When mom goes to prison

Yasmine (left) and Cellie Mayol [Photos by Maritza Zuluaga]

Yasmine Miranda Mayol is a 16-year-old high school junior. She’s the daughter of Cellie Mayol, who went to prison twice in 2013 for drug trafficking. Yasmine does not recall her mother being behind bars, but she does remember those who surrounded her would say her mom was working or not around. Sometimes they’d ignore the topic completely. 

As Yasmine got older and started understanding that her mother’s absence was not work-related, her frustration grew. As any curious child would, Yasmine started asking questions. She expected answers.

“I kept saying that I missed my mom,” Yasmine recalls. “I remember seeing her crying in the back of a cop car. I didn’t really understand, and my family told me it was for a speeding ticket, but I was smart enough to know that was not why.”

Nationally, more than 60 percent of women in state prison have a child under the age of 18. Across the country, 25 percent of the female prisoners are there because of a drug offense. These statistics, gathered by the Sentencing Project and composed of the Bureau of Justice Statistics are only a piece of the growing number in women’s imprisonment studies. 

Florida has the third-largest number of children who have experienced parental incarceration in the nation, according to the Anne E. Casey Foundation. That means 312,000 kids have had a parent incarcerated. Florida Kids Count, a nonprofit that is part of the Casey Foundation, compiled a list of resources for those children who became collateral damage of their parents’ imprisonment. 

Dr. Suman Kakar, a sociology professor at Florida International University specializing in children, child abuse, and juvenile delinquency, emphasizes that a kid growing up with a mother behind bars gets the worst of both worlds. “I think it is the worst side effect of incarcerated women. Mothers are the ones who are basically the pullers of everything. They are financial, physical, and emotional support.”

Cellie Mayol, who was a young mother when she was first charged with a drug felony, elaborates on what ignited her trouble, “I became a high-functioning drug addict after I backed out of marriage and moved back home with my daughter.” 

Cellie added that, because she started getting involved with drugs in high school, it was easy for her to fall back into that pattern years later. “I started selling cocaine because it was so easy to make money and support my own habit, so my addiction kept growing.”

From 2007 to 2013, Cellie’s life was a rollercoaster. When she was first convicted of a drug offense, Cellie was sentenced to one year under the supervision of drug court, which mandated drug rehab. 

“When I was arrested a second time, I went to jail while I waited for my court date, got probation, and complied with it for about 6 months,” she recalls.

Seeing that her life was spiraling, Cellie made the decision to sign over power of attorney for her daughter, Yasmine, to her parents.

“Grandparents are the best caretakers of their children, especially in cases of incarcerated parents,” says Dr. Kakar. “They do for their grandchildren what they couldn’t do for their children…They reflect on what they did not do and make different choices with their grandchildren.” 

Says Yasmine: “My fondest memories are with my grandmother… she’s been in my life from the moment I was born. My grandmother is amazing. She’s super cool.” 

While Yasmine was cared for by her grandparents, Cellie was arrested for trafficking. “I only ended up serving three months in prison while my case went to court,” she recalls.”Prison saved my life. It helped me realize that this was not the path I wanted to take, I was given a second chance to do things differently, and I did.” 

FIU’s Kakar explains that many people claim prison saved their lives. “When they were out on the streets no one intervened…but when they went to prison that habit came to a halt. It took them off the habit and made them reflect on their behavior.”

Yasmine keeps herself busy and out of trouble by working two jobs while attending school and a non-denominational church. “Other people who have similar situations to mine  mine have parents who don’t like them, but I love my parents,” she says. “[My mom] may have made terrible mistakes, but so does everyone does in life.” 

Cellie says she keeps herself busy and adds: “It has been a rocky road fixing my relationship with my daughter, but we’re working through it.”

Maritza Zuluaga earned a bachelor's degree in Spanish translation from Montclair State University in 2018. She is currently a Master's candidate in the Spanish-Language Master's program at Florida International University and serves as the office manager for the Junior League of Miami.