All American girl … behind bars
“I’ve been to jail.”
That’s how 20-year-old Cinthia Molinar began her writing assignment in a communications career class at Brigham Young University (BYU) – Idaho this past fall. Molinar, a 2011 Eagle Valley High School graduate, and the rest of her classmates, were asked to create a blog on any topic. Molinar had a subject that was particularly close to her heart.
Molinar was born in Mexico and her family moved to America when she was just a few months old.
“We didn’t jump the border,” said Molinar. “We came here with visas, which is perfectly legal.”
After living in Eagle County for a short while, a woman in the area told Molinar’s parents that she could help them apply for citizenship.
“My parents filled out the paperwork and paid her, like many of our friends and family did,” said Molinar.
The family was issued a court date in California that they had no idea about. The letter, along with the court order, was sent to the woman who had “helped” them. That woman left the area, and the family never received the court notice. As a result, and unbeknownst to the family, a 10-year deportation order was issued on four of the family members, including Molinar.
CALM BEFORE THE STORM
During her time at EVHS, Molinar maintained a 4.0 GPA, sang with the voice of an angel and was involved in numerous clubs. She was a standout member of the Devil Dancers and as a senior, she scored the lead in the school’s drama production. In May of 2011, she had just graduated and was enjoying summer. Then a proverbial fateful day hit the Molinar household in Gypsum.
“Early one morning there was a knock on our door,” said Molinar. Representatives from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told the family that they were there for Molinar, along with her mother and father. Molinar’s father was at work, so the agents collected Molinar and her mother. A family member came to the home to stay with Molinar’s three younger siblings, and the two women went with the ICE representatives. Upon finding out about the outstanding order, they quickly obtained an attorney.
“Sometimes, looking back, I don’t know how I stayed so calm during all of it,” said Molinar. “It’s not easy to act like everything is going to be all right when two men and a woman show up at your door to take you away from your home… maybe for forever.”
The women entered a white 15-passenger van, with bars inside. Once inside, their hands and feet were cuffed. Molinar didn’t cry or react, and said that she had no idea where her strength came from.
“I had to stay strong for my mother, who was crying,” said Molinar. “One of us had to have hope.”
Along with a few other people, the women were taken to Glenwood Springs, where they spent three weeks in jail. That was just the beginning. The two spent time in various Colorado jails during the summer, including facilities in Fairplay and Denver.
When Molinar speaks, she has no trace of an accent. “Many people don’t think I’m Mexican because I guess I don’t look like I am,” said Molinar.
When she thanked the man who took off her cuffs once she was inside that first jail, he gave her a puzzled look. “Even though you’re in jail, you still need to use manners.” Molinar said. She will always remember that first jail officer as being encouraging and calming.
“I don’t remember what his name was, but I only hope that one day I will be able to thank him for that glimmer of hope.”
WHAT WAS IT LIKE?
The women were issued blue pants and blue shirts, a disposable toothbrush, toothpaste, some floss and soap. They shared a simple room with bunk beds, toilet and a sink. They were locked in their rooms each night, and an hour during the day. The rest of the time they were allowed to enter a larger common area.
Although Molinar said the jail food was delicious and that she and her mother were well-fed, the breakfast yell got under Molinar’s skin. “They would wake us up early and yell ‘Chow!’ which made me think of dogs,” she said. “If there was anything about jail that bugged me, it was that.”
She spent her days reading, doing puzzles, watching TV, or just walking in circles. Three weeks of summer in jail is like a lifetime to an 18-year-old.
BACK AT HOME
Meanwhile, back in Gypsum Molinar’s older sister and her husband, along with her younger sister were keeping things going at home. Younger sister Tania was 16 at the time.
“I had to be ‘mom’ and stay strong for my little sisters,” said Tania, who credits her oldest sister, her brother-in-law and members of her church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. “They brought food and comfort to us,” said Tania. “I prayed every night that my sister and mom would make it home, and that my dad would be safe wherever he was and that ICE wouldn’t take him too.”
A DIFFERENT JAIL
When the women were transferred to a jail in Denver to await deportation, the conditions deteriorated. This jail was different, with just one big room and several bunk beds. Walls were lined with toilets, sinks and showers. Some of the women were scary, the food was disgusting, and that night, for the first time, Molinar cried.
“It was dark and my mom couldn’t see me,” said Molinar. “I tried my best to hold it together, but that night something in me broke.”
Molinar said that just when she thought she couldn’t take it anymore, someone came to tell them that they were being let go. “I truly believe that my prayers were answered.”
While Molinar and her mother were behind bars, family and friends galvanized to raise money and navigate a complicated legal process to free them. Ultimately, they were successful and after less than a month, the two women returned home to Gypsum. By January, Molinar was headed off to college.
SHARING IS HEALING
Although reluctant at first to relate her story, Molinar is relieved that she told it in her blog, which had more than 2,000 views in less than 48 hours. “I couldn’t believe it,” said Molinar. “I was surprised how many people were interested in hearing my story.”
By sharing her story, Molinar has also learned of other people who had gone through a similar experience. People were grateful to Molinar for shining a different, first-hand light on the issue of immigration. “It can really tear families apart,” said Molinar.
She noted her experience is not unique and that exact thing happens to people in America every day. Some come home and some end up deported. Molinar is grateful that she got to come home. She vows to never take life for granted and that she will never be bitter about the experience.
“I choose not to be angry or hate,” said Molinar. “We all face trials to help us grow.”
And grow she did. Molinar is currently attending BYU-Idaho, and performs on the school’s dance team. She met the man of her dreams, Kent Packard, and the couple recently got engaged.
“I’m stronger than I thought I was,” said Molinar, who cherishes each day of her life. She knows she will experience more trials and heartaches but she’s grateful to have learned at a young age that those are for her benefit. “I can learn something from every single one as long as I’m willing to.”
Molinar’s advice is to always see the good in the struggles that come about, and to cherish simple things such as a soft bed, warm blankets, and the comfort to come and go as you please. Her biggest message is to never judge, she said.
“Everyone has a story that can break your heart.”
To read Molinar’s blog, visit http://www.cinthiamolinar.wordpress.com