NEW YORK (AP) — Rosalia Silva came to New York from Mexico with the promise of a good job, her small child in tow. Instead, she was forced into prostitution, trapped in a life of abuse and misery, and she saw no way out. Deeply depressed, she tried to hurt herself and her little boy.
Silva was arrested on assault charges and jailed, and later institutionalized while her son, Francisco, lived with foster parents for nearly five years. But then Silva was accepted into Drew House, a program for mothers that allows them to live with their children in a private apartment instead of prison while they serve out court mandates.
"Here we have our own place, said Silva, 36. "It's a place we can call home, a place we feel safe. It's a place where we can get to know each other again."
It's apparently the only program like it in the country — and has been lauded as a successful, more supportive and cheaper alternative to prison. But space is running out at the house, and prosecutors and program leaders say the effort needs funding in order to grow.
Silva and four other mothers live in the unmarked apartment building in Brooklyn, all sent there for felony offenses. Some involve drugs, others weapons, and still others more violent crime. Eligible women are flagged by Brooklyn prosecutors and defense attorneys. In order to live there, women must be homeless, have minor children, and have pleaded guilty to a felony. The charges are dropped if they complete the court-ordered requirements, but if they break the law or don't follow through, they get the maximum sentence.
"They want us to succeed," Silva said of the program leaders. "They help us to stay on the path."
The women are largely independent except for a curfew and sign-in requirements. Mothers attend parenting classes, job training and therapy. Their children go to school and receive medical care and tutoring — and are given a sense of stability and safety.
The four-story maroon building was bustling on a recent school day. A handful of small children in yellow and blue uniforms tumbled into the ground floor office, plopped down backpacks and said hello to the house manager.
Do you think this is a good thing and actually helps the mothers get on the right track?
I was thinking about it.. I wonder if they have people checking in on them to make sure they're not doing illegal things still... like if they had a drug charge they're most likely addicted.. how do they know they're not using in the apartment they have with their child?