More than 2 million people are incarcerated in the United States. This series looks at what happens to their lives—their relationships, families and future prospects—when they get out.
When Jacob Garcia was 3 years old, his mother, Rosa, went to prison and would remain in the system for the rest of his childhood. In 2013, nearly 12 years later, Rosa came home—and she and Jacob started the complicated business of rebuilding their relationship.
For the past three years, photographer Mansura Khanam has documented the lives of the Garcia family from the last year of Rosa's incarceration to today.
Khanam focused on family dynamics—how the Garcias maintained ties during the long separation, how family matriarch Daisy raised Jacob and his half-brother while Rosa was in prison and how they all have adjusted to her release.
“Family can be a source of incredible joy and pain,” Khanam said. “My experience of family has always straddled these extremes. In the effort to know ourselves, all of us have to contend with where we come from."
Jacob Garcia, then 13, in Harlem, New York. When this photo was taken in December 2012, his mother Rosa had already been in prison for a decade.
A family photo album holds a picture of Jacob, then 7, visiting his mother in prison. Rosa spent about 10 years at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in Westchester, New York. Jacob and his older half-brother Joey visited their mother on weekends through a program run by the nonprofit HourChildren, which provided children's games and a visitors' area that resembled a classroom. "Without that [program] I don’t think I would have had that bond," Rosa said. "I really don’t know how I would have done my time without seeing my kids.”
Rosa's mother Daisy became Jacob and Joey's guardian and primary caregiver during her daughter's incarceration.
Daisy, a recently retired home health aide, in the kitchen of her 5th floor apartment in Harlem in 2012. She tells a friend that she's frustrated that Jacob doesn't understand saving money. "He just want to buy expensive shirts and sneakers."
A photo of Jacob's grandfather, Demetrio, with then-5-year-old Jacob. Jacob remembers his grandfather's funeral in April 2001—his mother was there in handcuffs with a guard, but he wasn't able to speak to her. Rosa describes the death of her father as one of the lowest points of her incarceration. "I was Daddy's little girl, and I couldn't even be there for him before he died," she said.
Joey was 5 when Rosa went to prison. In December 2012, Daisy prays for Joey's well being as he returns to juvenile detention after being allowed home for the weekend for good behavior. He spent a short time in detention but has since graduated high school and started community college. After her husband Demetrio passed, Daisy said, raising the two boys on her own became even harder. The boys' uncles stepped in to help. "And that’s how we got through,” she said.
Jacob and his friends walk to school in November 2012. “New York City to me is basically a tough place to grow up. It’s competition. The streets are dangerous," he said. "And even though everybody looks at it as if it’s the Light, where people become famous, the city is not really about being famous, it’s about working hard.”
Jacob in his grandmother's Harlem apartment six months before his mom was released from prison. “I see it as a way of me getting stronger and being more of an individual instead of relying on my mother or my father, because my father also isn’t there," he said. "It’s just me and my grandmother and my brother in the house.”
Jacob and Rosa during a 2013 visit at the halfway house in Paterson, New Jersey, where Rosa spent the end of her sentence. Despite the lack of privacy in the open visiting room, Jacob would often cuddle with his mom during their visits.
Employment was part of Rosa's rehabilitation and transition program. Her family preferred to visit her at the diner rather than the confined space of the halfway house. In 2013, Rosa serves food while Jacob is distracted with his phone.
A view from the window of Daisy's apartment in Harlem.
Rosa and Jacob look out the window of Daisy's apartment on Mother's Day 2013, one week after her release. “The idea of me seeing my mom come out, it’s a relief, but it’s also going to be hard to start a new life with her because I barely know my mother," Jacob said. "I’ve known her for 3 years, and that’s when I was a baby. It’s like I don’t who she is now and she barely knows who I am now. We talk all the time, but I don’t see it as my mother knowing who I am as a person.”
Rosa in the doorway of her mother's apartment soon after her release in May 2013. "I’ve been asking God to prepare me to receive my family and for them to receive me,” she said. "I don’t know what other prayer to say, because I’m not the same person that left 12 years ago."
"A weight has been lifted from my chest," said Daisy of her daughter's release from prison.
Daisy and Rosa in Harlem in October 2015. Rosa continues to live in her mother's apartment along with her two sons and brother while working two jobs. “I broke up with my boyfriend a few months ago," she said. "That was really, really hard. I thought we had a good thing, I thought we were building something. I think he just couldn’t take that I was working so much.”
About a year after Rosa's return home, the family began renovations on their Harlem apartment, something Daisy had wanted to do for years. The changes included an entire wall dedicated to family pictures, including Rosa's high school graduation picture.
Rosa has held a steady job for nine months as an adult education instructor. “I’m still figuring it out, but I’m getting better at the technology stuff like sending out memos," she said. "I started dress down day, you know, casual Fridays, at my job, and I realized if I put it in a memo, then it’s official.” She also works part-time at a hospital on weekends and is hoping to get a full-time job there soon.
Jacob and Rosa relax after she returns home from work. Despite steady employment, she said, it has been difficult to find an apartment of her own. "When did they start doing background checks for apartments?" she said.
Rosa in the doorway of her mother's apartment in October 2015. When she first went to prison, it was unbearable, she said. "I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t want to live. But I was brought up in the church, and I remember my grandparents and my mom always crying out to Him, so I tried it. And He hasn’t failed me yet."
Mansura Khanam is a photographer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Born in Sylhet, Bangladesh, but raised in the New York metro area, she studied History and African Studies at Rutgers University and International Affairs at the Graduate Program in International Affairs at the New School, where her fieldwork included legal assistance to refugees undergoing the UNHCR status determination process in Hong Kong. With a growing desire to document what she saw, she shifted to visual journalism, attending the photojournalism and documentary photography program at the International Center of Photography in New York City where she received the George and Joyce Moss Scholarship. Mansura’s work has been exhibited at the Museum of the City of New York, Photoville and the International Center of Photography. She has been published by the WSJ, CNN and other news outlets.