, but I was the one really taking care of them. He was just that way, using anything that could benefit himself.
I left my mom after I made sure she was settled and that she was taking care of the kids on her own, I moved back in with my dad. I needed to go back to school and he was totally supportive of school. He wanted me to do that. He said, “I want you to go to school so you don’t have to look over your shoulder like I’ve had to do all my life, who’s watching me, am I going to get caught for doing this.” He welcomed me to come home.
I remember one day at the breakfast table. He handed me a nice little stack of utility bills. He had the nerve to say, “Here Yvonne, I think it’s time that you pay some utility bills and learn how to be a responsible adult.” Can you believe that? I just sat there and I took a deep breath and I took that stack of bills and I slid it back to him across the table. I said, “I was taking care of your kids when you should’ve been doing it. I know what it is to run a household and be a responsible adult. You can take care of these as long as I’m going to school. Now it’s my turn.” You know what, he didn’t say another word to me about it. He just took it and walked away. He said, “I guess you’re right,” and then walked away. That was about it. I thought that was very interesting that he would say that to me after I was taking care of his kids.
So another thing that happened while I was living at that house with him after my mom was settled everything. I’m back with my dad, attending college full time, and I’m working part time. There were two occasions where I came home to the house being in complete disarray and upheaval because we had the courtesy of the police department rummaging through everything due to a search warrant.
I went into my bedroom and everything is just dumped and piled on the middle of the bed. I asked him what happened. He was so embarrassed. He said, “I’m really sorry, but the police department came here with a search warrant and I had to let them in. I told them not to go into your room, that you didn’t have anything to do with this, but they insisted.” “Well of course,” I said, “The minute you say that it’s the first place I would go.” He apologized again and asked what he could do to help me. I was so mad at him. I just laid into him. I let them have it. I went into a tirade. I said, “I am so sick and tired of this. Why am I being subjected to this if I’m even remotely near you? You’re infecting me. You’re infecting my life. I don’t need this dad. I’m trying to go to school. I had nothing to do with your illegal activity.” It did happen twice and I was just livid.
I decided that I was going to do a little spin on him to see where it would go. One morning I decided to act like I wasn’t going to school anymore and he noticed. He asked me why I wasn’t going to school, that I’m usually gone around this time. I said, “Yeah you know, I’ve been thinking about it, but with all this disruption is hard for me to concentrate. I can’t stay focused on my school so I decided to stop attending college and I’m going to just join your team. Do what you do. I’m just going to quit college. It serves you pretty well. I’ll just do what you do.” He looked at me and he sat down at the breakfast table and said, “No, no, no. I want you to finish school. I cannot have you trying to live like I live. Really you cannot do this, Yvonne.” I told him okay and that I really can’t concentrate while I’m here. So until things change, my school is on hold and I’ll just work full-time and I’ll save up the money so I can move out. Well the next day, he moved out. He left his dog there. I think in his mind he thought the dog would protect me.
He would come regularly to check his mail and check his voicemail messages. He wouldn’t stop doing what he was doing mind you, but he moved out so that I could concentrate. That was one of the things that just bonded my love for him in spite of all of the illegal activity he has done because he cared enough about my life and my education, my future to move out.
He still paid all the bills and I had to put up with different strange people coming to the door trying to make a buy. I had to tell them that he’s not here anymore and the shop is closed. Don’t come here anymore. I know some of them were undercover police officers and there was an occasion where I had full-on uniformed officers and a couple of detectives come to our door wanting to talk to my dad wanted to come in. I told them to come right on in and I opened the door. You don’t need a search warrant, you just come on in and if there’s anything you find here you take it. If my dad is doing anything illegal, he needs to go to jail. You just come right on in and I walked them through the entire hours.
My dad, is my dad, is my dad. I love him and I’m loyal to him and he has in many ways still looked out for me and blessed my life which will go on for generations with our kids. I do have a lot to be thankful to him for and for my mother for maintaining the lifestyle we had even in my dad’s absence.
That was the thing that kept me safe because I used to tell my dad I’m going to walk in the light. If you’re going to do something illegal and if I find out about it, any details at all, I will sing like a Mockingbird, so you better not tell me anything. Don’t bring it here. Don’t talk about it here, don’t have your customers come here. I want nothing to do with it. So he finally switched and rerouted all of his activities elsewhere. I don’t even know where, so that I could go to school and that just touched me. I just thought Wow, he really wants me to do this. I did get through school and I tell you, when I got my diploma, he asked me for a copy of my diploma and to frame it for him and he put it in his office. He had it up in his office until he didn’t have an office anymore. It’s all packed away now. I thought it was so funny because he felt like he contributed to that and he did and that has just always stuck with me. I tell my kids I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the fact that grandpa sacrificed and did what he did. He did right by me as they say. He did make some exceptions, too. He wouldn’t stop doing what is doing, but he didn’t do it around me long enough so I could get to school and that spoke volumes. I’ve said to him in these later years that I really appreciate what you’ve done for me in terms of school.
He also made good suggestions for me on my first real estate purchase. He found a duplex for me that had fallen out of escrow because of the fact that he knew the broker. He made contact with me right away and said this broker is willing to put you right into the buyer’s position if you want to do this and he gave me the money to start with that. I just thought, Wow, because I had my boundaries and he knew that I wasn’t going to go down that road with him. He respected that a lot and so he thought, okay you have a chance, let me help you down this road. I am always very grateful and I tell our kids we wouldn’t even be in the home we’re in because if I hadn’t sold that duplex, I wouldn’t have the money to put down on the house that were currently in, the home my kids have grown up in and the only home they know. So he made some good choices in regards to me. I think because I took a stand and said I’m not going to live like you. There’s a better way you can make it in life without having to defraud people, get involved in selling drugs, or stolen checks, or whatever he was involved in. It didn’t change him in terms of his activity, but at least he made way for me which I I’m so grateful.
With everything you’ve been sharing, and everything you went through with your mom, taking care of the kids, and your dad’s illegal activities, I think it was really great that you had the support that you did. You went around what he was doing by being an Explorer Scout when you were younger and working with the police department. I just have to think that it’s really fortunate that the family wasn’t involved with anything, especially when you could’ve been around illegal activities. If he had done anything around you, you could very well be in that situation where you were arrested, so I think you were very fortunate.
I definitely agree. I was very strong and arched the other direction being very pro-law-enforcement very pro-justice. You know I was in the legal field. I wanted to be a police officer when I was teenager in the Explorer Scouts. Then I eventually decided not to, but it was good experience for me and I felt that it was a good balance for me. Having had parents that were both convicted felons and seeing that side of life and then seeing and working in the legal side. It gave me good perspective.
Going back to my dad, I just come right out and tell my dad you know I’m not going down the fraud road with you because he did come to me and asked me to do something and I said you know, why would you even ask me to do that. I’m not doing that for you. Don’t even ask me to sign this, sign that, I’m not doing that. Let’s just go in and if this is what you want, and this is your desired goal in your objective, let’s just go in and tell the truth. How about that for a change? He just would have to shake his head and say, okay I need to remember who I’m talking to. I really just had to take a firm stand with him and he has to work with me on those terms or just leave me alone. So he knows that.
It’s good to know where you stand. You know one thing our listeners don’t know is that your dad is black and your mom is white. We had spoken about whether that was any impact on your growing up and you said not really. It’s really interesting. Could you tell us more about that?
Yes, I remember growing up not really realizing and seeing any color difference between my parents. Even though there was an obvious one. They were just my parents and it was so natural to me. I just didn’t know anything different. It wasn’t until I was in sixth grade and I remember being on the playground. My mother came to the school for something to take something into the office and she was dressed in work clothes. She was a businesswoman. I remember hearing some girls playing and they just stopped in the middle playground. They said Yvonne’s mother’s white. I heard that and I just remember freezing and looking at her and just thinking about it. It literally was a moment frozen in time and that’s when it dawned on me. I thought my goodness, you know what they are right, she is different color from my dad and look at me, I’m kind of in the middle. I remember being teased for being high yellow, being mellow yellow. Yes, mellow yellow was the term. I was in an interracial school so we had Hispanics, Blacks, Whites, and Asians, but I really didn’t fit in cleanly in those groups. I had friends of all different races but to be teased because I was high yellow was because I technically didn’t fit anywhere. I also was very skinny and they called me Olive Oyl, Popeye’s wife. I was just rail thin.
It didn’t really impact me so much as it did, I think, my mother and her jobs and the jockeying she had to do to get around her bosses, knowing that she was married to a black man. She would not take any of the other kids to her job. She would only take me because I had the finer hair, it was lighter and when it stopped growing in like that and getting darker she would dye my hair blonde for a couple of years until I stopped it. I told her I don’ want to do this anymore. I remember asking her when I was in fourth or fifth grade and I stopped letting her dye. When I asked her why we were dying my hair and she said so that people will know you’re my daughter honey, not realizing the impact that when I’m with her and her employer sees one of her children that they make the association that I must have a white father. That’s what my mother was trying to get them to think, so she wouldn’t take my brother who had sort of a soft pearl Afro. He was also light-skinned but he had kinky hair, and my other two sisters had kinky hair. It was interesting to think she was trying to cover it up and when it kind of dawned on me later. I just thought all my goodness that’s too bad that’s ridiculous, but it’s too bad because she had been fired from jobs once they found out my father was black and she was married to a black man. So that was a little difficult for her.
I remember having a conversation with my mom when we were talking about what box to check off for race when we were applying for high school. They make you select from one box and I didn’t know which one to select because I’m not any one of these. She said select white and I told her, but I’m not all white. She then said select black, but I’m not all black. I said I’m going to select other, and I did.
I remember thinking okay I have to face this, I have to figure this out. And then one day on the phone when I was talking to her about it she said to me, “Yvonne, you need to realize something. This is a white man’s world and you better figure out whatever is favorable for you, you better figure out how to get along in it.” I said, “You know mom, that’s not good enough. I have to just pass on my own merit. People have to accept me for me. I’ll do the best I can to be educated and to behave properly. I can’t just get along based on my skin color or not having the right skin color, so that’s not going to work. So, I guess I will have to figure this out.”
This was uncharted territory for her. She had no advice she could give me. I had to figure it out on my own, and she let me because it was really tough. Otherwise I was really never discriminated against and never had a problem as long as I was behaving in an acceptable manner it wasn’t a problem. So that became my focus, to be the best person I could be and try to find a good field of interest in work and just live right. I wasn’t going to let everything depend on my skin color. You know it has to be based on what my merit is, what my job skills are. I resented that remark, but that was clearly her mindset.
And maybe because of her generation.
Absolutely and it is true there was definitely some discrimination at that time. Even here in California even though we’re more liberal than a lot of other states might’ve been. My mother was from Colorado and so it wasn’t so accepted. Her parents didn’t like it so much and she was dealing with that. I told her too that I am what I am. I didn’t have a choice to come here, you’re the one that married dad. So what am I supposed to do about it, I have to work with what I’m given. She did understand that.
When you did go to visit your dad in prison, here’s a white woman with multiracial children coming in to see your dad. Was there ever any looks or discrimination from the guards or anybody there?
There was never discrimination from the guards. There were a lot of looks once we got into the visiting area. A lot of men were looking at my dad and my mother like Wow, okay, that’s interesting. Then looking at us as a family, this blended family, this rainbow kind of family. I have one younger sister, whose darker than the rest of us and is very exotic looking: beautiful. She had the darker features and dark hair and it was just such an interesting thing for them to just look at us and think, oh Wow that’s a blend of these two totally different backgrounds. There was never any discrimination, just a lot of looks.
I think my dad kind of used my mom as a trophy wife. Just watching their reaction to it was something. My dad did stay with my mother the longest out of all of his marriages. He’s had a total of seven marriages. His first wife was a black woman, second wife was a white woman, and all the rest of his wives were all Chinese.
That’s a really interesting point, too, because we’ve spoken about the dichotomies between his life and your life. He did lean towards Chinese women and now you work with Chinese children.
Yes, he was trying to do business with China doing import and export of products. He didn’t speak the language, he’s not educated, my father only got through the eighth grade and that was through incarceration. I think he only formally completed sixth grade, so he relied heavily on relationships with women for business. He did do a few very successful deals, but in his mindset, in his sort of larcenous behavior and criminal behavior, he would always take advantage of them or just ruin the relationship so that there would be no future deals. He would just go on to the next one. He made many trips to China and he would recruit and pass himself off as this businessman because he a corporation. Never mind that it was defunct, but he had the name and he just pass himself off as this wealthy American businessman.
I work now with Chinese families. I do a lot of international student housing coordinating for them for students who want to come here and live and go to school for the full year, and they live with an American family. Which is also kind of an interesting thing, racially, too, because my family will also host Chinese students. I have to ask what their preferences for the type of family they want their child to live with. Occasionally, but not often, they would say that they don’t want their child placed with a black family. Then I say, “Well you know I’m black.” They just look at me and they are stunned. I tell them being an American means you could be a mix of anything. So I use that, I use my biracial background to sort of diffuse any misconceptions or preconceptions people may have about stereotypes. You just cannot label everyone. They are stunned when I tell them, but tell me that yes it will be fine.
My younger sister wonders how I have anything to talk to dad about after the first 10 or 15 minutes. We talk about all kinds of things and one of them is business with the Chinese. I got along with all off his wives. He doesn’t have any children by any of his Chinese wives. I’ve always thought it would be interesting to see what they would look like if he did. He really just got married to have the relationship with the wife and use that as steppingstone to business.
You have an interesting background and family and you’ve done really well, and I can say that knowing you now for over 10 years. As I said before, you have a beautiful family and you guys always help other people. For our listeners, there is so much more that Yvonne does that we’re not even going to have time to address here. Yvonne and her family really do a lot to help their community. Yvonne, I can’t thank you enough for sharing your story and I really appreciate the time you spent.
You’re welcome. It’s been my pleasure. I hope this interview will be encouraging to others that, even though they may have a rough upbringing, growing up with parents that are in and out of their lives, and that maybe have a criminal bent. Hopefully their parents can learn from it and stop it. My parents did not. But you still can take a stand for who you are, you become your own person and you know the difference between right and wrong and you can still love your parents through it all.
In fact, my mother had me write a letter to the parole board when she was about to be released because she said other ladies in there had commented how it was so refreshing to see her children still coming to see her and keeping a relationship with her in spite of the fact that she was in jail. There’s just something very strong about the parental bonds with kids and parents, and I think that once you, like you said, you define that line there that those boundaries. When they know, I can love you, but I’m not just going to fall in step with your lifestyle, but I will love you and live my life, too. Once that’s cleared up you can move forward with the relationship and that’s very powerful because he is still my dad. My dad, is my dad, is my dad. I love him and I’m loyal to him and he has in many ways still looked out for me and blessed my life which will go on for generations with our kids. I do have a lot to be thankful to him for and for my mother for maintaining the lifestyle we had even in my dad’s absence. It was not easy for her so that was a struggle, but people should know they can come out of it, they need to hang in there. Don’t resort to illegal activity. Don’t fall for following their footsteps, you can still live a good life and get beyond it. If you just work hard and have your faith, you will be provided for.
Just to close the loop, your mom passed away in 2004. Did you have a relationship with her?
Yes, oh yes, I did. It was a tough love with her until the end because she still continued on with her criminal activity, doing credit card fraud and she just was trying to survive. She even burned family members with taking out credit cards in their names. I mean it just went on and on and on and I just I think, a certain extent that we recognize now, my siblings and I, we recognize there must’ve been some mental illness involved. There just must’ve been because she was well educated and had great job experience and for her to resort to some of the things that she did and against family members was absolutely appalling.
We had to do an intervention with her because she was trying to take advantage of the family. Unbeknownst to us, a lot of this was done, well all of it was done behind our backs. She was taking out credit cards in our names; it was terrible. My sister had applied for a home loan and was shocked to find $20,000 of credit card debt in her name and her husband’s name. She knew nothing about it. When she requested copies of the applications for the cards we recognized the handwriting right away and so we had to set up this intervention with my mother.
My sister recorded, she had a little tape recorder in her bra because my mother was just masterful at lying and creating this web of confusion so that she could get you off track. She was just so crafty and we knew if we didn’t try to record her she would try to get out of it in some way. My mother had no idea what the subject of our meeting was going to be. We just told her that we need to get together.
My sister flew out and stayed with my mom. She had prepared for the meeting by going through my mother’s personal financial records and files and stuff that my mother would never let anyone see. She did this while my mom was away at work. She found so many things; oh, it was atrocious. She found modified documents, she was applying for different things and it was just so sick that she would do that to her kids.
So we sat down and laid some ground rules out. I did it because I was the oldest. I just said, “I want to let everyone know here we’re here because we love each other and we have some very important critical things to discuss. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that we don’t want any lying, we need all truthfulness here. We cannot have any masquerading, no gameplaying. The third thing is let’s not talk over each other. Let’s let the person speaking to finish their thought.” My mother was masterful at interrupting and rerouting you into another line of conversation. She could create this daisy chain of just clouds to try to get you off track, to deflect the pressure off of her right. She was masterful, but we had grown up with it so we were on to her tricks. We knew we had to corner her.
I handed it off to my younger sister who sat back and said, “Mom is there anything you want to tell us?” She thought she would just let her have an opportunity. My mom sat back and there was complete silence for a very long time because at this point she’s trying to figure out, what do they know, what do they not know, if I say too much I could be hurting myself. The wheels were spinning! She figured it out pretty quickly because it was my sister who was taking the lead. She knew it had to do with her. Finally, she said, “Yes I do have something to tell you. I took out credit cards in your name and used them to charge things because I was in between jobs. I’m older, people aren’t willing to hire an older person and I had to survive. So I did it.” Then my sister asked her what else. She said, “I took out credit cards in your husband’s name, too.” My sister said, “That’s right, you sure did. I found out because I pulled my credit reports. I couldn’t qualify for a home loan, and I couldn’t get it because of all this debt.”
We had this very big conversation with her and in the end we said okay well here’s what needs to be done in order to get these credit card charges out of my sister’s name. You have to write a letter acknowledging that you did not have permission to apply for credit in her name and that you did it fraudulently. Then they are going to transfer those credit card balances into your name and then my sister said that beyond that, that’s just going to take care of putting that immediate fire out. The bigger problem here is the fact that you did it. There are some underlying problems, some mental issues, and psychological issues, that you would do that to your own children. Mothers don’t usually do that, they try to help their kids, try to support their kids, try to get them along in life and give them a leg up in life, but you’re trying to pull us down. My sister then required that she get counseling.
She said, “I’m so afraid that if I start that it’s like unraveling a baseball and I won’t be able to be put back together. I’ll be left there completely undone and exposed and frozen.”
She also told her that she had to repay the debt and asked her what she was going to do to repay it. My mother said she was doing the best that should could and she was working. My sister told her minimum payments were not going to cut it and here’s what are suggestions are, and we went through this detailed things in her life that she could cut out. Some suggestions were:
- You can get rid of the cat because cats cost cat food
- You can get rid of your cable, because that’s a luxury
- You can rent the extra bedroom out in your house
- All of your income tax refunds
All of this money would go towards the credit card debt. I mean, we laid it out. Then we tied it up with a nice little bow, we had to basically have some reinforcement and we told her if she failed or refused to do any of these things, we will press charges. That was the sucker punch in the gut. That said, you have to do this because you created a bad situation for your family, for your kids, you really crossed the line.
How could you do that to your own children and then on top of that what came out was the reason my mother had an opportunity to take out credit in her name was because my sister’s mail was going to my mother’s house when her and her husband were being transferred in the military to a different location. My mother would always be the home base. Big mistake because she had been doing this for several years. She was always getting the mail and she got the mail one day for her neighbor. This is what came out later in the meeting. She said she did this for her neighbor and he was kind of surprised that he could even get credit. She said he was thankful, in her own twisted mind. I just looked at her and said, no, no, no, that’s not okay. You understand what you did was wrong. I don’t care if he was glad that he got the credit, what you did was wrong, and it’s illegal and you could go to jail for that. I mean there’s just this mindset. It just stunned me that she had that mindset that she could justify it. She was in survival mode and that’s what she needed to do and that’s why she felt it was okay to do it.
She did in fact get the credit cards transferred in her name. The wording on her affidavit was very tricky. It took her a long time and we had to keep pressing her to do it. She would not acknowledge and use the word fraud. She refused to do that so we had to fine tune the semantics a little bit to get her to do it but she finally did do it. She did curb back some of the expenses. She however had a difficult time with the counseling. She said, “I’m so afraid that if I start that it’s like unraveling a baseball and I won’t be able to be put back together. I’ll be left there completely undone and exposed and frozen.” So it was tough. We did some family sessions that we tried to talk to her and work through some of these things.
Well I think it’s great that your family came together and got to take care.
Yes, we did. Even you know, as adults that was still going on, but we had to deal with it. She didn’t get to do that anymore like, you had to put a stop to this. It’s time, so yeah it was. It was good having a family unification and that firm line in the sand and the support because there were three of us there. Three sisters. Because my younger sister was too little. She was only nine or something and too young to really participate in that and know what was going on. We did unify as a set of the siblings to say this is not okay.
Well again thank you for your time.
You’re very welcome. This is a neat outreach you are doing and I think it will help a lot of people. It’s rough going through it at the time, but it can be done, it can be done.
Yes, and you’re a prime example.
Do what’s right. Don’t follow their steps.