by guest blogger Shayne Rochester
intro by Lillian Hewko
When it comes to incarcerated parents rights, I am often asked: Why should we keep children with their parents who are criminals? The idea that a child can be better off without his or her parent who has broken the law is a common one, and I do believe this question comes from a concern for the children. This question reminds me of a great quote from a young person who was separated by his mother and interviewed in the eye-opening book All Alone in the World: Children of the Incarcerated written by Nell Bernstein. The young person says: There was so much emphasis on me, supposedly, that they forgot about her... [w]hat would have helped me most is compassion for my mom.
Compassion is often the last thing we usually have for a parent who goes to prison. Maybe this is because when we think of a parent who goes to prison images of Hollywood prisoners come to mind and very few of us actually know and love someone who has gone to prison. As Shayne Rochester’s story shows us below, people who go to prison are more than what we see on TV, they are fathers, community members, business owners, and leaders. ~ Lillian Hewko
My name is Shayne Rochester. I’m a 38 year old father and Veteran Parent. A Veteran Parent is a parent who has successfully navigated the child welfare system. Before I got involved in the child welfare system I had a family, coached soccer, had a high end custom cabinet shop where I employed four employees. I had a good reputation in the Seattle community. However just over a year ago I was only 6 days from losing my parental rights forever.
My journey with Child Protective Services (CPS) began in 2009, a year after the end of a nine-year relationship. I was helping a past employee build his home in North Seattle, where I fell twenty-two feet onto my face, completely blowing out my wrist. I had to have full frontal lobe reconstruction. I had never known depression before my accident but I was unable to work… and that was who I had always been. I soon became very depressed and my depression lead me deep into drugs. This path of addiction starts with one exception and then another and another until you don’t even know who you are anymore.
That path lead me to prison. I was charged under the liability accomplice act for an armed robbery. First time to prison and sentenced to 73 months. Meanwhile I was served with notice that a Child Protective Services case for my youngest son was being opened, and so my fight to keep my son began from prison.
It killed me that I was unable to nurture and protect my son. Even though I had a CPS case and a service plan that included visitation with my son, I was sent across the state where due to the distance, it was impossible to visit with my son. In fact, I only saw my son once in that first 13 months, and was given no ability to have any phone contact due to lack of resources.
In order to fight for my son, I spent six hours a day, six days a week in the law library, reading books, sometimes three times out loud to myself in order to comprehend them and learn my rights. I wrote daily kites (letters) and talked with my counselors about the services I needed to complete in order to comply with CPS. This was a frivolous fight as the counselors refused to acknowledge my CPS case plan.
It was extremely challenging to get access to a staff phone in order to contact my social worker and attorney. The rare times, when my counselor would arrange a call, it was never private and it was considered a favor. Luckily, I was able to complete a few services while in prison such as therapy, narcotics anonymous meetings and a parenting class, but they were not nearly enough to comply with my CPS plan.
Meanwhile I got news I had won my appeal but that I would have to wait in prison for another year while the Supreme Court made its decision on my appeal. I had to keep trying to get my son back from prison with little resources to help other than my public defender who was compelled to help me!
I eventually won my appeal and I was released after 28 months in prison and just six days before my parental rights were going to be terminated forever and my youngest son adopted. Just six days after my release I found myself in dependency court begging the judge not to take my son. Explaining that I tried to do all I could from prison but the services and resources were never made available to me. I begged him that ”I was out” and I was available to parent. The judge gave me a chance and now I’ve been reunified with my son for a year.
I was obviously blessed through this whole process. Unlike many parents I had access to my attorney, I had access to a legal library at my facility and the timing worked out in my favor by just six days! But there are many other families struggling through the child welfare system and the prison system that need HB 1284 and SB 5460. Parents in such circumstances NEED more time and special considerations.
I don’t know where my son or I would be today if I had lost him. I do know that with my son back I am currently the Co-facilitator of Snohomish County Parent Advocacy Committee, we provide a “Life During CPS” support group. I am also part of the Statewide Parent Advocacy Committee working to better outcomes of families in the child welfare system across Washington. On top of that I am father to five, a husband, and a college student.
I thank you for this opportunity to share my story and I appreciate whatever you are able to do to support incarcerated parents and all parents in the child welfare system.
Shayne Rochester is a peer to peer mentor and legislative advocate. He enjoys building things with the boys and going to his son Ty’s Karate Tournaments, building things with Philip (who is now in college and just got his first job), and riding bikes with Brandon. Shayne is extremely excited that after hard work in proving himself since his release he has recently re-connected with his brother and his oldest son.
Here’s how to show your support for HB 1284 and SB 5460:
Help get HB 1284 passed
Please write you representatives and urge them to pass HB 1284, you can find yours by entering your home address here.
Help get SB 5460 out of Committee
The deadline to get bills out of committee is Friday March 1st! Please write the Senate Ways and Means Committee member by clicking here; click on each Senator’s name, then on “e-mail” and enter your address and message (see samples below.)
Show your support of the bill here by "approving" it.
I am writing in support of HB 1284 (or SB 5460), which will give the court the authority and guidance necessary to take into consideration the unique circumstances of incarcerated parents and delay the current timelines when a parent’s incarceration, prior incarceration, or participation in a residential drug treatment program is a significant factor for the child’s continued out of home placement.
Keeping families together keeps our communities safer and more supported as family reunification is linked to reduced recidivism, greater family stability and improved emotional response for children. This bill will allow a specific and individualized family assessment and uphold what is in the best interest of the child.