By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
When the raid began, although the littlest kids were terrified by the stream of men with drawn guns, Frances herself was more annoyed than scared. "The officers were courteous," she says. And, except when the one cop mistakenly pointed a 9 mm at Mando, she was careful to be calm and cooperative, even helping them pull things out of drawers so they wouldn’t accidentally break furniture like they’d done the last time. "I kept thinking, I know they’re not going to find anything, we’re not doing anything wrong, and I’m going to be late to day care." At least Luis wasn’t on parole anymore, she thought, so they couldn’t pop him for some trumped up parole violation. Then the two social workers arrived and suddenly Frances understood there was one terrible thing the police could do that had never, ever occurred to her.
For several minutes, the DCFS workers stalked through the house, their gaze traveling critically over its newly wrought disorder. Finally, Frances cornered one of the women "Be straight with me," she said, "are you going to take my kids, yes or no?" The woman hesitated, then nodded assent. Yes, she said, the children were being taken into protective custody.
After that, Frances’ blood pressure spiraled out of control. She turned to say something but fainted instead. The kids began to cry and tried to run to their mother. The paramedics came. An alarmed neighbor who saw the ambulance arrive called Luis’ brother, who called Luis at work. Luis left his job to go and find his wife.
When she was released from White Memorial Hospital, Frances went to Hollenbeck police station in the hope of finding out where the kids had been taken. The desk officer sent her a block down the street to the detectives’ building, where most of the guys from the raid kept their offices. The detectives also claimed to know nothing, so Frances walked back to Hollenbeck — which was where she truly lost it. In the police station’s small blue-and-red-trimmed waiting room, she let go with a string of epithets about "fucking dirty cops, I hope you all die," or words to that effect. The short burst of impotent fury seemed to spend her. She sat down and started to cry.
Frances is a strong woman who has faced a great deal in her life without shattering. During merely the past year, she stood up to wave after wave of disaster — her husband’s arrest, his six and a half months of jail time for charges that were never proved, desperate money troubles, two co-workers’ murders. But having her kids removed from her care was a blow like no other. Frances cried helplessly, her misery spilling itself a disorganized stream. "My little boy peed on himself because they made all the kids go outside, and he had to go and they wouldn’t let him use the bathroom," she said, rocking and crying. "Elijah peed on himself. And he hated it, because he only uses pull-ups at night now. Oh, my God. How’re they gonna take my kids when I was right there? How’re they going to do that? Oh, my God, Oh, my God. Oh, my God."
For most of the rest of that first day, Frances pretty much followed where Luis led her — getting drug tested, signing up for parenting classes, looking for some kind of nearby 12-step group — her demeanor withdrawn, her body overcome by cyclical spasms of anguish that left her listless and battered. Even her hair, normally a profuse fog of russet curls, was twisted close to her scalp, where it lay in a lank, dispirited pile.
Yet by the time she arrived at work on Friday morning, the listlessness of the previous afternoon had vanished, and Frances was entirely focused and determined. "I’ve got to be strong for my kids," she says. "I’ve got no choice."
Luis and Frances are directed to show up in court at 8 a.m. Tuesday, November 2, when a judge will make some sort of initial disposition regarding their family. Until then, a DCFS supervisor named Emilio Mendoza explains on the phone to Frances, she and Luis will not be permitted to have contact with any of the children. (Frances sees no reason to mention the phone calls from the night before.) "You could even get your kids back on Tuesday," says Mendoza, but he cautions Frances not to count on it.
In the interim, the Aguilars look for anything that will bolster their case. Father Greg Boyle, Frances’ boss at Homeboy Industries, puts her and Luis in touch with a family-law attorney friend of his who suggests gathering supportive letters to bring to court. So, on Friday, Frances calls everyone she can think of — Robert Barksdale, Estephanie’s school principal, Bola’s homeroom teacher and his school counselor, the shrink Luis had been seeing, the woman who runs the day-care center where the younger children go on weekdays, the former Homeboy staffer who once offered her a job at Para Los Niños, and around a dozen others. Everyone she calls agrees without hesitation to help her.