Pandemic, Prison, and Pregnancy: Tragedy in the Making for One Family? - FAMM

Pandemic, Prison, and Pregnancy: Tragedy in the Making for One Family?

In May of 2020 at the height of the pandemic, Andrea High Bear, a pregnant mother of five, was transferred to a federal prison facility. One month later, she died from COVID. A similar story is unfolding right now, that of Raquel Esquivel, seven months pregnant with Baby Silas. The Biden administration or the courts have the power to prevent another tragedy. The question is: Will they take action in time?


When Ricky Gonzalez spoke on the phone to his fiancée, Raquel Esquivel, in late August, she told him she was coming home. Raquel was calling from the Val Verde County Detention Center in Texas, where she’d been since May, when was when she was found to be in violation of her home confinement status. The Bureau of Prisons said she had failed to notify her halfway house of her movement between job sites.

So when Ricky got this call, it was a huge relief. Raquel being sent to Val Verde, they both figured, must have been a clerical or technical error, and besides, Raquel was pregnant. Who would send a pregnant woman, in the middle of a pandemic, back to prison? Common sense was prevailing, they thought.

Ricky bought a dozen roses, drove as fast as he could to Val Verde, and waited. And waited. She was not released.

Instead, Raquel – now seven months pregnant and still waiting for a COVID vaccine – was transferred to the Federal Medical Center in Carswell, Texas, a hot spot for the virus, for the remainder of her sentence. Her release date is 2022.

Raquel’s transfer to Carswell was only the latest step in a journey that has been full of highs and lows. In 2020, she was released to home confinement in 2020 under the CARES Act. A first-time offender, Raquel was sentenced in 2009 to 15 years on marijuana charges, and she’d missed so much of her three children’s young lives. So when she got out, she wasted no time. In May 2020, Raquel was hired by T Bar Drilling, Inc. Her boss, LuAnn Hutto, describes Raquel as “one of the most honest and hard-working people” she has ever employed. With Ricky, she began to rebuild their life together: He proposed, and in March of this year, they received the happy news that she was pregnant.

Life seemed full of hope and joy. But then came the news that the BOP believed she was in violation of her home confinement status, and she was sent to Val Verde.

Raquel’s situation is not unique: People serving extended time on home confinement are being held in violation and returned to prison for minor transgressions. Sending people back to prison for years because of technical and minor violations, especially when those people have been on home confinement for long periods of time, is cruel to families.

Ricky is beside himself with worry. “My biggest concern right now is the health of Raquel and Baby Silas and the fact that Raquel is not getting the best medical care. And a birth in prison means no bonding time between mother and baby.” In addition, Raquel’s other children are traumatized by having their mother ripped out of their lives — again.

“Even if she did make a mistake by missing a call, it should not result in placing her and our baby in harm’s way, in a prison where COVID is rampant. If the Bureau of Prisons won’t release Raquel during her pregnancy, I pray President Biden will intervene and grant Raquel clemency due to the extraordinary circumstance of her pregnancy during a pandemic.” It can’t happen too soon: Baby Silas is due in October.

Please share this story and spread the word about Raquel’s situation. The more people know about it, the more pressure builds for her release – either through clemency or the courts.

Raquel (left) and her fiancé, Ricky

Issue: Clemency