Novelist and poet Barbara Kingsolver once wrote that "sometimes the strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws." For one Chicago mother raising a large family alone in the West Side neighborhood of Austin, her strength was tested without remission every single day.
In the two-and-a-half years since she received a panicked call from her eldest daughter on the morning of March 28, 2012, she has been forced to call upon every ounce of courage and stamina she has.
She is the mother of Eisha Lovea 25-year-old trans woman of color who was arrested that morning on initial charges of aggravated battery after fleeing a verbal and physical assault by two men at an Austin gas station, and then allegedly striking and injuring one of the men with her car. Love has since been held in protective custody in the maximum-security Division 9 of the Cook County Jail awaiting trial for attempted first-degree murder.
Love's mother agreed to an interview with Windy City Times. For her own protection and that of her children, she asked to be identified under an alias, "Callie." At the time of our interview, she had just returned from work to a meticulously kept home that is in stark contrast to the derelict, semi-abandoned street outside. She began by proudly sharing the achievements of each of her children, showing off their diplomas and pictures containing faces that were handsome, adorable and elegant.
When she displayed a picture of Love from a modeling photo session taken before the young woman's arrest, her eyes began to moisten. "Isn't she beautiful?" She smiled. Soft-spoken and with an unassuming nature often betrayed by a gentle laugh, there is an undeniable, straightforward sincerity about Callie's character. During the course of the conversation, this led to melancholy admissions about her mistakes in life. There are moments when, with the innate quality of a mother, she completely shoulders the blame for her daughter's predicament even though the story of Love's childhood lacks a key figure.
"Eisha's father was in her life financially," Callie said. "Anyway, he was a drug dealer and at the time I was maybe 18. He would take care of her and buy her clothes or whatever she needed but there [was] no time spent [with her] and that's the most important thing."
However, Callie also conceded to her own drug-related problems that had an effect on Love's early life. "I was messed up, too," Callie said. "So Eisha was like the babysitter who took care of my younger kids for me. As she grew older, I guess she developed some anger towards meyou know like talking back and being disrespectfulfor what I put her through during my addiction. But I wasn't there like I should've been for my child and I hate that."
When Love came out at the age of 14, Callie said the child's father began to shy away completely. "At first Eisha came out as a gay boy," she said. "And then she came out as a transsexual, so it was like a double whammy. She was a good kid but I always felt something wasn't right because she used to play in my heels or my gowns. She played with mostly girls. She didn't spend a lot of time around guys but I was still hoping and praying that it wasn't true."
Eventually, Callie not only came to accept Love as an energetic, ambitious and outgoing young woman, but she also became proud of her. That appeared to have done wonders for Love's self esteem. "I was with it," Callie said with a smile. "I let everybody know 'that's my girl' because when Eisha was in the room, she was looking better than some of these real women out here. I mean, she liked to dress nice, she wanted to be a real lady and she was looking real good."
When Callie visits her daughter in the jail and sees her robbed of her make-up and an appearance in which Love invested so much time and energy, the memories of her flourishing young beauty take on a significance that is particularly agonizing. "When I go see her, it hurts me," Callie said. "I hate it so much because I know how my child likes to look."
As for the circumstances which lead to Love being locked in a 22-hour per-day cell in a male prison, Callie recalled being awoken on the morning of March 28, 2012 by her daughter's terrified voice on the other end of the phone. "She said 'Mom, come get me. These boys, they're trying to kill me!'"
At the time, Callie was living with her fiancÃƒ©a man who was active in each of his stepchildren's lives but who has since passed away from cancer. They hurriedly dressed, jumped into Callie's pick-up and frantically drove up and down Maypole Streetabout a block and a half from where the incident occurred. After calling Love on her cell phone, Callie eventually found her daughter hiding between two buildings. "She was scared to death! For her life!" Callie remembered. "I kept telling her to calm down."
They immediately drove Love back to the scene of the accident. Less than 15 minutes had passed since her initial call. "The car was on the curb and there was one police car," Callie said. "There was an officer just sitting out there waiting for the tow truck to come and impound it."
She added that she didn't see any sign of the man Love allegedly struck, there was no ambulance or anything else that would signal a serious crime had been committed. There were only six or seven male bystanders on the corner of Washington and Kilbourn who began to walk toward her truck. "They must have spotted [Eisha] in the truck," Callie said. "They kept staring and saying some shit like 'We're going to get you.' I was thinking they were going to do something to me."
Even though Callie told the police officer that Love was in her truck, he did not place her under arrest. "He said, 'You need to take him up to Kedzie and Harrison.'" Callie recalled. "So that's exactly what I did. I told Eisha 'you ain't done nothing wrong' and I told her to call me when they were through questioning her. But when she did call me, she said, 'Mom, they're going to keep me.' I wasn't thinking she was going to stay in there. I thought they were going to question her and go over some things and then let her out. Ever since then, she's been locked up."
It was last year, Callie remembered, that somebody in the neighborhood told her the girl who was with Love in the car had been killed. "I am scared for my child's life," Callie said. "I mean when she gets out, I'm going to have to put her on a plane or a bus or something. She can't come this way. No way. Because they're not through with this."
Windy City Times asked Callie who she was referring to. "Them boys," she said, indicating to the men who were present when she drove Love back to the scene of the accident. "Them boys who were over there. I'm almost sure it was a gang. This ain't over with."
Callie had nobly maintained her composure throughout the entire conversation with Windy City Times. But, as she began to relate how frightened she is for her daughter's future, she gradually hunched over and a stream of agonized tears fell onto her dining room table. "I just want it to be over. It worries me a lot just knowing that she's in there. I just want it to be over," she repeated again and again, barely able to form words through her tears. "I didn't think it would be going on this long. It hurts so bad to see your child like that and I can't do nothing. I can't help her get out of there. I want her to get out of there so she can live the rest of her life, that's all."
Between visits to Love, all Callie has been able to do is helplessly watch the sporadic proceedings in court and try to make some sense of what is happening there. "There was a tape from the gas station," she recalled by way of example. "But they didn't let us see it that day. I never got a chance to see it. I don't think they said a reason. I don't know what's going on. I don't know what to say to these people."
Callie's spirits were lifted when one of her children showed her the recent Change.org petition that was started on Love's behalf. "It made me happy to see that," she said. "It's a good feeling to know that these people don't even know my child and they're with her."
During her visits to her daughter in Division 9, separated from her by a Plexiglass wall, Callie is only able to express her love through a small red grate. Summoning what remains of her strength and a dignity that is denied even the family members of inmates, Callie tries to keep Love safe from what she admits is her own temptation to just give up and accept the situation they have been handed.
"I just try to encourage her to be strong," Callie said. "She's my child and I love her just the same. They can't keep her in there forever. I just keep telling her that it's going to be all right."
NEXT WEEK: Windy City Times journeys to Love's neighborhood of Austin for an in-depth look at the lives of trans women of color who are on the streets, and the social workers who are trying to protect them. The story examines a disturbing and continuing trend of violence and intimidation, and a possible link between the incident involving Love and the subsequent murders of trans women Paige Clay and Tiffany Goodenone that has led many to question what is being done by law enforcement and city leaders.
See related stories: