Posts Tagged ‘women in prison’

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Yesterday was Christmas.  For me, it was the best Christmas I can remember in a very long time.  Certainly since my children were babies.  We did things a little differently this year.  Our focus was more on “real” Christmas than on “commercial” Christmas.  We didn’t run around spending a bunch of money on gifts for people we don’t even see throughout the year.  We didn’t buy a bunch of gifts for each other.  We didn’t stress out trying to get to a bunch of Christmas get togethers.  It was an authentic Christmas.

A big part of this being such a great Christmas was the lack of drama where my stepchildren are concerned.  There is a court date pending that in part addresses the ex-wife’s continual interference and manipulation of visitation.  So for the first time I can remember, there hasn’t been any jockeying on her part to screw with the court-ordered visitation schedule over the Holidays.  Amazing how much better it is when she manages to play by the rules.  It is unfortunate however, that it takes having an active complaint to force her into compliance.  Fortunately, there are not many more years of this foolishness in front of us.

My favorite part of Christmas this year was being able to visit my daughter in prison on Christmas Eve.  Maybe that sounds strange.  Would I prefer my daughter be home at Christmas, celebrating with us at home?  Of course I would.  But it’s not time for that yet.  She still has work to do.  And for her to be successful out in what is referred to as “the free world” there are no shortcuts.

I enjoy my visits with my daughter.  Not just spending time with her, but learning about and getting to know some of the other women in prison.  There are so many stories.  Some happy, some sad, but all very, very real.  Faces put to problems.  People facing great adversity.  I respect them for that.  Many of the people I have met that are in prison are more honest, much more humble and sincere, than a lot of the people I know on the outside.  Often I wonder how it is that some people get caught at a crime and harshly sentenced while others commit crimes for years yet escape ever being brought to justice.  Many times I think about this long after I have left the concrete walls and razor wire that contain them.

Christmas is such a great time for personal reflection.  A time to take inventory in ourselves.  For me it’s a time to think about how I have spent the past year and how I am going to grow in the coming year.  Have I been the best person I can be?  Where have I fallen short?  How can I do better?  My hope is that I can use my voice, my talents, whatever resources I am given, to make the world a better place.  To continue to stand up for what’s right and to keep pushing for change.  To hold on to faith, to hope, and to love.

Here’s hoping you had a very Merry Christmas!  Much love to you.

 

1 Corinthians 13:13   Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love.

 

Do you know anyone in prison?  I mean, do you actually KNOW anyone in prison?  Up until the time my daughter went to prison I did not know anyone in prison.  Never had a face to put on the mental image I had of an inmate on the very rare occasion I did give thought to someone being in prison.  I never gave much thought to the people in prison.

Furthermore, I never gave much thought to what prison was actually like, although I was certain it wasn’t TOO horrible.  I had in my mind the idea that there was constant supervision, that the environment would be monitored throughly and controlled.  Perhaps I even believed some of the ignorant emails that float around and tout prisoners getting three free meals a day, being able to hang out and watch TV, spend their time getting a college degree and working out at the prison gym.  Much like the majority of the political emails I get, whoever wrote them doesn’t have a clue about the reality.  It has been my experience that you may think you feel one way about a situation, but when that situation becomes personal and effects you or someone you love, your opinion is likely to change.  Suddenly, you develop an understanding that you couldn’t have had without the experience.  You grow.

When my daughter was first sent to prison she went to a maximum security facility.  Not because she had done something so horrible as to deserve that, but simply because that is the only facility this state uses as the intake center for women.  It is a very scary place.  When you drive up you see the facility across a field.  Big.  Cold.  Surrounded by layers of fencing topped with rows and rows of razor wire.  There is razor wire in the fields should anyone possibly make it over the fences or through the doors.

When a woman arrives at the prison, the first sixty days are spent on what they call “Hoe Squad.”  You get up early and walk out into the fields and do exactly as the name implies; you hoe.  Or you chop with a sickle.  The armed guards on horseback watch over you.  If you happen upon a field rat or snake you had better not run.  They warn you before you ever go out that it will be determined that you are trying to escape and you will be shot.  Rain or shine, out into the fields you go.  The only exception being very severe weather.  It’s not easy.  Then again, it’s not meant to be.

There is no privacy in prison.  You use the toilet and shower with other women.  They search you thoroughly in places I prefer to keep private.  My daughter tells me you grow used to it.  This would be a stretch for me.  Then again, if you have no choice, I guess you get used to a lot of things that are outside of your comfort zone.  After visitation the searches are especially invasive.  Unfortunately, many times this is when inmates receive contraband.  It is unbelievable to me but I understand that many times easier to to get drugs on the inside than on the street.

For the most part, the day is pretty structured.  Inmates have jobs in prison.  Depending on their classification (behavior/danger level) they are assigned to various areas.  Kitchen, laundry, legal library, field work, maintenance to name a few.  They are not paid.  If they have classes, they are in the classroom half the day and work the other half.  Classes can be focused on personal behavioral issues such as anger management, or parenting skills.  Or they can focus on helping the inmate learn a skill which will allow them to be released back into society with knowledge that will help them be employable.  For some of the women this is cosmetology or culinary skills.

Mail is precious when you’re in prison.  That connection to friends, family and the outside “free” world is often one of the few things to help stave off depression.  Prison is a scary place.  Even to visit.  Some of the women here are very dangerous.  Thinking about this is enough to make me cry.  My daughter is 5’4″ tall and weighs about 125 lbs.  There have been many instances that have caused us to fear for her safety.  As a mother, there is no way to not worry.  It is difficult to think of my baby girl inside those razor wire fences, in a cement block building.

Every Sunday I talk to my daughter.  Every Sunday a little piece of me grieves.  Every Sunday has a little crying time.  I wish you knew my daughter.  She is smart and funny.  She has a big heart and is always trying to help people.  Now that part of her is forever overshadowed by terrible decisions made while under the influence of legally obtained prescription medications.  It is heartbreaking.  It has been two years since she went away.  It is still so surreal.  How did this happen?  Why did this happen?  Is she going to be okay?  Why is she in jail over others who have done much, much worse?  These are questions I wrestle with constantly.  She has two more years to serve on her sentence.  Two more years of limited contact.  Prepaid phone calls.  Two more years of visiting under the watch of armed guards.  We drive down to see her when we can.  Two more years of praying night and day for her safety.  And more than anything, we pray for her healing.

Recent research shows that the number of women being put in prison is increasing at twice the rate of men. One-third of these women to prison on drug charges; two-thirds are mothers to small children. I never really thought about women in prison. Until about 4 years ago.

My daughter, age 25, is currently serving time in a correctional center.  She is not there on drug charges, however her issues stem from prescription drug addiction.  My daughter is an intelligent, loving and creative person – when she is drug free. When pills are involved, she is a completely different person.  I guess this is typical behavior when someone is addicted.

Most of her growing up years, my daughter was a typical kid.  She excelled in school, was involved in extracurricular activities at school and in the community, and active in church. She dreamed of being a doctor.  Her father and I are divorced and she has a younger brother who is severely affected by autism, but for the most part, she handled these things fairly well.  She was always a happy girl, funny too.  I remarried when she was 14 to someone she insisted I meet.  He was, and still is, a good father figure to her and her brother.  So what happened?

When she was 15, I had to remove her from the Public School system due to issues surrounding a teacher on staff who has a history of having
sex with students.  We pushed the issue to get it addressed, but nothing was ever done.  We went to the School Board.  I wrote to people on a State and National level.  Bottom line, we couldn’t prove it, so there was nothing we could do about it.

One day in particular, my daughter left school and we couldn’t locate her.  Because of her depressed state we worried that she would commit suicide.  Turns out she had been to the High School administration office, to the Superintendent’s office, to the School Board President’s office and lastly, to see our attorney at the time.  All of these adults told her the same thing: they could not help her.  There was “nothing they could do.”  Is it any wonder she has so little respect for authority?  The people she counted on to help her – including myself and my husband – were unable to.

She went into a deep depression and in the interest of her well-being, I removed her from public school to be home schooled until she was old enough to get her GED.  Looking back, this was probably the worst thing I could have done, but it seemed there were no other options.  Surrounding schools wouldn’t take students not living in their district, I couldn’t afford to put her back in private school, and leaving her at our public school was not an option.  Having lost her circle of friends and support system, which would be traumatic for any teenager, she began to hang out with older kids who were already out of school.  She was in pain and unfortunately she found unhealthy ways of dealing with it.

We insisted she get her GED and go to work.  She was loved at her jobs, but she was already addicted to the prescription medications.  It wasn’t long until she was in legal trouble, and that just seemed to snowball.  Next thing we know, she is in prison for fraudulent use of a credit card in the amount of around $4500.  No Boot Camp, no court-ordered drug treatment program, she went straight to a maximum security prison.  She was locked up with people you worry about as a parent.  Murderers, female sex offenders, drug manufacturers and dealers.  Her cellmate was a second time offender there for manslaughter and abuse of a corpse.  Shortly after enrolling her (maybe 2 months) in a long term  Therapeutic Community program they sent her home without having finished either the treatment program or her cosmetology certificate.  She had been there for over a year.  Upon release, a condition of her parole was to finish her cosmetology course.  Of course, it was the same for the other young women released so she ended up being surrounded by the people she most needs to avoid – other felons, specifically those she knew on the inside.

Please do not misunderstand; I truly believe my daughter – and anyone else who violates the laws of our society – needs to be held accountable for her actions. But I also believe people make stupid mistakes. And given the correct knowledge and tools, can overcome those mistakes.  My daughter was out in the “free world” as she calls it for almost a year before she was arrested on a parole violation.  They sent her back to prison for six months.  She then came back to await sentencing and was sent back again.  This time she was high on Klonopin.  Is it really in the best interest of our society to keep sending women like my daughter to prison?  And if we must send them to prison, shouldn’t we make a TRUE effort to give them the help they need to come out and have a fighting chance at being successful?  Otherwise, we may as well equip our prisons with revolving doors.

Oh, and that teacher I mention above…she is sitting on a beach right now.  Vacationing before she is back in school next month, standing in front of your child in the classroom, attempting to provide them with an education.  That’s a topic for another time.