//Love & Money: These women with incarcerated loved ones are taking charge of their financial futures

Love & Money: These women with incarcerated loved ones are taking charge of their financial futures

Love & Money is a MarketWatch series looking at how our relationship with money impacts our relationships with significant others, friends and family.

Krystal Meredith was working as a consultant in the music industry when she met her now fiancé, LePreston Porter, a Memphis-born rapper known to fans as Snootie Wild.

“We had one meeting with each other. I never typically fraternize, but he pursued me so hard. I eventually gave him a date,” Meredith, 39, recalls of meeting the 34-year-old musician at the end of 2015.

Their first date was at a steakhouse in New Orleans. Meredith loved how attentive Porter was, surprising her just months after they met with a blouse in her favorite color, red, “just because.”

They got engaged two years later.

After her fiancé was sentenced to six years for criminal possession of a firearm, Krystal Meredith retrained as a real-estate leasing manager and says she makes about $35,000, excluding commissions. She also started a 401(k).

“He’s a super sweet country boy from Memphis, Tennessee with this gangster persona, but I got the home-cooked meals, the ‘let’s stay in and talk to my mom.’ I got to see the real him. He’s a good guy. We were inseparable.”

Meredith gave birth to their son in March 2018, a month after Porter was charged with criminal possession of a firearm. (It was not registered in the state of Texas, where he was arrested.)

“One night, after leaving the studio, he got pulled over. There was a weapon in the car and he got arrested,” Meredith said. Porter was sentenced to six years in a prison in Huntsville, Texas in March, 2018, 45 minutes from Houston where Meredith and her family live.

Meredith’s situation is not as unusual as one might think. One in seven adults has had an immediate family member go to jail or prison for at least a year; and of those, 1 in 34 adults have had a relative incarcerated for a decade or longer, according to a December 2018 study from Cornell University. That study estimates that 6.5 million adults (1 in 38) currently have an immediate relative incarcerated.

What’s more, lower-income families are more likely to have a loved one behind bars: More than half of adults making $25,000 a year or less are more likely to see a relative incarcerated compared with one-third of people making $100,000 or more a year.

Krystal Meredith trained in a new career

With a newborn baby and her fiancé away, Meredith had to take action to keep her finances afloat. She trained as a leasing manager for a real-estate company to bring in more money to support her family. She’s studying for her real-estate license in Houston.

“Getting pregnant, and this happening to [Porter] put me back into corporate America. You have to do what you have to do.”

Meredith talks on the phone with Porter everyday; a cost she says totals $200 a month. One in-person visit to see her fiancé for a one-hour visit costs between $250 to $300, including gas and a hotel room for the night. In total — including Porter’s commissary costs — she estimates everything amounts to as much as $500 a month. “It’s stressful of course, but I try to not portray that to him,” Meredith admits.

‘Life prior to him being sentenced is totally different. It has strengthened me a lot. I feel like I’ll never be in that position again, but if something like this did happen, I’d have a security blanket. It’s definitely been a huge adjustment, but I’m much smarter now.’


—Krystal Meredith, whose husband was sentenced to six years

Adjusting to her new normal financially has been a challenge. Porter, she says, helped tremendously. In her previous career as a music industry consultant, she worked from home and didn’t have child-care expenses.

That all changed. “I pay $200 a week now just to send the baby to a nursery,” she says. “That’s $800 a month outside of rent and the insurance bill. I’m looking at close to $2,800 a month in bills outside of the money I spend on him.”

Meredith says she makes about $35,000 a year not including commission she gets for every home she leases. Her situation has motivated her to start a 401(k), and work on building her savings. She puts $50 out of each paycheck away and is experimenting with mobile apps like Acorns to make small dollar investments with extra cash when she can. She’s saved up $6,000 since starting her new job.

“Life prior to him being sentenced is totally different,” Meredith says. “It has strengthened me a lot. I feel like I’ll never be in that position again, but if something like this did happen, I’d have a security blanket. It’s definitely been a huge adjustment, but I’m much smarter now.”

Having an incarcerated family member can be emotionally taxing and financially crippling for partners and spouses, especially when they experience the loss of income. Support groups like Strong Prison Wives and Families allow women to post in social media forums on Instagram and Facebook

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 asking questions like how to manage debt after a loved one goes away, or how to build up credit, but many are left to fend for themselves.

Jessica Mullins moved home when her husband was incarcerated

Jessica Mullins, 26, from Winston-Salem, N.C., had to move back in with her parents when her husband was sentenced to five to seven years at Pasquotank Correctional Center in North Carolina. five months ago on drug-related charges.

Courtesy of Jessica Mullins

Jessica Mullins became the sole breadwinner for her family when her husband was incarcerated.

“The things he was doing, they were wrong,” she says. “Everybody messes up, but I think when we found out we were pregnant, he just immediately said, ‘This is not the life I want for my son.’”

Her parents help watch their eight-month old so Mullins can work full-time as a caregiver making between $1,500 to $2,000 a month. Not paying for rent or child care has allowed her to send money to her husband and support their child. She’s committed to keeping a budget. One trick that’s helped her save up is putting aside spare $1 and $5 bills when she pays for things in cash.

Not paying for rent or child care has helped Jessica Mullins afford to send money to her husband in prison and support their child while he is away.

“Being the sole breadwinner of our family definitely has it challenges, but I wouldn’t trade my husband for the world,” Mullins told MarketWatch. “He made some bad choices, and he is paying for that, but that doesn’t make him a bad person. I want society to know just because someone is locked up doesn’t mean they are trash even though they tend to be treated as such,” Mullins says.

Visiting her husband takes a five-hour drive, so getting a hotel room and paying for gas costs Mullins up to $300 for just one visit every six to eight weeks, she says. That’s not including the $360 a month she spends on phone calls and sending money for her partner’s commissary items like food and hygiene products. For extra income to pay for it all, she is in the process of fixing up the home she lived in with her husband so she can sell it.

Cassandra Herrera learned how to budget when her husband was incarcerated

Saving up for long distance visits is something Cassandra Herrera, 41, is also familiar with. She moved her family across the country from New York to Colorado, and got a new job to be closer to her husband after he was incarcerated for absconding while on parole in 2017.

courtesy of cassandra herrera

Cassandra Herrera and her husband.

She found employment working with developmentally disabled people making $14.90 an hour. She deducts around $240 a month to provide for her partner while he’s away. Herrera drives two hours to see him every weekend, spending around $100 on gas. Budgeting has become imperative for her.

“Before I met my husband, I really didn’t budget. I have always been going paycheck to paycheck,” Herrera said. “Having to pay rent, and making sure he was taken care of and taking care of my kids, we figured out how much he needed for commissary and what we would go through a week as far as phone calls.”

So she’ll write down her monthly expenses and divide that number by two to figure out how much she needs to send to her husband, Herrera said.

The mental and financial hardship, Herrera says, will be worth it in the end when they can be a family again: “I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Everything we’ve gone through has only made me stronger.”

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