Posts Tagged ‘jail’

Photo by Denis Oliveira on Unsplash

Imagine having made a horrible mistake or two or even three. You know what you did was wrong. Like everyone else, you had your reasons. Maybe they were good reasons. Maybe they were stupid reasons, but you did what you did and you got caught.

You weren’t violent or if you were, it was to defend yourself or your child or a friend.

You were stupid or strung out on drugs or thought you could get away with it.

But you didn’t.

You got caught and now you’re in jail. You commit yourself to being better, to doing better, to take this one chance to change your life.

You don’t know where your kids are because they were taken away from you. Put in foster care because you didn’t have anyone in your family who could take them in.

Worse yet, they are with a family member you know will harm them, neglect them, use them as punching bag and there’s nothing you can do about it.

You messed up and your rights were taken away from you.

It’s your fault. You know this.

Maybe you’ve been homeless, living in your car with your kids.

You weren’t happy but at least you got away from him. You hope he doesn’t find you so you move your car every night and pray the weather doesn’t turn cold.

Maybe you did what you did because he made you do bad things.

I’ve heard just about every excuse for someone behaving badly and I’ve never bought any of them. We always have reasons, excuses, justifications for what we do.

No human being has ever been wrong. Just ask one. Ask yourself.

So there you sit, in a cell with other women. You find an endless amount of help available to you:

  • AA
  • Anger Management
  • Vocational Programs
  • Academic Programs
  • Substance Abuse Programs
  • Career Education
  • Pre-release Guidance
  • Community Bettermet Projects

You’ll run into and meet plenty of volunteers like me, who offer to help and demand you do the best you can do. You’ll meet us because we believe people can change if they want to. We believe we can get you back to who you are.

The facility is responsible for your safety and welfare, so you use the time to improve yourself, get clean and sober, dig deep into yourself and vow you’ll be a better person every day.

Then one day, the staff tell you “You know how to scrap, you know how to fight, so defend yourself.”

Why are they suddenly telling you this as they turn their backs and look the other way?

Photo by Skyler King on Unsplash

Because male inmates are now in your facility, in your cell, and in your showers. Suddenly convicted sex offenders have decided to self-ID as a woman and there’s nothing you can do about it.

You have to take it. You have to ignore his leering while you use the toilet. You have to look away when he has an erection while he watches you sleep.

You now sleep in shifts to prevent getting raped or assaulted. There’s no help from anyone anymore.

If you complain, you’ll be disciplined and he won’t. He’ll get away with it because YOU’RE the one with the problem.

You’re transphobic.

You’re a prude.

You thought you had a voice? You need to take it, put up with it, sit down and shut up.

Just like you always have. Not only has your safe space been taken away from you, so has your voice.

The staff tell you they are afraid of a lawsuit, so they look away.

Your government has told you that you don’t matter and never did.

And we wonder why recidivism is so high?

They are someone’s daughter, sister, mother, aunt. granddaughter. They matter and we need to speak for them since they have been silenced and tossed aside so predators can prey on them.

These women matter even if the government says they don’t.

Violation of anyone’s human rights is a violation of yours and mine.

So what can you do?

Plenty. We’re not going to stop fighting and protecting women until our hard-earned rights are restored to all of us.

Failure is not an option.

Please visit this site, watch the video and sign the petition and share, share, and share some more.

The day I lost my patience.

Posted: December 3, 2012 in jail
Tags: , ,

I walked into the meeting hopeful and full of optimism.

Little did I know, that was my first mistake.

The second mistake I made was assuming that what I wanted to do was something other people wanted too.

Work with inmates and reduce the recidivism rate.

What was I thinking?

I had gotten the appointment with the grant writer for the county along with a third level Administrative Assistant to the Sheriff.

I had started my own non-profit and was legal and in business. Getting the non-profit status took over a year and was a brutal process. I understood why and we worked hard on it. I had given the project to one person to do and she got it done. We had filed endless papers, gotten our name secured and approved, provided the IRS with all the information they wanted, passed our background checks and was finally allowed to open our doors and start taking money.

I wanted a grant to get it up and running. I was working a full-time job and doing this evenings and weekends. Having a grant would cover our out-of-pocket expenses, give us the time and money we needed to secure a location and hire a person or two.

I knew working with a third level assistant was the beginning step of working my way up their own food chain. I knew she would basically meet with me and take my information.

I arrived on time and was escorted to an office. The assistant’s name was Marcy. She stood up, shook my hand and introduced to me to a man sitting there. His name was Dick for the purpose of this story. He did not stand-up when I walked in. I extended my hand. He barely touched it. I sat down next to him across from Marcy. We chatted for a few minutes. Dick stared at me.

“I appreciate you giving me a meeting Marcy. I hope I’ve brought everything you need and can answer any questions,” I said as I began to remove my documents from my briefcase. I had spent countless hours filling everything out and making it as professional as possible.

I leaned over to hand it to her, but Dick reached over and pulled it out of my hand. He put his glasses on and began to scan the documents. I sat back and waited.

He was wearing a suit. His hair was short and thick. He perched the glasses on the tip of his nose. As he read, he occasionally shook his head and frowned. I felt my stomach clench but said nothing. He spent almost half an hour reading them. Marcy and I sat quietly.

Finally he tossed the papers onto Marcy’s desk and sighed. He turned and looked at me, up and down. I felt my hackles rise but still said nothing.

“Why should I give you this grant?” he asked. He sneered at me.

“Well, because as you can see there, this program has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the county and I have brought it to this County to help. If you just look here…” I said as I retrieved the papers from Marcy’s desk and began flipping through the documents. I was feeling nervous. My mouth began to get dry.

“No, I understand that and I certainly don’t need you to explain it to me,” he said. “Perhaps you don’t understand my question, so let me ask it this way; Why should YOU get the grant money? From what I can see, you don’t have any credentials, you’re a new business and I am more interested in what your true motives are.”

My true motives? What the hell is he talking about, I asked myself.

“Huh?” was all I could think to ask.

“Why would someone who is as pretty as you, who already has a job, want to be in this line of business? I mean, I can see that you’ve got everything in order and I see that you are already getting clients from the courts and as impressive as that is, I have to be concerned on what the money will be used for.”

I felt my cheeks turn red. I could not believe he said anything about my looks or my motives. I had just met this man and what I was asking was perfectly legitimate and standard operating procedure. He was the grant writer. He was the one that did this for a living. Based on how he was dressed, he looked to be doing just fine financially. I couldn’t think of why he had taken an instant dislike to me.

I wanted to the money, but not that bad. I didn’t like his sneer. I didn’t like his condescending attitude towards me. I didn’t like the way his eyes rarely looked at mine but preferred to look at my chest, even though I was wearing a very conservative suit.

But I thought of what we could do with the money and the people and families we could help. I thought about the people I could employ and the difference we could make. I clamped my temper down and looked at him.

“I’m sorry, but I am not sure why you are questioning my motives. What I am asking for is completely reasonable, so I’m a bit confused,” I said and looked at Marcy. She hadn’t said a word. She shrugged.

He sighed, took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes.He was acting as if I was the stupidest person to ever walk the face of the earth.

“I want to know what you are really up to,” he said and sneered again. “Why do you want to work in a jail with these men? Why men and not women?”

I slight smile crossed his face as he sat back, folded his arms and waited.

I completely understood his implication.

The grant was being offered for a wide variety of people but I had chosen to use the limited funds to work with the men that beat the shit out of women so I could help both of them. It seemed like the smartest move on my part for the limited amount of time and resources. Help men to not hit women (and children) and have a shot at saving an entire family.

He was questioning my request because it dealt with men and I am a single woman. In his mind, there HAD to be an ulterior motive.

I knew I wasn’t going to get the grant.

“Because I want to meet men, that’s why,” I said and sat back.

I heard Marcy chuckle. Dick looked surprised at my answer. I shook my head and started putting the papers back in my briefcase.

“Oh, that’s not what I meant…”

“Yes it is, Dick. It is exactly what you meant to say,” I said and stood up. “Why don’t you just come out and say what it is that is bothering you about me? About my request? About whatever it is that is on your pea brain, because I don’t have a lot of time to waste with anyone who isn’t going to help me.”

“Well, I do need to be concerned about someone like you…”

“Like ME? What the hell does that mean, Dick?” I said. My voice was beginning to rise.

“Single, pretty and…”

I held up my hand. I actually didn’t want to hear it. “You’ve hit the nail in the head, Dick. You’re so smart to have figured me out so quickly. Yes, I want a grant so I can come into jail and meet men! I mean, you have to understand how tired I am of the bar scene and the dating sites. See, I figure if they are in jail, then I at least know where they are, right? And we all know women of my age are desperate and pathetic and will do just about anything to get a man!” I was now yelling and it felt good.

I turned and looked at Marcy. “This is what you have to put up with here?” She looked away. She still had not said one word.

I picked up my briefcase and purse. He put his hand out. “I would still like to take another look at your proposal. Maybe I got this all wrong….”

“No, you got it right,” I said and put the papers in my briefcase. “And I don’t want your money,” I said and walked out.

I cried all the way home. When he called the next day to apologize, all I could think to say was “Can you say ‘lawsuit’ Dick?”

He never called again.

This is a letter that an inmate had sent us.

Thought you might like knowing there is much hope and our work continues regardless of those who say people cannot change.

In her own words:

“I had been incarcerated nearly three months when I was first introduced to the program. At that time I was depressed and angry, hopeless. All there was to lose, I had lost – or so I thought.

“As I completed the program, I began to realize what was important to me. I have now learned a healthier, more productive way of viewing life and in doing so, my priorities have shifted.

“I no longer sleep all day, survive on junk food and caffeine, or react with violence and suspicion. As I began applying the things I’ve learned from these courses, my entire world changed. I had been very unhappy in my own skin, so I was treated as such.

“Now, although I still occupy the same 8 x 12 cell twenty-two hours a day with little sunlight or human contact. I treat each day as an opportunity to grow instead of a trial to be endured. I keep a schedule – wake-up and make my bed, clean my cell, study. I work-out and have completely changed my eating habits. I’ve stopped cursing and feeling bad for myself. Essentially, I have made the choice to begin living in the solution. This course encouraged me to realize I have made some mistakes – BUT I AM NOT A MISTAKE.

“I have worth and ability and I can become anything I put my mind to.

“I believe my life has changed and that this course has brought me confidence and self-worth.”

If you would like more information on what we do, feel free to contact me and I’ll steer you in the right direction.

You want me to clean up your mess?

Posted: November 15, 2012 in jail
Tags: ,

It was early Sunday morning when the phone rang. I was sound asleep. When I heard it ring, I was immediately convinced that someone had died. I rolled over, grabbed the phone and said “Hello” before I even opened my eyes.

“Susan, is that you?” some woman said on the other end.

“Yes. Who is this?” I asked as I opened my eyes and looked at the clock. It was 6:30 in the morning. I rubbed my eyes and sat up. My dog Maverick was asleep on my legs and I couldn’t feel them. He felt me move, turned his head and laid it back down. He refused to move, so I tugged my legs out from under him as I pushed my pillows up and sat back. I vowed to get a small dog the next time and pushed him with my foot.

“This is Cindy, a friend of Kathy’s. We met a few months ago,” she said. I vaguely remembered her and still didn’t understand why she was calling me so early.

“Who died?” I asked.

“What are you talking about? No one died.”

“Then why are you calling me at 6:30 on a Sunday morning? It can only be bad news and since I’ve only met you once, I figured Kathy died. Did she?”

“No, she’s fine. I was calling because I need your help. She did give me your number.”

I was confused. “So there’s no emergency, right?”

She sighed and sounded exasperated with me. I didn’t care. “No, there’s no emergency unless you consider my son going to jail…”

“Hold on a minute. You’re calling me because your son is going to jail? When?”

“Tomorrow morning if you don’t do something about it,” she said.

I had no idea what she was talking about but I knew where this was going. I was wide awake now and getting pissed off.

“Tell you what; you woke me up on a Sunday morning to talk about something I know nothing about. I’m going to get up, use the bathroom and have some coffee. I’ll call you later today. What’s your number?”

“No! I need to talk to you right now. I don’t know what to do and I know you work judges and I don’t know where else to turn,” she said.

And then she did it.

She started crying.

I rubbed my eyes and got up. “OK, go ahead and tell me what’s wrong,” I said as I walked into the kitchen and started the coffee. I leaned back against the kitchen counter and stared at the coffee pot. It was brewing too slow.

“It’s my son Eric. He was arrested a couple of months ago and he’s completely innocent! It’s a set-up and tomorrow he goes before the judge and I wanted you to be there and convince the judge he shouldn’t go to jail.”

I started laughing. I couldn’t help it. She was delusional, which gave me a little bit of a clue as to why Eric was in trouble.

The woman was an idiot.

“Oh, he was set-up? How so?” I asked as I poured a cup of coffee and added cream. I actually couldn’t wait to hear the details. I walked into the living room, sat down and put my feet up.

“The drugs weren’t his. They belonged to a friend of his and he didn’t know what was in the bag. He’s trusting like that. He’s very sweet and we raised him to trust people. Maybe he took it a bit too far, but he doesn’t do drugs and he’s not selling them like they say he is,” she said. She had stopped crying but was sniffling.

“What drugs was he ‘helping’ his friend with?” This was getting better and better.

“Umm..I think it’s called ‘method’ but I’m not sure.”

“Meth? You mean meth?” I asked. Maverick had finally gotten up and walked over to the back door and stared at me. His Highness wanted out. I got up, opened the door and followed him out. It was still early but already a beautiful spring day. I sat down at the patio table, lit a cigarette and stretched.

“Yes! Meth-something-or-other. But it’s not his and I really need you to help him. Can you be at the courthouse tomorrow morning and talk to the judge?”

I knew she was upset. Her son was looking at a long jail term and I was about to forgive her for the early morning call, but asking me to just drop everything and run downtown in the morning to talk to a judge to somehow convince him not to send Eric to jail was ludicrous. I had never met him, I barely knew her and apparently she thought I had some magical power over judges.

“So, you think he’s innocent then?” I asked.

“Yes, of course he is! He would never do anything like that. We are good people. He was raised to respect the law and not get involved with drugs. We live in a nice neighborhood. We’re not like them.”

“Them? Oh, who might ‘them’ be exactly?”

“Drug dealers.”

I chuckled. She just didn’t know and was refusing to face the fact that her son got caught with enough drugs to be sentenced to a long jail term. She believed him and I felt sorry for her. I had seen this too many times.

“Has Eric lost weight recently?” I asked. Might as well get her to wake-up and deal with her life which was about to be ruined tomorrow morning.

‘Yes, but that’s because he’s been working out a lot.”

“Has he been sleeping?” I asked.

“Not like he used to. I hear him in his room but he said he was studying.”

“How are his grades?”

“They were better last year and he’s missed a lot of school this year. He hasn’t been sleeping much….”

“Does he pick the skin on his face?” I asked.

“How did you know? Why are you asking me all of these questions? I need you to see the judge tomorrow..”

“You need to shut-up and listen to me, that’s what you need to do,” I said. Shit she was arrogant and pushy.

Dead silence. I waited a moment.

“First of all, how dare you call me up and demand that I do anything for you! Your son is your problem and not mine and maybe if you would remove your head out of your ass, you might see that he needs you to stop fixing his problems for him and instead be there for him.

“Second of all, not only has he been using drugs, but it sounds like he’s been dealing them. Now depending on the amount and if this is his first offense, he might get off with probation, but I don’t know and I don’t care.

You should be the one the go down there and talk to the judge…”

“I can’t. I have to work,” she said. “I have an important meeting that I can’t miss. That’s why I called you.”

And there it was.

“No, I have no intention of doing that, but I do have an idea,” I said.

“Oh? What is it?”

“You and your husband do our ‘Parenting Course’ and learn how to be a better parent.”

“How much is it?” she asked.

That did it for me. She didn’t ask about what they would learn. She didn’t ask how long it took or where it would be. She just wanted to know the cost.

“For you? I usually don’t charge anything for it, but for you, it will be $500.00. Each.”

“That’s just rude,” she said.

“So is waking me up early on a Sunday morning and telling me to clean up your mess,” I said and hung-up the phone.

The next morning, I called the courthouse and found out when Eric was going to be sentenced. I had met the judge a few months before. He had been sending me some people to work with in lieu of sending them to jail. We talked and I relayed my conversation to him about Eric.

“You want this one Susan? I can do it if he fits within the parameters of your program, but I’ll know more after I see him,” he said.

Shortly afterwards, I began working with Eric.

The judge ordered the Mom to pay $750.00 for my work.

He also ordered the parents onto my parenting course and to pay for that also.

She was not amused, but I was.

The evening was going along nicely. I was working with a group of men who had all been convicted of domestic violence of one form or another. They were all first time offenders and desperate for help and changing their ways. This made them willing to listen and learn. They were all respectful, kind and talkative.

I couldn’t ask for anything better.

As I was standing in front of them and listening to Alfonso talk, the men were nodding and smiling at what he was saying. Some patted him on the back. What he was talking about was helping himself and the others. I stood silently and listened and encouraged him when he needed it.

When the door opened up and a correctional officer came in, I turned to look. It was unusual for anyone to interrupt our meetings. Fred walked in and following him was another inmate. We were about an hour into our class.

The inmate had his head down and followed Fred. Fred grabbed a chair and pulled it out, far away from the class. The man sat down and kept his head down. I turned back to the group to continue.

All eyes were on the inmate. I saw many of them glaring at him. Alfonso stopped talking and turned his back to him in the middle of his story.

A quiet hush went through the room. Everyone had stopped talking and smiling. All eyes were now on this inmate, who kept his head down. Fred stood behind him. He motioned for me to continue.

No matter what I did for the rest of the evening, no one would talk. I saw them all turn away from the inmate but none of them would talk any longer. I got tired of trying and wrapped the class up early. There wasn’t anything else to do.

As each of them left, they all made sure to come up to me and thank me. They each shook my hand. When Alfonso came up, I asked him what had happened. Had I said or done something wrong?

“No, you didn’t,” he said. He motioned for me to step away. I said good-bye to everyone. Fred was still standing there with the inmate. Neither one moved.

“No one likes that guy, that’s all,” he said. “We’re not comfortable talking around him, so if he’s going to be in here, we won’t be. You did nothing wrong, but some things just ain’t right,” he said as he shook my hand and smiled. I watched him leave. I saw Fred tell the inmate to get up. I asked him to wait a moment.

I walked over and looked down at the inmate. He hadn’t moved.

“Fred, you mind telling me what is going on and who this is?”

“Sorry Susan, I guess no one told you. This is Lou and he wants to attend your class. I just found out he was approved, so I brought him in,” he said. Even Fred glared at him when he looked at him.

Lou was in his mid-30’s and had a slight build. He looked like a broken man sitting there with his head down and his hands hanging down between his legs. When he finally looked up at me, his eyes were clear and bright. There was a very slight smile on his face. That sent a slight chill through me. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I didn’t like it.

“That’s fine, but why did the room get so quiet? It looks like my guys don’t want Lou in here, so why don’t you tell me Fred what is going on?” I asked. Lou looked back down at the floor.

“It’s because they don’t like pedophiles,” Fred said very matter-of-fact.

“Neither do I!” I said. I stepped back away from Lou. I had a very firm policy to never deal with sexual predators. I was adamant about it and couldn’t imagine how this had happened. Someone had screwed up and I wasn’t going to put up with it.

“It’s all a big misunderstanding,” Lou said. His voice was gentle and soft.

“Oh, is that so?” I asked. I was suddenly intrigued what he had to say.

“Yes it is.”

If he was here, then he had gone through a trial and was convicted. Whether he was guilty or innocent wasn’t relevant to me.

“Well, I’m sorry but I can’t have you in this class. You saw what happened when you walked in. The men stopped talking and I can’t have that happen.” I looked up at Fred. I felt a bit of a glare cross my face. It wasn’t Fred’s fault, but I didn’t care.

“It’s not my fault what happened. They all lied in court about what I did.” he said. I saw tears in his eyes. He rubbed his eyes and leaned forward and put his head in his hands. His body shook slightly.

I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to hear it. This was too much. People were asking too much of me. There’s just so much I can do. I was angry and yet here was a man, crying in front of me. I sighed, pulled up a chair and waited.

After a few minutes, he stopped crying and began to talk. He didn’t give me details as I wouldn’t let him, but he told me his story of a horrible childhood and how he had been abused and that he was now better and working on being rehabilitated and that’s why he wanted to be in my class. He heard it might help him. He said he would do anything to be a better person.

He then looked up at me and I saw that very subtle and slight smile cross his face again and disappear quickly.

When I saw that, I knew.

He was saying and doing everything he could think of to look good to “the system” to get out early. The jails were overcrowded and more and more inmates were being released early to make room for the new ones.

He was playing me. He was playing the system. He wanted out as soon as possible. He wasn’t done and he was never going to stop.

I knew that as well as I knew my own name when I looked into his eyes. He was insane.

He was good. Really good. He almost had me with his tears.


I stood up and looked down at him. I felt bad but not for him. I felt bad for anyone who could turn into what this man had turned into. I motioned for Fred to take him away. They stood up and walked out. As Lou went through the door, he turned around and looked at me.

“It was nice meeting you. See you around,” he said and that same smile crossed his face.

The next day, I made sure all hell broke loose. I called the Program Director and told her what had happened. She was shocked and apologetic and vowed it would never happen again.

“Oh really? You gonna promise me that?” I said. “Who in the hell authorized a PEDOPHILE to come into my group? Who did THAT?” I shouted.

She wouldn’t tell me but promised over and over again that it wouldn’t happen again. I hung-up the phone, shaking.

I had never seen pure evil before until then. I didn’t want to see it again.

Everything settled down and the next class went along fine. The men were back to talking and learning and the memory of Lou faded away.

Nine months later when I was at Safeway and looking through the produce section, I heard someone call my name.

It was Lou. He was standing 50 feet from me.

“How are you?” he asked. I saw the same smile cross his face. “It’s good to see you again.”

I froze and watched him walk away, humming.

Our system is broken.

“Please don’t kill yourself.”

Posted: October 12, 2012 in jail, Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Looking down at Julie I wasn’t sure I heard what she had just said. She was sitting quietly with her head down. It was a subtle and quiet statement. I asked her to look up at me. She refused. I put my hand under her chin and lifted her head up to me.

“Look at me and repeat what you just said,” I said and gently pushed her chin up further.

She looked up at me and then quickly looked away. I pulled her face back up. “What did you just say?” I demanded.

“I don’t want to live anymore,” she said and started to cry.

Julie was young. She was in her late 20’s and had been incarcerated 6 months before for intent to sell meth. She lost her child to foster care and had been a runaway since the age of 14. Somehow she had survived on the streets and her stories were gut wrenching. She was sent to me because Steve felt there was hope for her. Steve was my firewall and no one got into my program unless he said they could.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because I’m a bad person and my daughter deserves better than me. If I’m gone then she’ll be better off.”

I was obligated and contracted by the County to report any and all statements of threatened suicide, violence and all sorts of other things. It was a snake pit to go that route. It was not something I wanted to do yet.

“So you’ve done some bad things. I pretty much figured you guys didn’t end up here because you are all such angels,” I said and sat down.

She smiled for a moment and then it was gone. I looked at the time and it was running out. I told her I would be right back. I ran over to Steve’s desk and pleaded with him if I could keep Julie a bit longer. I explained that we were talking and I didn’t want to stop her. I said nothing of what she had said.

He sighs and throws his pencil down. “Lewis, if she’s not back in her bed by 9:00, she gets written up and sent back. You want that?”

“No, but…”

“But what?”

“Who’s doing the head counts tonight? Maybe I could talk to them…”

He rubs his eyes. “No, I don’t want you talking to anyone. What is so damn important that it can’t wait until you come back here?”

I tell him. He sits down and swears. He looks at the clock and then back at me. “I’ll handle it. Just go talk to her and then come back here and tell me everything. We’ll figure something out.”

We ended up talking for an hour.

When it was time for her to go, I asked her a question. “Julie, did you know that anything your skin comes into contact with is absorbed into you?”


“You know, if I touch anything, some amount of it goes into the body. You don’t have to be cut for that to happen. Did you know that?” I asked.


I put out my hand and spat on it. “Go ahead and spit on your hand,” I say.

She looks at me funny.

“I said, spit on your hand and do it now!”

She does. I shake her hand with mine and hold hers for a few seconds. “Part of me is now in you. Part of you is now in me. That means if you hurt yourself, you hurt me too. Please don’t hurt me,” I said.

“I won’t, I promise,” she said and wouldn’t let go of my hand.

“Good. I am going to trust you to take care of me. I’ll see you next week,” I said.

She looked better when she left and hugged me. She was escorted back to her cell. I walked up to Steve and told him what she had said.

“Is she talking to anyone around here?” I asked.

“Yeah, you. You’re elected. I’ll keep an eye on her, but you’re going to be the one she will talk to,” he said and walked away. I swear I could hear him chuckle.

Every time after that, when Julie came to class she told me she was taking good care of me.

She turned out just fine.

Surviving lock down

Posted: August 27, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

You really haven’t lived until you’ve walked into a jail that was in lock down.

Lock down is when something bad happens inside and all communication in and out is cut. There is no visitation and all inmates are confined to their cells 24/7. This can go on for a few days to a few weeks. Inmates are escorted by armed guards to use the bathroom and showers, but all food is eaten in their cells.

This occurs after there has been a violent incident in the facility. There are other things that happen, but you get the general idea. It’s not a fun place to be at the time.

Well, no one had told the group of us that arrived at Juvenile Hall that they were in lock down. We were supposed to be called if our class for the kids was called off for any reason.

The call never came and so we showed up, like we had been doing Tuesday and Thursday nights for the last two years.

I remember thinking it was way too quiet as we walked in. The night was cool and there didn’t seem to even be a breeze in air. No one was walking in and out. The building loomed before us as we walked in and I got a shiver up my spine.

Something was wrong, something was off but I didn’t know what it was. I just followed my friends, but even they started to sense it.

We got to our first check point to gain entry. This is where you sign-in, provide your ID and sign all the documents. The staff are behind a bullet proof glass wall. You have to go through two doors. The second door will not open until the first door is locked. This prevents anyone escaping or gaining unauthorized access. Purses, cell phones and any other personal items are left in the trunk of your car. I always removed all my jewelry at home. I didn’t do that because I was afraid of it being stolen. I did it because I didn’t want one indication of anything that I had that they did not.

Why rub anything in their faces?

These kids came from all different backgrounds. Some came from affluent homes and some came from very poor living conditions. They were various ages, but none of them were older than 18. If they were, they were shipped to the Main Jail to fend for themselves.

No one said a word to us as they buzzed us in. We walked up to the second floor and went through our next check point. Every move is recorded on camera. Approaching us was a handcuffed prisoner walking towards us, escorted by two armed guards. Etiquette is very specific here as it is everywhere else. We stopped, backed up to the wall, put our hands behind us, leaned against the wall and looked down until they passed.

Never look a prisoner in the eyes in a hallway unless you are staff. It’s considered rude and it can humiliate or antagonize them.

We were cleared and went to cell block to collect our kids. None of us spoke as we walked as that is the correct way to behave. We walked with our heads down and our hands at our sides, in plain view.

When we walked in, it was deathly quiet. Normally the kids are out of their cells, watching TV, talking or reading. There were about 5 staff to handle 25 kids. But tonight, no one was out, all the kids were in their cells and you could hear a pin drop. We stopped at the desk and waited. Again, we kept our gaze down and did not make any eye contact with the inmates.

One of the staff looked up and said “What are you guys doing here and how did you get through?”

We had no idea what she was talking about. My friend Steven spoke up. “Well, it’s Thursday night, our usual night…”

“But you can’t be here! We are in lock down for two weeks!”

She explained that there had been a fight the night before – about 20 feet behind us -and someone had been stabbed. We listened quietly and nodded. I guess it was time to leave and I started towards the door.

“Hold on, don’t go. You want to hear something interesting?”

Like this evening could get any more interesting.

“The only kids who weren’t involved in it were yours. Whatever you guys are doing with them is working, so I’ll tell you what; I’ll make an exception since all of you are here and they behaved themselves. You can have them tonight, just like always.”

We smiled and went into the room they had for us, trying not to jump up and down. The program was working! Who knew?

We unpacked our gear. Soon all 10 of our kids were running into the room (a big no-no, that running shit) and grabbed us and hugged us. They were all talking at once and laughing. It took us a few minutes to get them to calm down. I said one person could tell us the story. Jose raised his hand and asked if he could. We said yes.

“You should have been here! This one kids shoved another one and then suddenly there was this huge fight! It was so cool! Everyone was screaming and yelling, but all of us remembered what we had learned about not responding to violence with violence and all the practicing you had us do on being patient. So, we all ran in here, grabbed the chairs and sat and watched. We just stayed together, kept telling each other to not react and it would be OK. And it was!”

My friends and I all got teary eyed. You try, you work hard but you never know if it does any good or not. You hope it does, you hope you are making a difference but it wasn’t until that moment that all the hard work was worth it.

By then the others starting talking and telling us their version of the story. They were proud of themselves and none of us could have been happier. We didn’t get much done that night, but it was OK. They had to participate in the lock down too, but they didn’t care. They were now using the time to read and write. They had never done that before our program. Some brought us their writing and discussed the books they were reading, quietly, intelligently and with great passion.

You never know when you will make a difference, so never give up. Some of these kids were in for felonies, some were thrown away, many were gang members. Say all you want about how we need to handle crime, get rid of the gangs, make things better for the rest of us.

Talk all you want, stand on as many soap boxes that you have, but there is only one way to deal with problems. Face-to-face. You save one child at a time and no amount of posturing for election and getting a degree and thinking you know all there is to know about people will accomplish a damn thing.

For every child you save, you save the future of this society. Save the child = save the future.

“Hi, I’m Chanteel. It’s nice to meet you Susan,” she said as she shook my hand and sat down.

Immediately a few of the other women chuckled and shook their heads. One of them took a piece of paper, rolled it up into a ball and threw it at her. “Oh, really now? Now your name is Chanteel? Where the hell do you get these names? You got a book or something?”

More of the women started laughing. Chanteel just smiled, took the ball of paper and smoothed it out.

I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I ignored the interruption of the class. “It’s nice to meet you too, Chanteel.” I handed her some materials. “We are just getting started, so you haven’t missed anything. We are on page three, so just open up your book there and jump in.”

She smiled and nodded. She was, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful women I had seen. She was blonde with deep blue eyes and cheek bones that went on forever. Her hair was pulled back, but it was thick. She wasn’t wearing make-up because when you are in jail, it’s not something you are very concerned with. Your basic concern was surviving each hour, each day and each week until you got out. Some never knew when that would be as all of the women I was working with were in custody waiting for trial.

Some had been waiting for two years. All of them were overweight and lethargic from the food and being in their cells 23 hours out of 24. None of them slept because of the constant noise and stress and many spent most of their time lying in bed and crying. If they weren’t crying, they just laid there, staring up at the ceiling or the bunk above them.

This was a new group of incarcerated and battered women I had been given to help. I was there to teach them about self-respect and learning how to get along better with people. Yes, it was a lot to do, but I found most of them receptive, needy and quite pleasant to work with.

Let’s face it. Life doesn’t get much worse when you are in jail and have lost your children to foster care. Any and all help is appreciated and it was a very rare occasion when anyone of them gave me any trouble. Those that did were usually just too stressed to do anything else but sit and cry.

Chanteel looked to be in her mid-30’s but I found out later she was only 23. This was her third time in jail and her probation officer had pushed hard for her to get into my program. There was just something about her that made you want to help her even though you knew when she got out, she would most likely revert. He wanted her in the program so it would look good for the judge when she went before him. I don’t even remember the charges that were pending against her but she was not violent. Just stupid.

She was as pleasant as could be until I started talking to her after class. She hung around to talk with me. I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down to listen.

Within three minutes I could see she was way out of touch with reality. Her conversation with me jumped from one topic to another with no rhyme or reason. She would be mid-sentence and then start another conversation about something completely different.

But I sat and listened and became quite fascinated by her. She was a dichotomy of complete brilliance in her thoughts and observations and insane from the life she had led.

She was only 23, but she had been through more tragedy and heartbreak in those few years than anyone else I had known.

I worked with her as best as I could during the next few weeks. She was always pleasant and kind. Each week, she would tell me she had changed her name. I always made sure to call her by her new name. The other women would just snicker. This never seemed to bother her.

I asked her one day why she changed her name so often. She bit her lip, looked down and gave my question quite a bit of thought before answering.

“No one has ever asked me that question before. They usually just laugh at me.”

“Well, I’m curious, so tell me why.”

She smiled. It was a beautiful smile. “Because I am trying to figure out who I want to be. I hate who I am and what I’ve done, so I want to be someone else. I try on different names to see if I like them. So far, I haven’t liked any of them.”

This made sense to me. “Yes, I wish I could do that sometimes myself.”

I eventually got in contact with her Probation Officer because, quite frankly, she fascinated me. I never ask about a persons past when they start my program. It is not relevant. What is relevant is today and maybe tomorrow.

There wasn’t much he could tell me but I was able to gather from him and my contact at the facility that this young woman entered the foster care program at the age of 6 months and it has been all she has ever known.

She tested highly on her IQ and she was literate and able to read and understood what she read.

That is all I will say about her, but trust me – you don’t want to know. It broke my heart.

After one particular night with her, I left the facility sad. When I got home, I called my Mom, hoping she was still up.

As soon as she answered the phone, she asked if I was OK.

“I’m fine. Just wanted to say hello.”

‘You’ve been in jail again, haven’t you?” she asked.

Ah, my Mom knows me so well. “Yes, I was there tonight.”

“Yes, I love you. Yes, you’re welcome for having a wonderful childhood. No, you aren’t my favorite child. You all are.”

This made me laugh. “There was something else I wanted to say.”

“Go ahead,” she said.

“I’m proud of you. I’m proud of what you had to overcome and I’m proud of you for not raising us like you were raised.”

“You’re welcome. Now get some sleep and don’t start crying. I’m proud of you too.”

I never saw Chanteel after that. She had been released but had asked for my cell number. We don’t give these out but the Program Director told me about it. He had told her he couldn’t give that out and said she started to cry as she walked out the door with her suitcase and nowhere to go.

“If she calls again, give it to her,” I said.

He raised an eyebrow. “You sure Susan?”


Every few months, I get a phone call from her. She told me the last time I talked to her that she settled on a name (which I am not going to say) and I liked it. It fit. She always lets me know how she is doing but never tells me where she is. That’s OK. I don’t want to know.

‘Do you know why I call you Susan?” she asked the last time we talked.

“I have no idea.”

“Because you helped me and I’ve stayed out of jail since then. You like me just the way I am.”

Yes I do.

“There but for the grace of God go I.”

I met Yolanda when I was working with a group of women who were in jail for various reasons, from embezzlement to welfare fraud all the way up to assault with a deadly weapon. How I came to be here is covered in other posts, but there have been many women I have met in my life that for one reason or another, had a profound effect on me.

Some of them are still in my life. Others have come and gone and some of them weren’t so nice, but they changed my life and helped me to be who I am today. Flawed, smart and strong, but very far from perfect.

Yolanda was in one of my classes and always sat in the back and rarely said anything but listened intently with very little expression. She was very hard to read and get a handle on, but she always smiled and nodded her head when she came in and would often give me a “thumbs up” after class was done.

On this particular night, I had just finished up a workshop (I don’t even remember what it was about) and as I was wrapping things up, I asked the group if they had anything they wanted to say before I called it an evening.

Yolanda raised her hand but didn’t say anything. I looked up and saw her with a slight smile on her face. I was exhausted from working all day and then standing on my feet for the last two hours.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

She smiled and jumped up out of her chair. “My name is Yolanda. I’ve been in here for two years and I have something I want to say.”

I heard a few chuckles but I ignored them. I was dying to find out what she wanted to say and I was pleased that someone had started the ball rolling.

“Sure Yolanda, what did you want to say?”

“I don’t want to talk in front of the group, so I was wondering if maybe I could talk to you after class.” She looked to be in her mid-30’s, brown-skinned and petite. Her teeth were crooked and she had long black hair that was pulled back in a pony tail. Her skin was clear and smooth and she had dark and dull eyes. When I looked at her, it was as if she was far away and struggling to connect with the people and things around her. She was looking straight at me but there was a lack of connection between her and I.  She could have been talking to anyone.

“Sure, that would be fine,” I said and continued to try to get the group engaged in some type of communication. It was getting late and I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was go home, sit in a hot bath and polish off a bottle of wine. The more I thought about it, the better it sounded.

I dismissed the class. No one said anything to me as the filed out, headed back to their cells and to a future that looked hopeless and bleak. I tried to imagine what that was like as I could see it on their faces. As they walked by, I looked at each one and smiled at the ones that looked at me. A few smiled back and for a moment, I could see them as children, laughing and playing and wondered what could have happened that these women ended up here. I didn’t see one glimmer of hope in any of them. I saw women who were beaten down, shuffling out of one room to go back to a cell and spend the night looking up at the ceiling, knowing the next day coming would be exactly the same as the one before and the one before that.

Yolanda came up to me and smiled. We sat down and I asked her what she wanted to say.

She told me she was only 23 and had five children, four of them in foster care. The youngest one was just a toddler that was being raised by her grandmother. The other four were spread all over California and she wanted my help in making sure they were taken care of. She wanted the foster parents to adopt four of them because it would be the best thing for them.

“Yolanda, there really isn’t anything I can do about it. I’m just here to talk to all of you and see what I can do to help you while you are here and when you are released.”

She hung her head down and started crying. Her body shook violently with each sob. I didn’t know what to do or say so I just put my arms around her shoulders and held her. She cried and cried for a long time and I let her. She would occasionally mumble about what a horrible person she was, how she had messed up so badly and that she loved her children so much that she knew the best thing was for them to have a better Mom. She broke my heart.

Finally she stopped crying, wiped her face and looked up at me.

“Yolanda, what did you do that got you here?” I asked.

“The family business. We’ve been doing the same thing my whole life. Ain’t no big deal. We run guns in and out of Mexico.  I don’t really know what I did wrong that got me here though. Just a bunch of cops showed up one day, busted down the door and arrested us. Took my kids and I’ve been here since then.” She shrugged her shoulders and she said this to me as if we were discussing a grocery list.

“Well, I see. So you got arrested for illegal activities.” I said.

A blank look came over her face. “Well, that was news to me when I got arrested.”

I felt my mouth drop open. I looked at her really hard. She was serious.

“You didn’t know it was illegal?” I asked.

“No. It’s just what I’ve been doing since I was a kid.”

Yes, it was that simple. Just didn’t know. She had never gone to school. They lived out of RV’s and had very little contact with anyone outside of the business. She was sold to men here and there whenever the family needed a little cash.

She was only doing what she knew to do. She was just like me, doing what she had to do to survive. We talked for as long as we could before she was escorted back to her cell. As she was leaving, she turned around, walked over to me and gave me a bear hug. I was stunned at the warmth that emanated from her over to me and the strength in her arms. She held on for a long time before the guard pulled her away, but even then, she had a beautiful smile on her face.

“Thank you for listening to me. I like your class,” she said as she turned the corner. I will always remember the color of her jumpsuit (bright orange so they can’t easily hide) and the spring in her step.

I drove home that night, sad and happy at the same time. I was sad that she was in such a bad position and had never known any other life and I was happy that I had been so lucky for what I had been given from the moment I was born until now. I was lucky; she was not.

I can honestly say that I never judged another person after that.