If Elizabeth Holmes fails to grant her wish to escape prison on Friday, lawyers for the pregnant Theranos imposter say she faces the “terrifying prospect” of being an incarcerated mother forced to break away from a lot dear little son to say goodbye to a baby she may be separated from shortly after birth.
Holmes’ lawyers have argued that the “loving and devoted mother and partner” should not be serving time in federal prison or should be sentenced to a maximum of 18 months at most. The 38-year-old Stanford dropout was convicted by a jury in January for bilking investors in her now-defunct Palo Alto blood testing startup out of more than $144 million. Federal prosecutors, who have called her a ruthless liar and her fraud scheme among the worst white-collar crimes Silicon Valley has seen, want her to serve 15 years in prison.
Legal experts believe Judge Edward Davila will hand down a multi-year sentence, possibly with a lighter sentence because of her son. Any prison sentence means Holmes, who is said to be a devoted, hands-on mother, should brace herself for the agony of abandoning her children while she reports to a federal correctional facility.
For Holmes, confinement for an arbitrary period of time means she cannot greet her son gently when she gets him out of his crib in the morning, according to her partner Billy Evans in the sentencing memorandum her lawyers filed in court this week. She and Evans also won’t be able to hold their little boy while they dance in the kitchen and give him “doubles” – kisses on either side of the cheek. Holmes will also miss lulling her son to sleep at night and singing “Amazing Grace.”
Evans said he feared Holmes would be forcibly taken from her son “all of her life.” He said, “My heart is broken at the thought of spending days without Liz for a future where my son grows up with a relationship with his mother on the other side of glass, armed by guards.”
Women who were previously detained told this news organization that they are coping with limited opportunities to visit and have physical contact with their children. Visits with their children took place in a crowded institutional setting – usually after they had to undergo a strip search. They also had to wait in long lines for a payphone to call their children.
“You can’t mother from a phone box,” Danielle Metz, who was serving time in Dublin after her conviction for cocaine distribution, told this news organization in January. Throughout the 23 years she was imprisoned, Metz missed her mundane moments of parenting: taking her children to school, comforting them when they were sick, or cheering them on in their many accomplishments.
Since Holmes is pregnant, there is a specter that she will terminate her pregnancy and give birth in prison. It is not known how far Holmes is, but whether she will be remanded in custody on Friday is questionable. Legal experts said she will likely ask to delay the date she reports to jail with a request to remain out on bail while she challenges her case in the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Completing the appeal process could delay her beyond her due date.
If she cannot delay reporting in prison until after her baby is born, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) offers two residential programs for mothers and their newborns. The women register before the birth and are allowed to stay with their babies. However, neither program is located in California. One is also limited to six months and the other to 30 months, meaning Holmes would still have to say goodbye to her child if she received even half the sentence prosecutors wanted.
Andrea James, who heads the National Council on Incarcerated and Ex-Incarcerated Women and Girls, told this news organization that she was “on the verge of insanity” from postpartum depression when she surrendered to two years in federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut spend. 2010, six months after the birth of the youngest of her four children.
“It was like a kick in the stomach to be separated from my son,” said James, a former Boston-area attorney convicted of wire fraud. “This child does not understand, this infant that was in your body and slept and nursed on you. One day you are there and the next day you are gone.”
James and other women also illustrated the lifelong trauma children experience when they lose close, regular closeness with their primary caregiver at key moments in their physical and emotional development. They cited extensive research showing that an incarcerated parent is an “adverse” event for a child that can lead to depression, anxiety, aggression and an increased risk of problems at school and involvement in the criminal justice system.
The best Holmes can hope for is that she will be locked up close enough to the Bay Area for Evans or other family members to take their children for regular visits. The opportunity for regular visits is often unavailable to poor women of color serving time, James and others add.
As a nonviolent offender, it’s possible Holmes will end up in the Federal Correction Institution in Dublin because the BOP is trying to house prisoners within 500 miles of home, Holli Coulman, a prison counselor who has spent time at the federal prison, told the news organization. Under the best of circumstances, Holmes could see her children for several hours once or twice a week, Coulman said.
Metz said she remembered a toy area at the Dublin facility where she could sit with her children when they came to visit. However, the visits were often stressful. She remembers many children crying, upset at having to leave their mothers.
“You know, at 3 and 7, it was hard to explain my judgment to them,” said Metz, who was granted clemency by President Obama in 2016 and is clemency director for James’ National Council. “Even as they got older it was hard to explain why I didn’t come home with them, and if not when will I come with them?”