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Grief, anger beset fallen hero's mother
She had been beaten by one man after another, depressed, addicted to drugs and jailed for narcotics possession. But the worst chapter in Angela Cabral's tragic American story seemed to have come two winters ago, when she woke in the Weber County Jail from a terrifying dream.
She rushed to the phone.
"Tell me what has happened to my son," she begged her sister.
The answer came as a question: "How did you find out?"
Juan Carlos Banuelos Cabral, fighting in Iraq on behalf of a nation that had not yet granted him citizenship, died Jan. 31, 2004, when his unarmored Humvee struck a roadside bomb. To those who knew how hard the 25-year-old soldier had worked to become a citizen, it was more of an insult than an honor when the official papers came on the day they put him in the ground.
Grieving, angry and unwilling to claim any compensation from the Army, Angela Cabral sank deeper into depression, abuse and addiction.
Today, she's back behind bars, sleeping on the top bunk of a bed in an overcrowded housing facility at the Utah State Prison - an unlikely place to find someone who understands her grief.
And that solitude appears to be a final gift in her 30-year stay in the United States.
Upon Cabral's release, officials say, she will be deported to Mexico.
245 days: Court records indicate Angela Cabral was given several chances to right her life.
She pleaded guilty to drug possession - her first criminal charge since moving to the United States three decades ago - just days before her son was killed.
Initially ordered to be deported for the felony, records indicate 2nd District Court Judge Parley Baldwin amended the sentence, in the wake of the death of Cabral's son, allowing her to instead serve three years of probation.
But a year later, Cabral was back in custody. In March 2005, South Ogden police officers arrested her and a companion on charges of drug possession. She told the officers she had been using meth and cocaine.
This time, prosecutors agreed to let Cabral attend drug court - a monitored treatment program for people whose criminal troubles stem directly from their addictions.
Cabral found employment at a bakery. And court records from most of 2005 tell a story of success common to the program.
"Defendant has been clean for 174 days . . . "
"Defendant has been clean for 188 days . . . "
"202 days . . . "
"230 days . . . "
"245 days . . . "
'She did everything': Angela Cabral won't say why she began using drugs. She insists, in fact, that she only had a spat of trouble with addiction in 1998 and has been clean ever since.
Court and police records tell a different story - and provide some clues as to where her troubles may have begun.
Since 1987, Cabral has filed for restraining orders against four different men - two of whom were subsequently charged with beating her.
Deeny Otanez, who provides counseling for battered women, said it is not uncommon for those with a history of abuse to repeatedly fall into violent relationships.
And often, Otanez said, perpetual victims of domestic abuse turn to drugs, commonly the stimulant methamphetamine, to help them cope.
"I think that in many cases, women do try to self-medicate themselves through alcohol or drugs," Otanez said. "For anxiety or fear or depression or a sense of helplessness . . . to get away from all of that, to escape from their circumstances."
But if Cabral's addictions went back as long as the abuse she suffered, her family didn't notice.
"She was such an awesome grandma," said Anita Cabral, the widow of Juan Carlos and mother of his two sons. "She did everything for my husband, everything for me and my boys."
Family members say Angela Cabral was extremely close to her second-born son, who worked full time while in high school to help provide for his mother and younger siblings. Though Juan Carlos told his mother that joining the military would help him provide for their family, she begged him not to go.
"But he told me, 'I have to do this, mama,' " Angela Cabral recalled. " 'I have to do this for this country.' "
It was about that time, Anita Cabral said, that her mother-in-law began showing signs of trouble and addiction.
"The story goes that she started doing it after Juan joined the Army because she couldn't handle it," Anita Cabral said.
'I couldn't let them see her': Though the drug court program appeared to help Cabral clean up her life in 2005, the grieving mother had not resolved the anger and frustration she felt after Juan Carlos' death.
Nor had she mended a relationship with her daughter-in-law, who refused to subject her children to a drug-addicted grandmother.
"After losing my husband, I couldn't let them see her like that," Anita Cabral said.
With the second anniversary of her son's death approaching, incapable of finding happiness in the winter holidays and upset over the loss of a connection to her son through her grandchildren, Angela Cabral appears to have lost her desire to stay clean.
Drug court officials say Cabral phoned her counselor Dec. 4 to admit to taking Lortab - a prescription painkiller easily available and commonly abused. Two days later, she tested positive for methamphetamine use.
By the end of the month, she had tested positive for meth use six times.
On the second anniversary of Juan Carlos' death, Cabral was back in the jail she'd been in when she had learned he had been killed.
'I don't know what to tell Him': At a January hearing before 2nd District Court Judge Ernie Jones, Cabral admitted she had failed to abide by the rules but begged to remain in the drug court program.
But with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement once again asking for Cabral's deportation, drug court officials said they couldn't keep her any longer. The "hold" placed on Cabral by immigrations agents would be the final straw - there was little sense, they reasoned, in allowing someone who was going to be deported to take a spot in the program.
Jones sentenced Cabral to serve time at the Utah State Prison for drug possession. Once released by the prison's parole board, she was to be handed over to immigrations agents for deportation.
Weeks into her stay at the Timpanogos housing unit on the north end of Utah's prison complex in Draper, Cabral doesn't have so much as a photograph of her dead son and has yet to hear from any of her family members.
She bides her time working in the prison kitchen and reading a Spanish-language Bible, which she keeps tucked between the mattress and the wire frame of her bunk when it's not on her lap.
"I can't sleep. I'm so worried," Cabral said. "I've been in the United States since 1975. I don't know how to start over in Mexico. It's so hard for me to accept that I'm going to be deported.
"I'm 45 years old, but I feel like I'm 90," she said. She prays for comfort, but she doesn't know what to ask for. "I don't know what to tell Him," she says.
'I can definitely understand': Support for the families of fallen service members often comes in the form of cards and quilts, paintings and flowers, medals and memorial donations.
For many, the extent of community compassion - often from complete strangers - is overwhelming. In the bleakest times it can be uplifting.
But in jail at the time of her son's death, Angela Cabral was privy to little commiseration. And by the time of her release, her grief had been overshadowed by that of hundreds of other families.
Back behind bars, now awaiting deportation, Cabral had given up on the thought of ever finding someone who might be able to understand her pain.
On Tuesday she followed a fellow inmate to the chapel, no longer expecting to find support but simply seeking comfort.
She certainly didn't expect to find a miracle.
New inmates in the group are asked to share a bit about themselves. Cabral noted that she was in pain - that years of abuse had stolen her self-respect.
And that the Iraq war had stolen her son.
"That," came the voice of Carol Thomas Young, a volunteer who leads the Tuesday evening Bible study sessions at Timpanogos, "is something I can definitely understand."
'It was like a miracle': Young decided more than a year and a half ago that she wanted to minister to prison inmates as a way to help others.
But in the wake of the May 7, 2005, death of her son in Iraq, she found that the weekly sessions were every bit as soothing to her own damaged soul.
"You know, these women, they started praying for me," Young said. "Isn't that just amazing? They were praying for me. What I found was there is such a relationship with them, and it has been so helpful for me."
Now, face to face with another woman whose pain she had the uncommon capacity to comprehend, Young was once again in the position of giving solace to another.
"After Brandon died, I got a huge amount of support, an outpouring of friends and family, of the public in general," Young said.
"I got letters from people I never knew. And she had not had any of that."
Together, the grieving mothers prayed that Cabral would find comfort. That her anger would heal. That her situation would be resolved.
"I'd never met anyone who had also lost a son like this," Cabral said of the moments she spent with Young. "It was so good to cry and pray with her. It was like a miracle."
The women will have a few more opportunities to meet, but time appears short. Prison officials say the parole board usually reviews cases like Cabral's within a few months of an inmate's arrival. At that time, it is likely the board will order Cabral's release.
And that, according to prison records, should trigger her deportation.
Cabral remains frightened by the prospect of returning to Mexico. She has family there but is unsure whether they will take her in.
But having been delivered one miracle, in the form of Carol Thomas Young, she believes God is watching over her.
"And I think," she said, "that my son is watching, too."