Book Excerpts

Danbury Prison

One by one an officer began calling names and taking us to another room. This is where we were to get into uniform. My street clothes were then dumped into a bin, never to be seen again. Individually, we were stripped naked asked to lift up our boobs, both sides of our hair to reveal the back of our ears, and open our mouth and stick our tongue out. Lastly I was told to turn around, bend over, squat, spread my butt cheeks and cough. This was an activity I would proceed to do many times over the next few years. I used my childhood coping mechanism of blocking out current painful experiences, and acting like I didn’t care, that it didn’t bother me in the least. It worked for me. Some officers didn’t seem comfortable with my bags exposed on my stomach and they hurried me along, even omitting the bend over and cough part. It was easy for me to access that wide berth of denial I comfortably went to. Many years of dropping my pants for nurses and doctors made this event less embarrassing.

I was given a dirty white sports bra, white granny cotton underwear, a tan T-shirt, a button down shirt, and an overly starched stiff pair of stretchy pants. But I was most grateful for the oversize, heavy coat the officer handed me before I was told to go sit back down with the other girls.

I was the last one sitting on the bench. A kinder officer explained to me that they would have to put me in solitary confinement until the morning, because I technically wasn’t supposed to be there. He looked at me with apologetic eyes so I took a chance and asked if I could stay the night on the bench, near him, that I would be quiet and out of his way. He said no and proceeded to re-cuff and shackle me before he gave me back my heavy coat to wear. I had never been so grateful for the warmth of that coat and I mean deep gratitude. Two armed guards escorted me outside into a yard that was completely blanketed in snow. I remember thinking that it looked like I was walking in a scene of a movie, maybe Shawshank Redemption. This moment was so surreal that I purposefully took a snapshot in my brain, knowing that this was a pivotal moment on this terrifying journey. After a several minute walk I began to shake, my denial was cracking and I was having a hard time pulling it together. We got buzzed into another building that was immediately loud and smelled like puke and I was ordered to change my clothes again. I didn’t understand because I just changed into my khaki uniform. I was told that solitary confinement inmates wore orange so that they could be spotted easily. I don’t know where they thought they were going, but OK. I was given orange paper underwear, an orange shirt and pants. The kind officer came back and whispered that he would get me out as soon as he could in the morning. He told me to hang in there and that I would be safe and to ignore all of the screaming. That only frightened me more and I began to do what I was trying not to … cry. The tears were streaming down my face and I couldn’t control it. Dammit!  I told myself that I could do it. That for 12 hours I could get through anything. It was like going into an operation. To keep fear at bay I would remind myself that this was only temporary and that in a few days or weeks, depending on the type of procedure, I would feel better.

I was escorted into a room that had a brick wall on one side and three levels of cells on the left side. The stone faced, CO turned the key and the bars opened. Without saying a word she nodded and motioned for me to walk in. In seconds the bars clinked shut and she was gone.

Earthquake at CHOC

  1. My parents had left the hospital after I fell asleep for the night. They stopped at their favorite chinese restaurant for authentic chow mein with bean sprouts and a side of red, glazed spareribs before they finally went home to get some sleep. They were exhausted. My father worked at the cabinet shop 16 hours that day and spent the evening with my mother and I in the hospital.

A few hours into the night they were awoken by a violently shaking bed. An earthquake was hitting and I was not there. Panic struck as my father ran to the phone to call the hospital. There was no answer only a recording. They hopped in the car and sped to Children’s hospital in Orange. The 7 mile trip only took my father 12 minutes, through side streets and freeways. Mom said dad has always had a led foot, in fact it was the source of many arguments on family road trips. This time though mom encouraged him to go faster. Dad pulled up to the emergency room doors and ran out of the car. The elevators weren’t working so they took the stairs two at a time and ran to my room. His heart leaped to his throat when he noticed my crib was empty and chaos was overtaking the hallways. They began yelling for the nurse afraid to learn that something terrible had happened to me.

My father loves to tell this story. His eyes get big and his smile is unstoppable. “All of a sudden I hear this loud sound of wheels barrelling down the hallway. The sound is faint at first but the noise eventually gets louder and louder. I think what the hell is that? I look toward the corner of the sterile hall and recognize a child on a big wheel practically tilting on the right side of the axis. I notice the IV pole is levitating off of the ground as the solution in the glass bottle is sloshing back in forth. As the big wheel hits the straight away and both wheels connect to the speckled, linoleum waxed floor, I recognize the driver and hear “Hi dadda”.

       Did you know that creating a book proposal has a ton of steps? I am working with Jenna Benton and here is an example of how we create a timeline.

  Summaries on notecards help put the story in an order that makes sense. My first chapters will be on my childhood. That’s what I am working on now.

Pleading Guilty – Headed to the Salvation Army

April 12th was the day I went to court to plead guilty. It was also the day I would be released to the Salvation Army for 3 months. Walking into the courtroom shackled was an odd and surreal experience. I kept wondering who this person was? Who was I? After I plead guilty I was escorted back to the holding cell while I waited for what seemed like forever. There are never any clocks to look at when you are in a holding cell and watches aren’t aloud. A tall good-looking man walked through the doors with a handful of keys, he told me to turn around and lift my ankles one at a time, so that he could unlock the shackles. Next I held out my arms so the handcuffs could be removed. I rubbed my wrists attempting to smooth out the dented marks the metal made. Was it necessary to squeeze them that tight? Instead of closing the door, this time he backed up and raised his left arm as if motioning me to exit the holding cell. It had been 4 months almost to the day since I was allowed to walk free somewhere. My attorney Frank met me in the lobby and I followed him out the door through a long hallway. He said “ I bet you’re hungry what do you want to eat you want to go to Subway?”  Personally I didn’t like subway but I wasn’t about to be picky. “ yes Subway sounds great” I said. There is really no way to describe that feeling of having choices once again. There I stood in a fast food restaurant in Connecticut, dressed in a prison uniform, staring at a bar filled with lettuce, olives, cheese, pickles and tomatoes. I wanted everything. He told me to order a large and pick out some chips and a soda. We sat down and ate as he was trying to make light conversation. But before we were done he warned me that an opportunity at the Salvation Army was serious. That how I spent my time there will determine my success in the future. I listened but I wasn’t really hearing him. I was still trying to get comfortable with sunshine, large windows and being free again. Being sober and free again. It had been many many years. I wondered if Frank knew what a wreck I felt inside? I probably should have said it out loud, but I didn’t. I didn’t last 3 months in there either.

Let me tell you another amazing story.

My first term at Southern Oregon University (SOU) has been great. I love my classes & the professors. The information we discuss is valuable & can easliy be used in my day to day world. The other class I am taking is Criminology. It counts as as sociology class. I thought it would be interesting to understand criminals more. Understand myself & others as I am spending time navigating emotions of people with the same background. I also somewhere deep, believe that it will help me in my future work. Only God knows what that is at the moment, but His plans are so big that if I knew, it might overwhelm me so I’m okay with trusting Him. I am fascinated by the class even though it is online. I am actually able to speak candidly in my discussions which I’m hoping will soften others opinions & judgements of criminals. Don’t get me wrong, a crime is a crime & should be punished, but most of the people in prison are not terrible people, they are quite the opposite. Also, for my own sake it is another freeing process. I am so happy to know that I am not terrible, I don’t have to be ashamed. I can learn what kind of events, life-course, trajectories and a latent trait, that provided a lethal combination in me veering off, full steam ahead onto a criminal path. Anyway, I have been struggling with a research paper. I have a lot of material but the research part has not flowed the way I want it & I am beyond frustrated, I think it’s hitting a little too close to home. This is the first term I have not had a tutor & I need some guidance. My frustration has lead me to eating poorly, stuffing my face with carbs & I am at a standstill. Friday morning I went to re-entry court, which I promised the judge I would continue to do every month to lend support but also because I receive a lot of support & it keeps me accountable. The judge commented on the Wild + Woman Magazine & read a little from my article in front of several prosecutors that were observing. I talked about showing up & asking for help & being open to spirituality and learning new things. When she asked me how school was going I talked about my frustration with my research paper. I was close to getting it right but I might as well be far away from it because it felt like a jumbled mess. Anyway, after court and after I ate 4 cookies and a raspberry jelly filled donut with powdered sugar all over it, a woman with a head full of red hair came up to me and handed me her email & cell phone number. She happened to be an Oregon prosecutor and said her husband was a criminology professor at SOU. That he just happened to be good at research papers and that their kids just happened to not be home tonight. She offered their services at no cost to me and invited me to send them my draft so they could help edit it. WHAT? Again, Is this real? You can’t make this stuff up. This is the answer to all of my current so called problems. This alleviates all of my stress. And most of all this is God showing up once again. This is Him parting the Red Sea for me as He always does. The way God works in my life allows me to trust. I get excited to have a front row center, popcorn eating seat at God making a way for me at every turn. Someday I’ll get better at losing the frustration all together but it is slowly happening. I am human after all.  

Going back to Cali    

…Getting out of the car in front of the house we fled from all those years ago was
surreal. It looked the same. The sun was shining and presented a beautiful California day like I am used to. He had organized all my stuff in the garage and I was surprised to read some of the labels. My box of favorite Christmas ornaments, pictures of my trip to Europe in 1987, and my champagne colored quilted bedspread. I saw the lucite lamp I loved so much, we bought it in Palm Springs. I needed to go slow and absorb these memories that were rushing back at me. I felt his nervousness which made me try to be more chill and a little silly. As I looked around the rest of the garage he made the first of many of the same comment “if there is anything you see that you want, please take it”. His softness and love made me cry again. So much hurt and pain and damage and regret filled the room. I decided to take the plunge and walk in the house. I had never been inside sober. The whole remodel was done while I was high. It was beautiful. I felt like I died and was floating above myself, reliving many years ago, trying to recognize that rebellious, troubled, lost woman that spent so much time in here.                

       Grady County, Oklahoma State Prison. 

…After what seemed like hours we were escorted to another room with maybe ten women. The floor was jammed packed with skinny, blue, plastic mattresses and a payphone on the wall. A very pregnant woman stood out to me as Shelly and I huddled in the corner, shaking from the cold, trying to appear like we weren’t afraid. One girl was screaming on the phone to what sounded like her mother, begging her, actually more like threatening her to bail her out. Another woman was fast asleep on one of the mattresses, in the midst of chaos. There had been a heated discussion about someone bringing drugs into the holding cell. Unless she was sharing with everyone, they were going to snitch on her. This screaming, debating and bullying went on all morning. Finally the very pregnant girl told Shelly and I to sit down on her mattress. We quickly declined. She asked if we were from the Feds. We said yes, not knowing why that mattered and if it was a good or bad thing. She said it was an honor and that we had to sit on her mattress. As we began to decline again, she gave us a look that indicated it would be disrespectful for us to say no, so to not get in a fight, we sat. I’m not quite certain if she was showing off for Federal inmates because she seemed to be enamored with us. I don’t know what exactly made her walk a few steps to the sleeping girl but all of a sudden she started wailing on her. In a way I had never seen before. The room was so small, I couldn’t get out of the way, I was already up against the wall. I felt the wind beneath her punches as I stared in horror, not knowing exactly what to do. All of the women were screaming after the pregnant girl got a few solid hits in. Like that was the plan, let her hit a few times before the CO’s were called. There was blood everywhere and nowhere to move when the gates opened. Three officers wrestled the pregnant girl off of the beat up girl laying on the floor. Then two officers came to remove and possibly, bandage up the sleeping girl, who I later learned was the girl with the drugs.

                         Danbury, Connecticut to Wyatt Private Prison in Rhode Island
….Two officers came to Danbury Federal Prison to pick me up. They were polite, but not overly kind as they helped me climb into the backseat while I was black boxed shackled. He put his hand on top of my head so that I wouldn’t hit the roof of the car, but he remained silent. I don’t think they knew how shocking this was for me. This was not an ordinary day as an ordinary criminal. What the hell was happening? Every time I came in contact with another group of officers, I was reminded that I was no longer in the real world, where a smile and a thank you would go a long way. I was invisible to them. Shortly after we were on the road we stopped at a gas station, besides filling the tank, they purchased sandwiches, chips and sodas. I was desperately hoping one was for me. I wondered if this was one of those times I should push past my fear and be assertive to let them know that I was hungry? They seemed like decent young men. I said, “Is one of those sandwiches for me?” They replied, “No”, and took another bite of what looked like a turkey and mayo, then turned the radio up a little louder, probably so I would stop talking to them. As Bruno Mars belted out the speakers of the windowless white van, I knew I was in very unfamiliar territory, a world that I had no business being in, a world where I was completely  “Locked Out of Heaven”.

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