Torres: Jail term a kind of ‘blessing’

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

PEARL – Three months past her 20th birthday, Mississippi inmate No. 1587454 speaks with uncertainty and hope toward her release.
“I should be home by November,” says the once-Union County schoolgirl, Marainna Torres.
Where “home” will be isn’t clear yet.
But Torres speculates it could, at first, be to a Ridgeland halfway house and later to her own place with help.
She says she’d like to get a job or go back to school to be a cosmetologist.
“There are still a lot of questions,” the dark-haired young woman admits, noting she’ll still be on five years of probation after her release from Central Mississippi Correctional Facility at Pearl.
Marainna Torres has spent her past three birthdays behind bars.
Speaking by telephone, she says she counts the past three years as “a blessing” for herself, in an odd kind of way.
Torres first saw the inside of a jail in June 2008 after her arrest in the shocking death of her 2-year-old adopted sister, Enna.
Their story went international with the gruesome discovery of filth and violence at the rural Union County home she shared with her mother and stepfather, Janet and Ramon Barreto, their 6-year-old daughter and seven infants they adopted from Guatemala.
At 17, Torres said she lost emotional control and threw Enna across a room into an unmattressed baby bed after her mother ordered her to discipline the child.
Today, she’s completed her GED or high school equivalency exam and continues with weekday classes in what the Mississippi Department of Corrections labels “family dynamnics.”
“It’s a lot of stuff I needed – basic skills like cooking and anger management that I didn’t learn when I was growing up,” Torres explains.
Alodia Cruz, Torres’ friend and former teacher, remembers her as “a sweet, sweet girl” who was quiet in the Victory Life School setting, but a good student who got along with everybody.
“Nobody could believe it,” she said recently, recalling the days after Enna died. “We had no idea what was going on in that house.”
Enna died of multiple trauma, which first was blamed on a fictional fall from a shopping cart while the family was in Memphis on May 19, 2008.
Testimony at Torres’ 2010 sentencing showed that her mother turned over the children full time to the teenager, forced to drop out of high school to take care of them.
In 2008, Union County sheriff’s investigator Roger Garner’s sworn affidavit against the couple stated that Torres was “overwhelmed” by these 24/7 duties and responsibilities, “which led to the death of Enna Barreto.”
The Barretos pleaded not guilty to a 10-count indictment alleging child endangerment, felony child abuse and manslaughter by culpable negligence. Later, Janet Barreto was accused of witness intimidation after a phone call to a jailed Torres, allegedly to tell her to lie about Enna’s death.
Torres was sentenced to five years in prison, the rest of the children were taken from the Barretos and adopted into other families. To avoid prosecution, the Barretos took off, likely to his family in Mexico.
U.S. marshals continue to seek their extradition to Mississippi.
Light at the end
Today, Torres says she sees a light at the end of the dark tunnel.
Her estimated release date is October 2012, but with the state’s allowance for 30 days off a sentence for every 30 days served, she’s optimistic.
She’s also relieved to know that a recent, self-described “stupid” rule violation at CMCF will not tarnish her hopes.
“It’s the first time I’ve got into trouble, but everything’s OK now,” she notes.
The violation sent her to Women’s Maximum Security for 13 days.
Otherwise, it’s rise at 5 a.m., breakfast at 6:30, then to school and back to her confinement facility by 4:30 p.m.
“We can watch TV or whatever, have dinner and then lights out at 10 p.m.,” Torres says.
On weekends, she can stay up until 2 a.m.
She’s learned to play cards, chiefly Spades.
She says she loves to write, especially as an emotional release from what troubles her.
“I can listen to the radio and just write, maybe a poem, to let everything out,” Torres explains. “Maybe I’ll write a letter to myself and just tear it up.”
At home with the Barretos, she recalls, “I held it all in.”
Looking back, Torres says she gets surprised reactions sometimes when she tells fellow inmates that she “actually gained more freedom in prison” than she’d had in the so-called free world of home.
She remembers the ceremony when she received her GED. Her instructor asked if she thought she would have earned it otherwise.
“No, I wouldn’t,” Torres said she told her.
At CMCF, Torres says she realizes that despite her obviously punitive situation, she’s better off than before Enna died.
“I’ve had a lot of opportunities here,” she admits.
“Sometimes I lay on my rack and think about how blessed I am. Things could have happened.”
Torres refers to the fact that the little girl’s death and her arrest exposed the perilous situation they all were in, living in an environment of alleged sadism and neglect.
Authorities reported that the children often were bound to their chairs with duct tape and punished with hot pepper sauce in their mouths. Torres also confirmed harsh beatings.
“Enna’s death saved all the others,” Torres says. “I think about it every day.”
All the children were adopted into families, and people close to the situation say they are happy and doing well.
Among her hopes is a reunion, “someday, if they will let me” she says, with the children her mother ordered her to care for every day.
“I’m glad they are somewhere safe. I miss them a lot.”
But she also admits concern for her mother, a 39-year-old morbidly obese woman, plagued by numerous serious health problems.
“As much as she hurt us, she gave birth to me, and I still have a heart,” Torres says. “I wonder if she’s OK, but whatever God wants will happen.”
Torres says she doesn’t know where her mother and stepfather are and hasn’t heard from either since she’s been at CMCF.
Cruz says she’s visited Torres and they’ve talked a little about her future, chiefly where she will go when she completes her prison term.
Torres still has immediate family in Mississippi. Her father lives in Pontotoc County, and during her 2010 sentence hearing, she said she hoped she could live with him, if she wasn’t sent to prison.
That may not be a viable option now, and Torres didn’t mention it last week.
Cruz says she is sure Torres’ old friends at Victory school and church will help her find a place, if she needs them.
patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com