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The Making of a Prison Wife: A True Story
The making of a Prison Wife
How I became a Prison Wife
After working in corrections and the court system for over 25 years I never thought it would ever make a decision that would affect my life so profundly. I have always been facinated by the legal system and how it works. When justice was done I applauded the fairness and compassion with which it was administered, when an injustice was done I was outraged. But never in a thousand years did I imagine that the fate of someone nearest to my heart would one day be in the hands of the same system I served for so long. I was devastated and for the next two years it took to get to trial and sentencing all I had was my faith.
I watch all of the crime stories on tv, CSI, The New Detectives, Forensic Detcetives, Cops, Border Patrol and lately a new one "Prison Wives". But I never dreamed that I would become one. With three years of law school behind me and the experience I gained working in the system I have a very comprenhensive understanding of how the system works. I am familiar with the steps of the journey to trial, the motions to be filed, and all the other procedural rules such as evidence admissibility. I have read every transcript , legal document and indictment or motion filed in my husbands case. Since I am on disability my budget is very small, $ 533.00 a month, barely enough to survive on. The chance of me hiring an appeal attorney was slim to none, I also know that the chance of a fair sentence with a public defender is also slim to none. Public defenders are paid a set fee per case, usually around $1500.00 if they can get the client to take a plea and save the state money. The fee is around $3000.00 if they go to trial. Since they do not have the funds the states provide to the prosecutors, it is rare they will spend much time on a so called pro-bono case. No matter how many or few hours they put in the fee is the same. Most court appointed attorneys are trained to get their clients to take the plea even if the evidence is weak. This is usually accomplished by the threat of a longer sentence if the person goes to court and loses. Most of the time it works.
I will never forget the day I became a prison wife. It was a bright sunny day in November of 2006. Three days before my birthday and 5 days before my husbands. He had come to Dallas to find me after I became unstable due to bipolar disorder. It was a year after hurricane Katrina. We had lost everything we had. I was unable to get my medications and just lost it. I hitchhiked to Dallas from Biloxi, Mississippi. I still don't remember why or much about the trip. I was homeless and alone, sleeping outside abandoned buildings, no clothing, food and no one I knew. I was found by a church group that goes out into the community looking for the mentally ill. They gave me shelter, food and clothes. They also began the search for my husband. He finally picked me up. We had nowhere to go, no money and nothing to eat. We were sleeping at a lake on the outskirts of Dallas. It had already started to get cold. One morning my husband told me to wait there for him, he would be back soon. A week passed and I thought I had been abandoned. It would be another two weeks before I would know the harsh reality of what happened to my husband.
The call shattered my world and my peace of mind. We had been married for 25 years, he was a wonderful husband and a terrific father to my children from my first marriage. We had the perfect life until it all fell apart. I went back to the church and they placed a call to my father-in-law. The news would leave me devastated and in a complete nervous breakdown. My husband, the love of my life was incarcerated for the possession of marijuana. A man who did not smoke, drink. and attended church on a regular basis. I didn't believe it. It had to be a cruel joke. It wasn't. The attorney would not talk to me or give me information. I requested a copy of the indictment from a friend I knew from my days in the federal court. My husband had been offered $1000.00 dollars to take 400 pounds of marijuana from Del Rio to Eagle Pass, two very small towns on the border of Texas and Mexico, about 1 hours drive apart. He was stopped and arrested by border patrol. He gave consent to search his vehicle. He was transported to the Federal Correctional Institute in Del Rio where I had worked before becoming disabled. I cried and prayed then waited until the weekend to visit.
WHY, WHY, WHY?? These were the only words I could think of as I looked at his face through the glass partion. The tears streamed down my face as he told me his reason for the act he had committed. "I couldn't have you on the street with no home and food" his tears matched mine as our hands touched the glass between us. The guards, many of whom I knew left us alone and allowed us a few more precious minutes before taking him away. I didn't know what to do now. I went back to a friends house and got my clothes ready for court. The bond hearing was in two days,
At the bond hearing I was sure he would be granted bond and allowed to go home with me until the trial. He had never been in trouble and had plenty of persons to testify to his character. He is also mentally ill and has a heart condition. Both require medication and continuous care. I knew he would not get that in prison. I pleaded with the judge to grant bond. All my hopes were dashed when the prosecutor requested remand. That means no bond. He would be held until trial. I cried all the way home.
It took two years for the Government to bring my husband to trial. In that time I was confined to a wheelchair. I was unable to attend the trial since the chair weighs almost 300 lbs and the only means of transportation I had was the bus. It could not accomadate the electric. I wrote the judge a letter and explained my absence. I also asked her to show leinency and compassion. My husband chose to go to trial and take his chances. He was sentenced to 10 1/2 years in a federal prison. The judge did show compassion. The deal the attorney offered him to plead would have given him 40 years. The sentence was a huge blow to me . It meant I would have to make it all this time alone. Still I was grateful it wasn't more. My husband was sentenced under Mandatory minimums law, one that many states are trying to and some have repealed. This is a cause I work on also. It takes the sentencing discretion away from the judge and perscribes a fixed punishment. The punishment is usually out of porportion to the crime.
It has now been 5 years since I have seen my husband. He was moved to Big Springs, Texas. It is about three hundred miles from my home on the outskirts of Dallas. It is still impossible for me to visit. With the mental illness I am not allowed to travel far from home alone and the issue with the chair on the bus is the same. we write everyday and never forget a birthday or holiday or anniversary. He always sends me a gift, a handkerchief with a picture he has drawn, a swan made of post it notes...anything to remind me that he loves me. I send money every month. It's all I'm allowed to send. He will be there for 6 more years. He will be sixty-five upon his release. I pray to God every day to let me make it until that day. I spend all my time researching the transcript and working on a Presidential Communtation. With my health rapidly deteriorating, I get scared. I can't bear the thought of never holding him again.
After working in corrections and the judicial system, I believe a person should be punished for their crimes. I just believe the punishment should fit the crime. In this case there were extenuating circumstances. The patrolman who stopped him said it was because he was a hispanic male alone...that reeks of racial profiling. I will continue to work on his appeal. I will never give up and never forget.
I am a prison wife, one of many.
Visitation in Federal Prison
Her face waits expectantly, eyes glued to the small stool and plastic partition. She searches each face as they come into the line view for their long awaited visit. She is there every weekend, Saturday and Sunday. There as much for herself as for the moral support that her visit gives to him. They have been married for 26 years and though the last 4 have been painful due to his incarceration, her love remains unchanged, strong and forever. He still has 6 1/2 years to go. She has no regrets. She has promised to be there every weekend. Many times she will go without the bare necessities to have the money for the trip, just for the mere thirty minute visit that keeps her world intact and keeps his from falling apart. She fills out his money order for commissary (money he can use to purchase things he needs) while waiting. It is a scant $ 100.00, but it could be her grocery money or the money for medications, but she shares it with him gladly. He is her strength, her reason for going on.
Finally, She sees his face appear and she is called to the little booth where they will both sit on the small stools attached to the floor. Her face is covered with tears that run like a river down the carefully made-up face, at the same time her eyes and mouth break into a big smile. She picks up the phone on her side and softly says "I LOVE YOU". Tears well in his eyes as he repeats the words to her and wipes them away. I have allergies he says. Umm is her response, she knows all too well what the tears are for. Their hands touch, divided by the plastic partition, but they remain that way transmitting love, warmth and feeling through the partition. It is the only contact they are allowed. In Federal Prison there is no physical contact, no conguguyal visits. The thirty minutes will pass too fast. Between tears and smiles she tells him about her week, the kids, the grandkids. She never mentions any problems, shes not there to bring him down. he tells her about the classes he is taking, and also keeps the conversation light. Their love is apparent to all present, other visitors and staff. They know her well, she is a regular. Her eyes never leave his. "I LOVE YOU" "I MISS YOU" "I WANT YOU TO COME HOME". She drowns again in tears, trying to choke them back. " I know baby, it'll be okay." He can only comfort her with words. He wishes he could hold her and dry her tears. They change the subject and talk about better times when they were together, praying that soon it will be that way again. She knows its almost time to go. " Do you remember this song ? she asks. She always sings him a piece of a song that reminds her of him, " If you're calling about my heart it's still yours, I should have listened to it a little more and it wouldn't have taken me so long, to know where I belong. And by the way boy this no machine you're talking to...can you tell this is Dallas, and I still love you." He smiles and tries to push his hand closer to hers, to feel her through the partition. She sees the guard go by and touch his shoulder, that means five more minutes. Her tears fall fast and hard now, the hardest part is leaving and leaving him there. The guard noticing her distress and anxiety comes closer and gives them an extra 30 minutes, "but don't tell anyone". She smiles again, grateful for the extra time. She would give anything to touch him or at least a small kiss, but she is happy just for the extra time to be in his presence. She looks at the face she loves so much...a part of her dies inside. They spend their extra time saying a thousand "I LOVE YOU'S". Finally it is time to say good-bye. "Till next week, take care, I love you". He gets up to go...she remains seated, watching, throwing kisses, until he dissappears behind the heavy iron door. She gets up sobbing, from her heart. Other visitors stare with compassion or curiorosity. The staff say goodbye and tell her not to cry, its only a week. To her its an eternity.
Outside she stands for a few brief seconds, contemplating the huge brick and concrete monster behind the razor wire. It holds the power over her life, the one person who ever loved her unconditionally. Her tears fall freely now. As she drives away, she looks in the rearview mirror until she can no longer see. She cries all the way home. Dropping her purse and keys on the couch, she grabs a pen and paper and starts to write... it's not a journal. It's a letter to him. She will write everyday until time for the next visitation. " I LOVE YOU " she begins.
An Update: Executive Commutation
I have applied for executive commutation of my husbands sentence to time served. Unlike state sentences which are decided by the governor of the state, Executive communtation is decided by the President. All i have left now is to pray.
I have noticed many readers but no comments, please feel free to leave a comment good or bad. I appreciate your time in reading. I don't offend easily...I have heard it all from "He got what he deserved" to "A criminal is a criminal". I in no way condone the actions of my husband but I do feel the punishment should fit the crime. In a state that offers probation for murder, has the highest death penalty executions of any in the nation and lately dismissed thousands of cases because the suspect had not been apprehended, the sentence seems a little harsh.