Elizabeth Holmes faces ‘terrifying’ separation from babies in prison

If Elizabeth Holmes doesn’t get her wish to escape a prison sentence Friday, attorneys for the pregnant Theranos fraudster say she faces the “terrifying prospect” of being an incarcerated mother, forced to say good-bye to a much-adored toddler son and a baby she might be separated from soon after giving birth.

Holmes’ attorneys have argued that the “loving and dedicated mother and partner” shouldn’t have to serve time in federal prison or should, at most, only be sentenced to a maximum of 18 months. The 38-year-old Stanford dropout was convicted by a jury in January of bilking investors in her now-defunct Palo Alto blood-testing startup out of more than $144 million. Federal prosecutors, labeling her a remorseless liar and calling her fraud scheme among the worst white-collar crimes Silicon Valley has seen, want her to go to prison for 15 years.

Legal experts believe that Judge Edward Davila will impose a multi-year prison sentence, possibly mitigated because of her son. Any prison term means that Holmes, who is said to be a devoted, hands-on mother, should brace for the agony of leaving her children behind while she reports to a federal correctional facility.

For Holmes, being locked up for any period of time means she won’t be able to gently greet her son when she gets him out of the crib in the morning, as her partner Billy Evans recounted in the sentencing memo her attorneys submitted to the court this week. She and Evans also won’t be able to hold their little boy in their arms while they dance in the kitchen and give him “doubles” — kisses on both sides of the cheek. Holmes also will miss rocking her son to sleep at night, singing “Amazing Grace.”

Evans explained his fears of her being imprisoned: “My heart is broken with the thought of spending any days away from Liz, for a future in which my son grows up with a relationship with his mother on the other side of glass armed by guards.”

Women who’ve been previously incarcerated told this news organization that they had to deal with limited opportunities for visits and physical contact with their children. Visits with their children took place in a crowded institutional setting — usually after they had to submit to strip searches. They also had to wait in long lines for a pay phone to call their children.

“You can’t mother from a pay phone,” Danielle Metz, who served time in the Dublin Federal Correctional Institution after being sentenced for cocaine distribution, told this news organization in January. For the entire 23 years she was incarcerated, Metz missed her child-rearing day-to-day moments: Taking her children to school, soothing them when they were sick or cheering them on in their many accomplishments.

With Holmes being pregnant, there’s the specter of her finishing out her pregnancy and giving birth while in prison. It’s not known how far along Holmes is, but it’s questionable whether she’ll go into custody on Friday.  Legal experts said she’s likely to ask to delay the date she reports to prison, with a request to remain free on bail as she appeals her case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The conclusion of the appeal could take her past her due date.

If she can’t put off reporting to prison until after her baby’s birth, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) offers two residential programs for mothers and their newborns. The women report before they give birth and are allowed to reside with their babies. However, neither of the programs are located in California. One also is limited to a six-month stay and the other for 30 months, which means Holmes would still have to say good-bye to her child if she receives even half the sentence that prosecutors want.

Andrea James, who heads the National Council For Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, told this news organization in January that she was on “the brink of insanity” from postpartum depression when she surrendered to serve two years at the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut, in 2010, six months after giving birth to the youngest of her four children.

“It was like a kick in the stomach, being separated from my son,” said James, a former Boston-area attorney who was convicted of wire fraud. “This child doesn’t understand, this infant who was in your body and slept up against you and breast-fed. You are there one day and the next day you are gone.”

James and other women also illustrated the lifelong trauma that children can suffer when they lose close, regular proximity to their primary caregiver at crucial times in their physical and emotional development. They cited extensive research showing that having an incarcerated parent is an “adverse” event for a child, which can lead to depression, anxiety, aggression and an increased risk of trouble in school and involvement in the criminal justice system.

At best, Holmes can hope she’ll be imprisoned near enough to the Bay Area that Evans or other family members can bring her children for regular visits. The opportunity for regular visits often isn’t available to poor women of color who are serving time, James and others add.

As a non-violent offender, it’s possible that Holmes could end up in the federal facility in Dublin, because the BOP tries to house prisoners within 500 miles of home, Holli Coulman, a prison consultant who served time in federal prison, told this news organization. Under the very best of circumstances, Holmes might be able to see her children several hours once or twice a week, Coulman said.

Metz said she remembers a toy area in the Dublin facility, where she could sit with her children when they came to visit. However, the visits were often stressful. She remembers a lot of crying from children upset about having to leave their mothers.

“You know, at 3 and 7, it was hard to explain my sentence to them,” said Metz, who was granted clemency by President Obama in 2016 and is the clemency director for James’ National Council. “Even as they got older, it was hard to explain why I wasn’t coming home with them and if not, when will I be coming with them?”

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