Doing Time on The Outside
Due to the mandatory minimum and truth in sentencing acts our prisons are bursting at the seams with people serving very long sentences for some very minor crimes. Given some are violent offenders and got their just dues, it is a touchy issue, especially here in Texas where we have the highest incarceration rate, and execution rate of any other state.
But there is a group who have committed no offense, are innocent and still suffer the sentence given the offender. They are the women and children of the men inside. They are usually left with the loss of the primary provider and the only stability they know. They lose the husband, and father that for many families are the rock that holds everything together.
While I worked in the corrections system I noticed many things about these women and their children. I noticed their devotion to visiting, even if that meant traveling 300 or so miles to the facility where their loved one is for a mere 15 minute visit. The time of the visit is due to the number of inmates at the facility. Some of the women smile forced smiles , fighting back tears so their loved one doesn't see them cry. faces and hands pressed tight against theglass, the only kiss or touch they are allowed. They talk by way of a telephone, no physical contact allowed. They hurriedly discuss things at home, though the women often paint a rosy picture of things instead of how things really are. They don't want him to worry more. The fifteen minutes pass fast as mothers and children struggle over possession of the phone, speaking rapid-fire, knowing they would soon be ushered out. Hurried goodbyes are said and more kisses pressed the glass , hands touching once again against the glass as the guard comes to take them away. They watch throwing kisses, locking eyes, until their loved ones disappear behind the cold steel door.
Now the tears begin to fall. All of the pent up emotions, joy at seeing them, the pain at leaving them behind, the uncertainty of not knowing if they will see him next week. Many can not afford the weekly trip depending on economic reasons and/or distance, or the chance that he might be moved to another facility. When the inmate is moved the family does not know until he is gone, set up in the new facility and issued a code to be able to use the phone and let their wives and children know where they are. This process can take weeks and not knowing what is happening during this time can be tourture for the family. Many women leave sobbing, staring at the building until it is out of sight. During my time there, I listened to many of their stories, their problems, and even providing a hug thought it wasn't really allowed. After all I am human. Their suffering touched my heart.
I guess the hardest part as explained to me by many of the wives I spoke to was explaining it to the children. The older ones usually understand due to their age and the fact they are old enought to know what has happened. They can also read the words "Correctional Facility or Texas State Prision". For the younger ones it is harder. Many think "daddy" has abandoned them, others are told daddy is away at school or whatever excuse seems to satisfy their childlike fears of not knowing where daddy is or when he will come home. Often if it was a highly publized crime the children must face their peers at school or hear what other adults say about the incarcerated parent. As an officer I would recommend counseling for these children. This event can have lifetime effects on the child.
For the women the economic part is probally the hardest. Many have none or little education and have only been wives and caretakers. Now they must take the gigantic leap to entering the workforce with no skills and no references. Most wind up in menial jobs that barely pay the rent and depend on social services and state assistance to survive. Many are to ashamed to tell anyone where their husbands are due to the stigma. For the ones unable to find a job, they turn to prostitution on the street or what is more accepted "social prostution" by living with another man who can support them and their children and wait out the time until the husband is released. Especially where children are involved this can present another whole problem. The womans child may become attached to the man, or the mans children may be attached to the woman as a mother figure if they do not have one available. This can present a traumatic event when the one who is incarcerated comes home.
The effect of the mandatory minimum and the truth in sentencing law has separated many families and made many wives and children dependants of the state. Living on the benefits of the state they becaome easy prey to men on the outside who make relationships with them who in return take away the money and foodstamps meant for the children to purchase alcohol and drugs. Many of these men do not work and live soley off these women who are vunerable at the time. Many are abused mentally and physically. In the end the inmate is not the only one "doing time" . The many women and children are also sentenced to months and years of hard time on the outside.
I am not saying we should let murderers, child molesters, terrorists and violent criminals go into society, that would be a mistake. But what I am saying is that we should abolish the mandatory minimum and truth in sentencing acts and on a case by case basis, use non-violent offerders on house arrest to remain with their families and do community service in homeless shelters or other jobs such as road work or whatever to avoid punishing those who have no fault, but suffer the most.
I have seen their pain , heard their stories of suffering. Surely there most be another way to deal with non-violent offenders.
What would you suggest???
MERRY CHRISTMAS BABY: I MISS YOU
Its almost Christmas and my mind wanders back to the Christmases we shared before you had to go away. I got your card in the mail, it was just yesterday. Reading the beautiful words, I didn't know what to say. I wish I could just pick up the phone like we used to do, tell you how much you mean to me, and how much I will always love you. I think of you sitting there in a small dark cell alone, Wishing I could hold you, wishing I could bring you home. As for me I'm doing okay, managing to keep the bills paid, sending you a little money, whatever I can save. It won't be much of a Christmas, times are really hard but I hope you'll be okay, I hope you liked the card. Its hard out here alone. I'm trying hard to make it, but always when I talk to you I act happy and I fake it. The kids there doing okay, they love and miss you too. Not a day goes by that we don't remember you. Its really such a struggle out here on my own, I never thought you would go away and I would be alone. Sometimes I barely make it and my eyes fill with tears, I've made it through the first 5 now its only 6 more years. Take care of you self baby, If I could only feel your touch... it would be the best gift ever. It would mean so much.
This is to my Husband. Due to my disability I have not seen him for 5 years. I still have 6 more left to wait. We talk for the allowed 10 minutes every Monday and he never forgets to send me a card or something he has made in arts and crafts. I also send something too. Sometimes I just have to make a homemade card to send and write a poem inside because I don't have the money to buy a real card but he loves them just the same.
See my dear readers, I am one of the many women, doing time on the outside. Living on disability I have a hard time keeping everything paid but somehow scrape by. The light of my days is knowing I will get that call on monday, a precious ten minutes. I never tell him how hard it is or that I can't pay this or that. I just want him to do his time with out worrying about me. Holidays are the hardest. I am glad our children are grown. So far I have managed to keep a little apartment by sharing it with someone. He doesn't know that. I hope he never will.
It makes you feel less than human when you have to share your body with someone to have a place to stay. This is what we women left behind call "acceptable prostitution". Society looks the other way. We survive on the goodness of churches, and social services and whoever will help us. Most of our husbands are not violent offenders. They were simply given very long sentences due to mandatory minimums and the truth in sentencing act. So the States spend billions of dollars to house and feed our husbands for a minor crime that could be best repaid to the community by having them work in community services, and be able to support their families.
There are many. many, out there like me. Especially in Texas. We are doing time on the outside, while our men do theirs on the inside. We usually don't celebrate Christmas, there isn't money for gifts. Many like me due to a disability and financial circumstances will not get to visit either. Many will judge us and the ones we wait for without knowing the circustances or the corruption in our criminal justice system.
Please remember us while the abolishment of mandatory minimums and truth in sentencing act is being considered to reduce the overburdened prison systems. I am a former corrections officer and court official for 25 years. I know the system from both sides. Punishment is not always administered fairly or consistently. It is often based on money, power and who you know.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO YOU AND YOURS AND BEST WISHES FOR A HAPPY NEW YEARS!!