Helen Taylor and her daughters are picking up their lives two years after meth bust
In the two years that Helen Taylor bounced through the state’s prison system, working off a sentence for a gnawing methamphetamine addiction, her two teenage daughters were left behind to fend for themselves.
Taylor, 51, missed out on high school graduations and many coming-of-age rituals for her two deeply thoughtful and artistic girls, Wrae and Whitney Bradford.
“In the beginning, it was so surreal,” Whitney said recently, cuddled on the couch with her mom and sister. “I actually had a lot of really intense anger. I really regret that.”
When Taylor was sent to prison in February 2007, Wrae and Whitney were girls, but the two now are 20 and 21. After being released from prison late last month, Taylor has returned to find her daughters have grown into women, and a bit of a role reversal has occurred.
“I moved here with nothing. I don’t have a full-time income. They’re supporting their mother,”
Taylor said, tearing up and turning her eyes to her daughters. “My goal is for me to be earning money to afford for them to go to college.”
Whitney and Wrae are both employed and rent a Fruitvale home. Taylor plans to move in with them after she clears provisions of her parole, but for now she lives with her sister, Kim Reid.
Reid took in Taylor’s daughters while she served two years of her three-year sentence.
The effects of Taylor’s meth addiction, for all of the injustices it levied against her daughters, has helped her daughters to become more resilient, Wrae and Whitney said.
For starters, the two said they never felt the slightest pressure to dabble in drugs. They know too well their toll.
Taylor said she first started using drugs while the family lived in California, when the girls were 6 and 7. During some of the darker times, the girls recall the electricity being turned off in the family home and having to keep food cold in the garage. Wrae recalls having to call a taxi to go to school, “because there was no other way to get there.”
Taylor’s then-husband, who is Wrae and Whitney’s father, always made sure to directly pay the rent and the girls’ private school tuition. It was his way to deal with Taylor’s addiction without condoning it, the women said.
“I’m extremely against drugs,” Wrae said, her face stern.
Barely a second later, she turned to her mom and said, “Thank you for being the bad example that set me straight.”
That, of course, sent the trio into peals of laughter. After all they’ve been through, there’s no need for reservations. These days they hold each other close and giggle at inside jokes.
Since Taylor’s release from prison, the three lately have been cramming in all of the fun stuff they missed out on as a family. They spend time watching all the good movies that came out during Taylor’s incarceration, and Wrae and Whitney pass along books their mom just has to read.
While the home is now filled with nonstop ribbing, home life hasn’t always been so carefree.
Whitney and Wrae admit they were angry at their mother. In the beginning of her incarceration, they weren’t immediately able to visit as she was moved from county jails to the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, to a prison in Brush and then to a halfway home in Craig.
It wasn’t until Taylor settled into the Craig facility, months into her sentence, that Wrae and Whitney saw their mom again.
Wrae burst into tears when she was told, after having made the three-hour trip north, that she wouldn’t be able to see her mom that day because of a paperwork glitch. Wrae finally was allowed the visit, and she crumbled, sobbing into her mom’s embrace.
“It feels like you lost a person,” Wrae said, recalling those days. “You don’t know when you’re going to see that person again. I went through all the stages of grief.”
After being addicted to meth when her daughters were young, Taylor said she steered clear of drugs for about a decade. In 2000, the family moved from California to Grand Junction.
While her girls were enrolled in a local Christian school, Taylor said she worked full time and was a volunteer with their church and school. She had plans to work with a jailhouse ministry.
When she started to dabble in meth again, she thought she could be a functioning drug user.
“It got me by the butt,” Taylor said, shaking her head. “I got spun out like a monkey. I put my kids through hell. There comes a time when you’re not doing the dope anymore, the dope’s doing you.”
Taylor was arrested after a police officer pulled her vehicle over and found a baggie with residue that tested positive for meth. She was charged with a low-level felony. Taylor said after investigators sent the drugs to a lab to be tested, the weight came back as 1.4 ounces of meth, enough to be considered for a distribution charge. Prosecutors increased Taylor’s felony charge.
Soon after, in another incident, Taylor said she was found with prescription pills outside of their container. Taylor said she had a prescription for the pills, but she pleaded guilty to that charge.
The felony drug case, however, she took to trial and was convicted by a jury.
Taylor said while prison was not that difficult for her, she regrets missing the opportunity to care for her terminally ill mother. In the nursing field, Taylor always expected she would be the sibling to care for her mom. Taylor said she secured an 18-hour pass from prison when she got word that her mother’s health was deteriorating rapidly. She said she crawled into bed with her mom, who died in her arms during the night.
Taylor said the way she dealt with being incarcerated was to view it as, “If God intends for me to be in prison, that’s where I’ll be.”
Still, Taylor said, with the help of her family, she knows she’s stronger now and won’t fall back into meth’s grip.
“I have to make my own mistakes, but I don’t have to make my own mistakes over again,” she said.
Plus, her daughters said they won’t let their mom go down that path again.
Whitney said she was never embarrassed telling friends her mother was in prison.
For Wrae, the experience shattered her beliefs that people are either good or evil.
“It’s opened my mind to the humanity of defendants,” she said. “They are mothers, sisters, and they are children. Their actions broke a thousand hearts, but the actions thereafter can break a thousand more. … They’re not case numbers. They’re people with families.”