This March, the haunting image of Shanesha Taylor’s tear-stained mugshot quickly becoming a symbol of the plight of many of our nation’s single mothers: requiring childcare to work, but needing work to secure childcare.
The Arizona mom of three made headlines when she left her children in a hot car in order to attend a job interview—a move she said was motivated by desperation and a total lack of options. She was arrested and charged with felony child abuse and the two sons she left in the car were taken away from her. But thanks to an outpouring of support by those touched by her story and dedicated legal counsel, Taylor’s family is heading toward a much happier ending.
Online fundraising efforts intended to raise Taylor’s $9,000 bail ended up raising over $114,000. A judge allowed her to participate in a diversion program in order to have the criminal charges against her dropped and in August, she regained custody of her sons. We caught up with the 35-year-old and her lawyer, Benjamin Taylor II (no relation) to discuss life after the ordeal, her continued search for employment and just what support for a struggling mom looks like:
EBONY: What is life like for you right now?
ST: Life is a mixture of joy and stress. That’s the best way to put it.
EBONY: Tell me a little bit about the joy.
ST: My family’s back together. They enjoy each other. They have a good time. You don’t realize what you miss in the short span of five months. You don’t realize how much you miss them even though when they’re with you day in and day out prior to that. There were days I couldn’t be there or I couldn’t hold them or I couldn’t talk to them. It impacts you so when you have those little things like the little phrases or the way they see an airplane in the sky or when they just want ice cream, you miss those moments. So it’s great to have those things back.
EBONY: And what’s stressing you out most right now?
ST: I. have things going on and trying to meet obligations in a certain time frame. Everyone thinks that this is the “happily ever after” story, she got money and now she’s great – that’s not the case. As every rap song says, more money brings more problems. What people don’t realize is that 75 to 80% of the funds have been used to take care of the trust fund [a judge ordered her to establish a trust for her children] and the continuing legal costs that I have but now I have the remaining amount to continue to take care of legal things that I have to take care of…[Employers] may be reluctant, because they see my name in the news every other day so it seems like they’re a little slow to pick up on jobs even though I’m applying every day. People reach out initially because they may not realize who I am and once they catch who I am they’re like “Oh, we’re sorry. The position was eliminated or no longer open.”
EBONY: What sort of jobs are you applying for?
ST: Customer service sales. Admin. A couple of offers for mortgage related jobs because that was my background. I had two offers for Southwest Airlines but those got retracted. Right now I have an application at Amazon.com. I have applications at CBS. I have an application in Biola Transportation. I’m waiting to see what they say out of it. For whatever is open that looks like it’ll support my family I will apply.
EBONY: I want to go back to that day and the decision to go to the job interview. What about that person who was supposed to babysit for you. How have they reacted to all of this? Are they full of guilt? Do they feel like they’re in the same situation and doing the best they can? What was your follow up conversation with her?
ST: My initial follow up conversation in general was “What happened?’” That was basically the question. “What happened?” Of course, [the response] was full of excuses. “Oh, I didn’t hear the door. I didn’t hear the phone. I didn’t know.” But we had the conversations several times. I even had a conversation with her on the phone the night before saying “Hey, this is our arrangement and this is what I need from you.’”I even called when I was on my way there. There was no answer to the call. So the unfortunate part about it is that it’s family. When you’re dealing family, it’s a delicate balance. You can’t get rid of family. It’s not like a friend who you can say you don’t want to talk to anymore because it’s difficult. At the next family get together, that person’s going to be there.
EBONY: Has she apologized?
ST: No. Initially, there was a lot of guilt involved from her part. I understood that and I accepted that. And then it turned into I would say envy because of what came out of the situation. Then it became the backlash of telling other family members that I didn’t deserve what I had and that I’m not a good person. Talking bad about me and my situation. I’m living off of other people. At that point, you just have to choose, “Am I going to sink to your level and come back at you and say ‘Don’t talk about me. You should’ve this and that.’’ The fact of the matter is that the decision was mine that day. So I can’t blame for you for what came out of it, I have to suck it up and keep moving.
EBONY: Do you know how much was raised by your supporters to help you and your family out?
ST: I believe the funds stopped at $114,900 dollars. The [fundraising] website took their portion, I got the rest and it went fast. Not to say it was spent fast because we live very frugal, but our obligations and trust funds took a lot of it very quickly.
EBONY: What is day-to-day life look like for your children right now? How are they adjusting? I know you talked about your eldest having some issues with people at schools bringing up the case. Is that still happening? Are people moving on?
ST: They’ve moved on. Thankfully because young people forget things very quickly. So it’s not so much on the news anymore is how I think they were introduced to it it’s now more online and things. They don’t have that much access. Life has improved for her a lot. I talk to her teachers probably about once a week just to check in and see how things are going because it when initially broke, it was difficult. My face was all over the TV. My information was all over the TV. So I’m trying to explain to her this is what happened, this is what I did, these are the repercussions and she knows me as a mother. The first thing she says is “Mama, you wouldn’t hurt us.” But I did something wrong and this is the aftermath and this is what happens when you do something wrong. It was more of a battle for her emotionally because obviously she doesn’t want to see me go through that. She didn’t want the family to be broken up because of it and she didn’t see me as a bad person. So now it’s much better. I keep her up to date, I told her when the dependency case was all over, I said “The court says you’re my kid again.” She said “Mommy, I was your kid the whole time. I don’t care what they say.” Those are the kind of things that make you feel like I’m doing what’s right. I’m okay. I know we went through madness. I’m doing what’s right for them.
EBONY: How did you end up in a situation where you were in need of childcare, but couldn’t find it?
ST: I did a trade situation. I had babies from somewhere else on the terms they’d be able to babysit for me the day of my interview because money was scarce and I didn’t have a whole lot around. When you’re only getting $60 a week and half of that has to go to diapers and the other half has to go to gas to get your daughter back and forth to school, there’s not a lot to spread around. So you have to use whatever resources you have to take care of things. So I babysat for someone on Wednesday with the understanding they would babysit for me on Thursday. Well when it came to Thursday, I arrived at their home there was no answer at the door, no answer on the phone, there was like ‘ghost town.’ I basically had to make a split decision. Because in my mind, I know it’s March 20th. I’ve got until March 31st to get some money in my pocket so I can get my family moved because where the children were staying at the time, they didn’t have the finances to continue to let the children stay there. Me, I was in the car. I was on this person’s couch. I was moving around. That was OK for me. I’m an adult. I can handle that. But children – no. They will not experience what the family is going through right now. So they’re at the same place, every night, they know where their beds are. I can struggle. That’s okay for me. But when it came down to that person not answering the door, it was literally panic. I’m driving to the interview, my hands are shaking, my eyes are tearing. I really had to make a decision. I need something to happen by March 31st or the entire bottom would fall out. I couldn’t let them go through that struggle. I couldn’t put them in a situation where they were sleeping in the car with me. I wouldn’t let that happen.
EBONY: What about their father? Are he opting not to participate?
ST: Well, I mean, I hate to make it a cliché but when it comes down to having children and someone chooses not to be involved, for a certain period you’re saying “Hey, can I have? Will you give? Will you do,” and that person gives you reluctance, you can continue to struggle and ask that person for help or you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and help your children. I’d gone to the courts and asked for child support but with him not working – you don’t get anything. Instead of waiting around for him to decide, “I’m going to do for my children,” I’m going to take care of my babies. It is a necessary thing. I went through the court proceedings but you can’t wait around forever for that kind of stuff to come through.
EBONY: When all of this is over, do you see yourself becoming an advocate or an activist for single parents? There are so many other mothers in your position.
ST: I absolutely would want to do something like that. I’m in the process of trying to put something like that together but obviously so much still going on in my life, I have to kind of take baby steps right now and time to garner the support I would need because I can’t actually tell you that that support would come from the government because they don’t see it as being a value. That’s just like the Republican that got on the radio the other day and said that ‘Single mothers on welfare need to be castrated and put on the plant and given birth control implants.’ So they don’t see us as valued. They don’t see us as people in need. We have to find that kind of support for ourselves. Now in terms of putting together resources, absolutely. I am absolutely in the arena to do something like that. Not only because of what I’ve went through but because of what I’ve experienced before I got to what I went through. I did those necessary channels to go through the government agencies and say ‘This is what I’ve got going on and I need this help and this is what I’m trying to do,’ and you get turned away at every step. They don’t give you the help that you need. If I can be that voice and be that face, if everybody can see that mugshot of me and turn around and say ‘Hey, this is real for her. She went through this,’ that in itself may bring that much more support. If I can continue to put myself out there and let myself be the face of these people that need help because that’s the problem with single mothers – they suffer in silence. They say “Hey, I made these babies. I’m going to take care of these babies. It’s not on anybody else”
EBONY: What does support look like for you?
ST: That support system makes sure that I have consistent housing and sufficient food in the house and the childcare is taking care of. I’m not the loudest person. I don’t need bags and shoes. If I can afford $20 to go to Chuck-E-Cheese to make sure the kids are happy, I’m okay with that. That is my life. So the support system makes sure the family as a whole is taken care of. Whether that comes from the government that means it’s going to help more than that individual family. If it’s not coming from the government that means more of us need to band together to help that support system. Even if it’s something we go to corporations and say can you donate X amount of dollars to the single mothers in your company. IT doesn’t have to be to any individual person but to the single mothers in your company, can you donate X amount of dollars to make sure they have adequate child care, adequate housing and adequate resources and food to take care of their family because that will make them more of a productive worker for you. They will come to work every day knowing their company cares enough about them to donate whatever how much money. But if you spread it out and collectively put it together for the betterment of the family that woman will come to work every day with no worries.
EBONY: Where are you living now?
ST: I’m living in Glendale, Arizona.
EBONY: Do you have your own place or are you all staying with friends or family?
ST: No. We have a small house.
EBONY: Are you happy there? Would you want to leave if the right job opportunity presented itself?
ST: I think I would leave just because of all the extra stuff that came with this case. I think once things come together and my cases are complete and all my mandates are complete. I definitely think I would leave. Just to get over and start fresh and hopefully be somewhere where when you’re walking through Wal-Mart people don’t say ‘Don’t I know you?’ “No. You don’t know me.”
EBONY: What do you think it would take to truly get a fresh start? Is it about leaving? Is it simply time passing? Is it a job? What starts the clock over for you and your family?
ST: The first step is definitely a job because I need to able to support whatever new changes come about. Right now, I do have another fund that’s been open in my name because as we discussed earlier, there’s so much of the funds being gone already. I still have continuing legal funds. I still have housing funds. I still have day-to-day things that need to be taken care of as well as trying to support the family until I do find significant work. So that’s the one thing that I’m very happy about. It was open by a company called donatetolegalissues.com. They are stepping up to be my support system right now. Outside of that, starting over is a job and that’s the foundation. If you have to finances to go somewhere else and do something different that opens everything else up. Starting over, if I started over in a new place, it would be getting housing and everything else. Honestly, I don’t see myself leaving Arizona until at least another year and a half. Starting over right now is finding a job that’s going to take care of my family and that’s my goal. I work with my funds and the donatetolegalissues.com on a two or three day basis making sure I’m being productive and giving the information they need. I go to my appointments. I go to my parenting classes. My substance abuse classes. That’s life right now.
EBONY: Can you give me a little bit about what comes next in terms of the legal battle?
ST: The legal battle is me completing the parenting classes. I have two substance abuse classes to take care of. My parenting classes are scheduled to be done in February but I kind of fast tracked them a little bit so I have maybe wrapped up before the end of this year. I have to fund my trust fund. That’s already in works. My attorney and I are waiting on the final approval from the prosecutor’s office. That’s it. Once my funds are completed and my classes are completed, my charges will be completely dismissed. My family cases have been dismissed. That portion is done. Hopefully by the end of the year, legally, I’ll be in the clear. Now in terms of still funding and financing those things, that may continue for a while. In terms of the legality of it, it’ll be done.
BENJAMIN TAYLOR II, ESQ: Basically we were able to get the criminal charges dimissed on Ms. Taylor pleading for the trust fund and the classes. She was charged with two class three felonies child abuse counts. That’s what she was facing before. The agreement we came to with the prosecutor’s office when we negotiated was that when everything is completed, everything will be dismissed and off the record. …Ms. Taylor said earlier is that she now has no Child Protective Services people in her life right now which is good. She officially has her children back officially. We’re very happy we were legally get that taken care of. The next step is work with the prosecutor’s office and work with the trust fund and then that criminal case will be dismissed also. Right now, they call it ‘suspended.’ It’ll be officially dismissed once everything is cleared up. [Since this interview, the child protective services case was officially dropped.]
EBONY: Why were the substance abuse programs required?
BT: That’s part of the program. It’s a diversion program and it’s required for everybody. Ms. Taylor doesn’t have any substance abuse issues. It’s part of the requirement for diversion programs.
EBONY: Do you think that this particular case will set some sort of precedence for how these issues are dealt with in the future? Do you think we will continue to see single mothers who made these kind of frantic decisions? Do you think that we’re just simply lucky this wasn’t an opportunity to make an example out of someone?
BT: I wouldn’t call this luck. Ms. Taylor’s situation is particularly unique. She’s a veteran of the United States Air Force. That day she was providing for her family. That’s what makes her case very more unique than other cases you see throughout the country. Cases throughout the country are cases where parents are leaving their children in the car to go to a party or to go to a shopping mall. To do something in their own self-interest. Ms. Taylor’s interest that day was to provide for her family. So many cases, there’s been a lot of them. This is a very unique situation and we’re very happy with the outcome because it allows her to get her criminal felony charges completely dismissed.