Shanesha Taylor, arrested for leaving children in car during job interview, speaks

The mugshot image was a painfully heartbreaking one: a mother, struggling not to cry, tears running down her cheeks.

Months ago, a homeless mother named Shanesha Taylor was arrested for leaving her two children, then six months and two years old, in a car with the windows cracked and the fan blowing while she was interviewing for a job at a Scottsdale, Ariz., insurance agency for 69 minutes. It was about 71 degrees. Taylor also has a 9-year-old daughter who was in school during the interview. According to Kids and Cars, 38 children die annually due to heat-related deaths resulting from being left in cars. It doesn’t take much.

When she came out, the Dodge Durango that had sometimes served as her home was surrounded by police. Taylor, 35, was arrested and charged with two counts of felony child abuse. She was jailed for 10 days before she was released thanks to the kindness of strangers who paid her $9,000 bail. Touched and enraged by the circumstances surrounding her predicament, crowdsourcing fundraisers worked quickly to gather more than $100,000 for Taylor and circulated a Change.org petition urging Maricopa County prosecutor Bill Montgomery to drop the charges against her. The petition garnered more than 57,000 signatures. Montgomery has said he will not drop the charges.

Taylor’s lawyer, Benjamin P. Taylor II, is working pro bono (they are not related). Taylor, who pleaded not guilty, could face up to seven years in prison for each count of child abuse. Her next hearing is scheduled for July 2015. She was recently granted permission by the court to see her children, who were deemed unharmed and are staying with a relative.

The New York Times published an exclusive interview with Taylor, the first one she has given since she was arrested in March. The story goes through the lead-up to the financial troubles that eventually led to her homelessness. Taylor doesn’t sound very different from Katrina Gilbert, another single parent with children who struggled to provide for her children while attending community college classes in the hopes of getting a better job. Taylor was doing the same.

Produced in partnership with the (Maria) ShriverReport, “Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert” was a documentary that followed the life of a Tennessee woman who was on the brink. More than once, she was saved by subsidized 24-hour childcare that allowed her to work and attend school. Gilbert put a human face on a nationwide problem. In Arizona, the Times said, the number of children covered by subsidized child care has dropped nearly 75 percent since 2009.

On beyondbabymamas, Stacia L. Brown wrote:

Many single parents learn early to keep their heads down, their challenges quiet, their desperate moments secret. We are taught that work must take precedence over everything else, that self-reliance may have to come at the expense of a sound mind or safety for our children. We are taught not to look up for help, once we’ve been denied it by people who attached accusations to their ‘No’s. Our government responds to our needs either by ignoring them, by reducing the limited aid it once offered to help us address them, or by allowing political candidates to make us the scapegoats in debates about the national deficit.

To many, Taylor’s biggest crime was being poor, black and female. Her predicament spurred a meme, comparing her with another mother in  Maricopa County, Ariz., Catalina Clouser, who pleaded guilty to child abuse and DUI after getting high on marijuana, leaving her two-month old infant on the roof of her car and driving for 12 miles. The baby was found, miraculously unharmed, in the middle of a highway, still in the carseat. Clouser, who is white, was sentenced to 16 years of probation, avoiding jail time. The meme however, mistakenly transposed the ages of Taylor’s children.

Taylor left her children in the car when she had nowhere else to take them. She told the Times no one answered the door when she stopped at the house of the babysitter she’d arranged in advance.

“I felt like this was my opportunity to basically improve life for all of us, and the one key part of it is now not available, so what do I do now?” Taylor said. “That was my only thought: ‘What do I do now? What do I do now?’ That was kind of what started the whole chain of events that day.”

Now, Taylor is waiting to get her children back. The Times reported that she has rented a three-bedroom house and wants to start college again. She and the Antoine Duncan, the children’s father, are in couples counseling.

“People ask me all the time, ‘Are you happier now?'” Taylor told the Times. “They feel that I should be over the moon [because of the donated money] when, truth be told, I stay inside and I cry because I don’t have my children.”

Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on race and gender issues.
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