This blog is part of a series documenting fatherhood and incarceration via Daniel Loera’s story. In many ways Daniel’s story can be seen as a success story of our juvenile justice system’s ability to support our youth. But, unfortunately his story doesn’t end with his success in overcoming mental health challenges, his own relationship to his trauma, or his ability to establish a relationship with his daughter from prison. In addition to success, he has experienced the injustice of harsh juvenile sentencing and the inability of alternative sentencing and/or clemency to provide him and his family a “safety valve” out of prison. Now he has received the ultimate punishment: the termination of his rights to his daughter Mila. You will see he has tried to justify that this is the best outcome, but we know the statistics and some stories behind them. The best thing for his daughter would be to have Daniel in the community to parent her, and if not, to keep Daniel in her life through guardianship or another means that is not the permanent loss of rights and allows more contact than open-adoption.
Daniel would like to tell you part of his story that highlights the injustices that occur to our families and children when the child welfare system intersects with the criminal justice system:
“I was told by my attorney that if I would have taken my case to trial, I had a high percentage of losing the trial. So they offered me a deal that if I sign for open adoption, I can still have a relationship with my daughter and I can have visits and pictures and she will be with her brother. It hurt me a lot, and I’m just trying not to keep beating myself up about it because its only for the best and I’m trying not to be selfish…I have been trying to start a new hobby and beading for the pow wow gifts here at Monroe has helped me distract myself from getting depressed and anxiety. I have a little writing for you today so here I go…
…I was sixteen years old when I was charged as an adult for my crime and was sentenced to do prison time. The thought of going to prison made me feel like another statistic in life. I really didn’t have any hope in life. I gave up because I didn’t think I would live past eighteen years old. On my eighteenth birthday my mental health counselor had asked me how I felt to make it to that day. I told him that I was in shock and was emotional. There was a staff member that used to talk to me about why I should try and change my life—that there was so much more in life. I had looked at him like he was crazy. So I ignored him as much as I could for a few weeks and one night I was having a nightmare and when I woke up I had time to think about what the staff member had told me. And reality hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew that I had a decision to make—to denounce the gangs. Everything then started to fit into place. A year later, at 19, I was informed that I may have a daughter, a paternity test would tell. At this news, I fell to my knees and prayed to a higher power to please let me be the father of this beautiful little girl, that I was done living a selfish life, and would live life to make my daughter the happiest little daddy’s girl ever. And my dreams came true. Two years have gone by. At the juvenile detention center I was visiting with my daughter. Building the relationship, I always dreamed of the best I could from inside the juvenile detention center. I was struggling with courts for my custody rights. I was constantly depressed and anxious. During that time, I was transferred to Monroe Correctional facility, an adult prison. Just a few months after I arrived at the men’s prison, I was being pushed to have an open adoption, meaning that I would lose my custody rights. My daughter was taken from my mother’s home, to the foster family that had her half brother. I was told that if I took my trial to court I wouldn’t be able to see her. I felt helpless and still do. I feel like I let her down and gave up. I did everything I could do in my position. I have come to a realization that if I take her from her siblings and try to be selfish because I want her to be happy with me, it would be really unfair to her. It would have been harsh for her. And it is not what a father would do. This beautiful little girl deserves to be happy and if it means that she stays with her brothers and sisters and I still get to have a relationship with her and have her in my life, I am going to be happy with that. But it still hurts me everyday. But I have to think for her best interest. And what I want to say to all the incarcerated parents and free parents going through the same scenario, please don’t lose hope, but try to keep your head held high and eyes dry because just remember you’re still blessed to be able to call your child yours. Let’s stick together and start to make a change in this world to make it better and safe for our children’s future, and to keep making it safer. Thank you for reading my story and I wish you can have hope.”