Elena Bost, a retiree in Deming, speaks first in the interview for this story, before I ask a question.
“Suppose you have a man that’s been in prison ten years,” she says. “He arrives in Deming on the bus and has just $50, which is all they give them at the prison, and no job. He has no place to live, nothing to eat. He probably is going to rob someone, or sell drugs. Remember, this man still has to eat.”
Bost and her husband, Joe, have been involved in prison issues for years, as members of CURE (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants) since the early 1990s. They were born near Cuba, New Mexico, in the thirties and lived most of their adult life in Colorado Springs.
“We worked for many, many years in family support groups there,” she says. “Joe and I had the south chapter in Colorado.” They lived 47 years “in or near” Colorado Springs and have lived in Deming seven years.
For their regular jobs, Joe Bost did “a little bit of everything, but mostly carpentry,” she says. “I worked various jobs. Once I managed a cattle ranch for four years.” Elena takes the lead in their activism, as Joe is
a man of very few words.
In the support groups their main aims have been to help families keep contact with their loved ones in prison and to promote high school or vocational education for inmates, for the purpose of preventing recidivism. Bost has given talks on the issues about 10 or 12 times and written articles for newspapers. She also speaks out against the U.S. War on Drugs.
The Bosts got involved because their son was sent to prison. “It was for dealing drugs and car thefts,”she says. “The first time was when he was 19. The third time was when he was 31. He’s been out now for 14 years, and he’s been doing very well.”
“He learned the air-conditioning trade in the prison in Fort Worth,” she says. “He was prepared to succeed.”
Bost says that sometimes when she’s talking to a group, people will say to her, “I taught my child right.”
“I look right at them and say, ‘We did, too. Some of them learn, some of them don’t,’” she says. “He was an honor student in school.”
Bost has helped many families cope with the emotional issues of having a family member in jail. “It gives people a safe place to ask questions,” she says.
“The first time they go to prison, it’s just ‘one of those things,’” she says. “The second time it’s, ‘What did we do?’”
“Sometimes you take things out on your younger children,” she says. “You don’t realize it, but you do. In turn,
they’re mad at you.”
She has taught parents to sit down with their kids and discuss what happened. “I’ve known people that even lied to their kids,” she says.
“We encourage families to stay connected. Sometimes the prisons are so far away that it’s very, very hard. We want them to see that kids can at least occasionally visit their parents. A lot of these kids do not do well.”
Many relatives simply don’t know how to deal with the system. Bost tells of one Hispanic woman who was very concerned about her son in prison who was a diabetic.
“He was not doing very well at all, and wasn’t getting medicine,” she says. “I asked her who his case manager was,
and she didn’t know. So I gave her the name of his case manager.” The son then got what he needed.
“Eight months later, this man called me and thanked me for helping him,” says Bost.
In relation to what she wants to communicate to families of prisoners, she first says, “Don’t ever giveup.”
She then gives more explicit advice about how to deal with the prison system during visits to their relatives:
“Don’t argue with the guards. Follow the guidelines completely, including the dress code. You have every right to asks questions of the person at the gate. You can say, ‘I don’t understand this.’ ‘May I talk to the supervisor?’ You can even talk to the warden.”
“Some people don’t know you have to be on an approved list (to visit prisoners),”says Bost. She knows of one family that drove 175 miles to Sterling, Colorado, and got turned back.
Bost was not allowed to enter the Luna County Detention Center in Deming when she tried to go there after the tasing incident in March 2011 when an inmate died. She thinks this was because of her activism.
As far as local chapters of CURE, she says there isn’t one in Las Cruces. She says the one in Albuquerque is “kind of going under. They’re struggling to keep the organization alive.” She and Joe are the CURE representatives in New Mexico.
She has not been doing public speaking after she and her husband were in a car accident in March 2013 while driving to a meeting with the national organization of CURE in Tijeras, east of Albuquerque. Someone ran a red light and hit their car in Albuquerque. “I was to be the principal speaker,” she says.
But the couple is “doing OK” now, and she says she is ready for more speaking engagements if anyone is interested. She’ll turn 80 in July and is in very good condition.
Bost says the most important problems in the prison systems are the “lack of educational programs and of medical care.”
She believes more medical treatment is needed to combat addictions, especially for meth and cocaine.
In relation to the need for education, she gives the example of her son. “After taking training, he had to pay them $600.”
“Man, that was a good thing,” her son told her. He didn’t mind paying for something that helped him establish a career.
She’s critical of the United States’ war on drugs, which has put so many people in prison. “I don’t know what to do about it, but what we’re doing isn’t working,” she says. “Let’s try a different approach.”
Elena Bost of New Mexico CURE may be contacted at NMCURE@gmail or (575) 546-9003.