Utah’s prison and its moms: “We love our children as much as the next”

Oct 10, 2023, 7:00 AM | Updated: 11:02 am

Danielle Lundberg and Amanda Magaña are pictured, they are both moms in a utah prison...

Danielle Lundberg (left) and Amanda Magaña (right). (Trisha Reynolds/UDC)

(Trisha Reynolds/UDC)

SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly three out of every four women in Utah’s prisons are moms to children under 18 years old.

Danielle Lundberg has five kids. Her youngest is 5 months old. The last time she saw her, she was 8 weeks old. That was the day she went back to prison after a drug relapse.

Amanda Magaña has five kids. Her youngest is 1 year old. She had six kids, but one passed away a year ago, while she was in prison.

Both moms are doing time on drug-related offenses.

Lundberg started doing drugs when she was 12, the year before her father went to prison.

“He’s been in prison my whole life,” she said.

Magaña started using when she was 30, just three years ago.

“I had a bad relationship, and it led to bad choices,” she explained.

This is a common story among the women at the prison.

Three-quarters of Utah’s prison is made up of moms

Lundberg’s kids are having trouble without their mom around.

“Not great,” Lundberg said. “My little girl, my 9-year-old, she pulls out her eyelashes, her eyebrows, and now she’s pulling out the hair on her head. My newborn stopped gaining weight after I left. It’s hard to explain to my 3-year-old where I’m at. He’s always asking me. My 13-year-old just acts like everything is okay.”

Magaña described her kids as doing pretty well.

“My 15-year-old is doing alright,” Magaña said. “She has to play mom for her other siblings. My 13-year-old is pretty good because he has frequent visits with me. My 1-year-old I haven’t seen since he was 5 days old. My 7-year-old has some behavioral concerns because I’m not there.”

Magaña’s kids are living with her husband. She said her relationship with him is good “for the kids. I talk to my kids daily and my husband once a week. I get to see them once a week for two hours.”

Things are not that good for Lundberg.

“I just pretend most days that I don’t have children because it’s the only way to get through,” Lundberg said. “There are other moms in here who never get to see their kids or talk to their kids, so there are people who have it worse than me.”

When Lundberg goes before the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, she knows what she wants to tell them.

“I’ll tell the board how hard it is to be a mom in prison. I gave birth to my 3-year-old when I was in prison. I didn’t make it to the hospital. I gave birth in the ambulance at 2 in the morning. And there are two girls in my section who are pregnant, and I don’t want to see them go through it.”

Magaña knows what she will tell the Parole Board, too.

“I would be the most selfish person in the world if I were to relapse because I have so much that I’ve had to leave behind and leave on other people’s hands that I should never have done. It’s taken a lot to learn my lesson, but this time I’ve actually learned it.”

“We love our children”

“We’re like everyone else,” Lundberg said. “That line gets blurred. They hear the word prison, and they think that we’re monsters. We need to put a face to the moms who are in prison. People don’t get to see what’s going on in these walls. Jail isn’t as bad. It’s just a word. People need to understand that we’re all people too, and we love our children just as much as the next mom.”

“For us to be able to be moms from here, it’s super expensive,” Magaña said. “A lot of people don’t think of that. DCFS wants me to have conversations with my kids, but it gets super expensive. People don’t realize that. They think we’re in here just on a vacation or something.”

Both women hope their kids will learn from their mistakes.

“I just hope that they learn from my mistakes and don’t make the same decisions I’ve made, and they keep on the steady path that they’re on right now,” Magaña said. “They’re good kids. They’re good students. They’re very respectful. Just don’t follow my example.”

“I really hope that they don’t turn out like I did,” Lundberg added.” My dad said the same thing about me, but the cycle has to change and it starts with me. I remember when my dad went to prison, and I said I would never do that to my children. And here I am following in his footsteps. I know exactly what it’s like to have parents who are incarcerated.”

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Utah’s prison and its moms: “We love our children as much as the next”