Elisa Becerra, a psychiatric technician at the California Mens Colony for a decade, is accustomed to a certain level of stress. Each work day, upon stepping through the gates, she comes face to face with some of the prisons most emotionally troubled inmates. Now, though, that stress has come home.
Becerra, 32, made more than $50,000 a year before the state announced that it was furloughing employees, essentially cutting pay 15 percent.
A single mother of four children ages 2½ to 10 she wondered how the family would survive on her shrinking monthly income.
The furlough pretty much took the money I had to pay my rent, said Becerra, who pays $1,200 a month for a modest single-story home in San Miguel. I asked myself, Am I going to have to move? Am I going to have to move out of state?
I was beside myself and in tears.
Shortly after Becerra found out about the furlough, she sought out a colleague, a psychiatrist at the prison, and he helped me to focus on the kids at home, not the financial stress and strain.
He saw me under stress and offered his support, she said.
Caring for her children Rosaley, Krysta, Mia and Moses is helping her keep the troubles in perspective, but she said its not easy telling them that they can no longer afford to go out to dinner, the movies or take road trips. Becerra is struggling to keep up the payments on the family van and recently worked some overtime to help make ends meet.
To cut back, its a day at the park or anything else thats free.
The life changes have not been lost on the children, especially her 10-year-old math whiz, Rosaley, and Krysta, an artistic 8-year-old.
I worry that we wont be able to pay the rent and that well have to move away, Rosaley said. Im not taking things for granted. I guess the most important thing to me is to still have a roof over my head.
Rosaley and her siblings excel in school and have not had any discipline or emotional problems, Becerra said. But they are concerned about their future stability and often behave as if they are wise beyond their years, she noted.
When Becerra mentioned to Krysta recently that she should follow her dreams, she asked her mother what would happen if she didnt have enough money to pay for her education. Becerra told her she would find a way.
I dont mean for them to see me under pressure, Becerra said. Sometimes, its unavoidable and it contributes to them feeling like they have to be more responsible. Becerra, one of eight children, said she understands what its like not to have the basics, and she wanted more for her own family.
Theyve never demanded much as far as material things go, and theyre OK with what we have, she said. But the ability to give them more was within my reach. Now, Becerra says, the state cuts have taken that.