© submitted
Louann Bowers
She will be released having served the time once a parole plan is done.

Louann Emma Bowers, the mother who hid her five children from the world, apologized to them in York County Court Wednesday before she was sentenced to 11½ to 23 months in county prison.

She said she kept her children from public life, choosing to live with them "underground" in sometimes squalid conditions because she was "selfish."

She said she ran away at 16 because she had been sexually abused.

She watched her father beat her mother "night after night after night."

She said her father's nickname for her was "My failure."

"No, I'm not a failure," she said. "I have to show my children I'm not a bad mother. I also have to show the world I'm not a bad mother."

Bowers, 34, and her husband, Sinhue Johnson, 46, an uncle by marriage, both were charged with five counts of endangering the welfare of a child in September 2010. Bowers pleaded no contest in May. Johnson's case is still pending.

Since she's been in prison since September 2010, Bowers is up for release soon, and could be released in the coming weeks once a parole plan is completed.

Wednesday, senior prosecutor Amy Eyster argued for consecutive sentences of two to four years plus five years probation. She informed Judge Richard K. Renn that Bowers "violated her duty to care for her children" and still denied living with the children in a condemned South Duke Street home with no heat, electricity or running water.

Eyster said, that as each child was born, Bowers and Johnson "had the opportunity to come forward..."

Bowers' court-appointed attorney, Ron Gross, told Renn, "She could have walked into court and said, 'Look at me. I'm absolutely crazy.'"

Instead, Gross said, "She said, 'I'm selfish.'"

Gross conceded she caused the children harm both education and socially.

But, he said, the children in their victim impact statements did not mention living in uncomfortable, potentially hazardous conditions.

"The said they missed gardening, they missed the things their mom did with them, they missed their parents," he said.

Gross argued the most difficult part of Bowers' future will be returning to society.

"Jail is easy for her," he said. "She lived underground. It was what her and her husband agreed how they would raise their kids."

At the time of their arrests, Bowers and Johnson reportedly told police their religion, one which investigators could find no information on, dictated their lifestyle and how they raised the children, ages 2 through 13. The children are now in foster care under the auspices of York County Children, Youth and Families. "If this was about an accepted religion, we wouldn't be having this discussion," Gross said.

"Yeah, we probably would under these conditions," Renn replied.

Bowers said she was proud of her children and missed them.

"It's been the hardest two years of my life," she said. "I missed being with them, I missed picking them up when they fell down. I missed Mother's Day, I missed Father's Day. I enjoyed working in the garden with them."

She said she was proud her children know how to pollinate tomato plants and that they were able to keep one plant alive for five years.

"I want to apologize to them," she said. "I want to apologize for everything I was selfish about."

Before sentencing, Renn said that while Bowers "was living quite a number of years outside of society, she apparently did it crime free."

Renn said he needed to balance a number of "interests" in fashioning a sentence. He said society has an interest to make sure the crimes do not go unpunished.

"She does not pose a danger to society," he said. "Unfortunately, we can't say the same for her own children."

He said while he predicted there was little likelihood of her repeating this type of offense, "we believe there is a need for incarceration."

After sentencing Bowers to four concurrent terms of 11 1/2 to 23 months in county prison and a consecutive 23 months probation on the fifth endangerment count, Renn noted that with time served she is close to her parole date.

He ordered Bowers to remain prison until a parole plan is outlines by the probation department and affirmed by him. It will be up to York County Children, Youth and Families if she regains custody or gets to see her children.

Outside the courtroom, York City Police Detective Dana Ward, the arresting officer, said he was disappointed with the sentence.

"I think what she did to her own children deserves a state sentence," he said. "I think this sentence is more concerned with Louann Bowers than the victims in the case."

Eyster also said she thought both the incarceration and the probation terms are "too short."

Gross said he believes the probation department can fashion a parole plan quickly and that Bowers should be out of prison in a matter of weeks.

"Now she needs to face the world," he said. "That's going to be the challenge. That's going to be the challenge."

At a glance

The crime: Louann E. Bowers, 34, and Sinhue Johnson, 46, were charged with five counts of endangering the welfare of a child for keeping their children, all born without birth certificates, in sometime squalid conditions and failing to see they got health care and education. Bowers pleaded no contest in May. Johnson's case is pending.

The sentence: Wednesday, York County Judge Richard K. Renn sentenced Bowers to 11 ½ to 23 months in county prison and 23 months probation. The prosecution argued for a state prison sentence of 10 to 20 years and five years probation. The defense asked for time served.

What's next: Bowers, who should reach her minimum sentence date on June 30, is to remain in prison until a parole plan - her place of residence, contact numbers and any other matters required by the probation department -- is affirmed by Renn.