With Elizabeth Holmes failing to fulfill her wish to escape prison on Friday, lawyers for the pregnant Theranos scammer said she faces the “terrifying prospect” of being an incarcerated mother forced to give up on a much-adored little one son and a baby She could be separated from her shortly after the birth.
After the visibly pregnant Holmes broke down in tears on Friday to say, “I regret my failure with every cell in my body,” US District Judge Edward Davila sentenced her to 11.25 years in federal prison.
Holmes, 38, continued to cry as she was surrounded by her partner Billy Evans and other family members after Davila told her of her fate – as well as the fate of her children, which includes their 15-month-old son. The judge gave her an April 27 date to surrender to federal prison. While Holmes and Evans have not revealed her due date, reporters at the San Jose courthouse said she appeared to be six or seven months old. That means she should be able to give birth to her second child before having to be separated from both children for the next decade, by which time they will both be in their teens.
Holmes’ attorneys 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 Stanford dropout was convicted by a jury in January for bilking investors in her now-defunct blood testing startup in Palo Alto out of more than $144 million. Federal prosecutors, who called her a ruthless liar and her cheating scheme one of Silicon Valley’s worst white-collar crimes, have asked that she be jailed for 15 years. Probation officers recommended nine years in prison.
With Davila opting for a verdict closer to what prosecutors wanted, Holmes, who is said to be a hands-on mother, must now live with the agony of abandoning her children.
For Holmes, being locked up means she can’t gently greet her 15-month-old son when she gets him out of his crib in the morning, according to her partner Evans in the sentencing memorandum her lawyers submitted to the 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.”
Explaining his fears that she could be imprisoned, Evans said: “My heart breaks at the thought of spending days without Liz, armed for a future where my son will grow up with a relationship with his mother on the other side of glass by guards. ”
Despite Evans’ pleas for leniency, many viewers at the trial were unmoved by Holmes’ plight as a soon-to-be imprisoned mother. People on social media said poor women of color typically cannot rely on the public, courts or media to take care of their pain when separated from their children.
Many also questioned the timing of Holmes’ two pregnancies, with some cynically wondering if she planned them to evoke sympathy at her trial and/or sentencing. Others questioned why a woman who claims to be a loving mother would get pregnant after being convicted of crimes that could have separated her from her children for potentially up to 20 years.
“Elizabeth Holmes doesn’t care about anyone but herself,” said one person tweeted. “If she had done that, she would have gotten pregnant not just once, but twice while facing the looming prison sentence. That doesn’t think about the welfare of their children. She has to go to jail. She is a scammer.
Women previously detained told this news organization in January that they were 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 payphone,” Danielle Metz, who spent time in Dublin Federal Correctional Institution after being convicted of cocaine distribution, told the 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.
With the April surrender date, Holmes does not have to terminate her pregnancy and give birth in prison. Legal experts also said she is likely to appeal her case in the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which could further delay her date to appear in jail.
If she couldn’t delay her transfer to prison until after her baby was 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.
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 could end up in the federal facility in Dublin because the BOP is trying to house prisoners within 500 miles of home, Holli Coulman, a prison counselor who has served time at the federal penitentiary, told this 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 though 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?”
This story has been updated.