You can feel the tension increase on 6-North every evening around 6. Dinner cleanup is finished. Games of cribbage and Scrabble begin. A soft murmur…The Art of Writing Letters from Prison
Month: September 2022
The election, fear mongering and criminal justice reform
As we embark upon another election this fall, I feel that because of my background and experience of being an inmate has given me insight that I’d like to share. I’m not a politician and it’s not something I normally comment too much on. However I have become passionate about criminal justice reform and prison reform. Our current Lt. Governor John Fetterman is running for Senate along with Dr. Oz. I brought this up before in a previous post. Mr.Fetterman also serves on the board of pardons for the state of Pennsylvania. Dr. Oz is running his campaign on the premise that Mr.Fetterman wants to set everyone free and Pa will no longer be this safe place to reside. Here is some background information I never knew until I was incarcerated.
When you receive a mandatory life sentence in Pa, you’re allowed to file for commutation after you serve half of that sentence. The process to do this is long, difficult and not guaranteed. Sometimes people may apply several times before they’re granted a review. Some never receive the chance . When I was in SCI Cambridge Springs , they created this video and shared it on the TV for everyone to be aware of how the process works. Here’s a link to Naomi’s story https://youtu.be/rU2IzPAk7VQ. I agree with Mr. Fetterman in the video he talks about the difference between punishment and vengeance. I admired his statement because he’s taken the time to understand that not everyone who received a life sentence or extensive sentence should have been. As political scenes change sentences have changed. So someone who was sentenced harshly 15-20 years ago, would never have received that sentence if committed today. One thing I never knew before until I was incarcerated was sometimes you’ll hear someone sentenced to life plus 20, 39,etc. I often wondered why. I thought life meant life. Why add additional time? We’ll circle back to the fact that after you serve half your sentence you can file for commutation. If you have a sentence of life plus x amount of years, you still have the minimum x sentence to do. Therefore it’s next to impossible to be granted release.
Let’s look at some other scenarios. If you are lucky enough to be granted commutation btw you’re still on parole for the remainder of your life. When you get out, you must live in a center aka halfway house that’s run and operated by the DOC. You do have freedoms but they aren’t just letting people loose.. In Pennsylvania parole is not guaranteed. When you’re sentenced you’re given a minimum date and a maximum date. The minimum is the earliest you’ll be able to see the board. The maximum or Max as it’s called is the maximum amount of time the DOC can hold you. Many times people who are parole violators will get tired of being on paper aka parole. If they are close to their max date they might choose to max out. They sign paperwork stating that they agree to be incarcerated until their max date. If approved they walk out free and clear. I’ve seen many do this because of the parole process and how it’s handled if you violate. Long story short, you could violate for something small and it’s up to the parent board if they’ll allow you to keep your street time or not. So if you were out for 9 months and violated, when you go back to jail you have a hearing. They can say, I’m taking away the 9 months you did on the street plus I’m hitting you with another 6 months or whatever they decide. There’s really no set in stone guidance. It becomes a vicious circle and trap for a lot of people. One of the things Dr.Oz is claiming that Mr. fetterman wants to do away with the felony murder sentence, A locall news station did some fact checking and here is the real story: https://www.wgal.com/article/ad-watch-fetterman-felon-murder/41234237
One, if not many things I learned while incarcerated is that ANYONE ANYTIME COULD END UP THERE. Ironically the story included in the article regarding felony murder is an example I was going to share with you. What if you’re out with friends and one goes inside a convenience store to pay. What if they decide to pull a gum, hold the clerk at gun point then shoot them as they leave. You didn’t go there to participate in that but you easily could end up with conspiracy charges if you’re lucky to get it pled down to that. There’s women sitting in prison after years of abuse, before there wasn’t the amount of help there is today. They fought back and the spouse lost their life. Automatically they received a life sentence. Now, many women are still serving time but instead getting voluntary or involuntary manslaughter charges. They are some of the violent criminals everyone is afraid to see freed. You can best believe they are not allowing just any inmate to file and be set free. Use some common sense. Or has all common sense become very uncommon?
When this entire thing started with me, the Lord started showing me a verse. The verse is one that I never saw before, but it would become MY verse. My verse in knowing when the Lord was with me and speaking to me. Isaiah 40:31 tell us, “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” I can’t begin to tell you the number of times this verse would show up out of nowhere to me. One time, I borrowed a book from the library in jail and a piece of paper fell out. It contained this verse. I know that this entire experience made me stronger and more insightful to so many different things. I look at life in general differently than I did before. I look at people differently than I did before. Being in prison, you can see the amount of hurt and dispare that others have gone through in their lives. You realize that people act and react the way that they do because over time it’s become a defense mechanism. It’s easier to act like you don’t care, bucause caring is feeling. If you don’t care, you don’t feel. It’s all just a facade. Deep down inside they care and want to feel. It just hurts too much to feel and care. Some have gone to other ways to numb that pain. Addiction doesn’t have to be drugs or alcohol. It can be anything done excessively more than the normal person might do. This entire thing has brought a lot of hurt, pain a trauma to many. Everyone has developed their own way of dealing and moving on. I hate that phrase “moving on”. Do we ever really “move on”? People often say, “I want things to get back to normal”. Maybe the normal we knew before wasn’t as great as we thought that it was? What if the new normal is or could be better than anything we could possibly imagine? So, what normal was might not be the plans the Lord has for us. If we go back to what “was”, did we ever really learn anything? The Lord has us wait sometimes so that we can grow and learn. When we rush that process and try to do things in our own timing, that is not the Lord’s plans but ours. Think of when you plan a tree. You’re not going to plant a tree that’s going to grow into a tall oak tree on the side of a sandy hill? The soil over time, probably is NOT going to support the root system. The Lord wants us to be planted on a solid foundation. One that we can learn and grow and be strong. Waiting isn’t the Lord telling us no. It might just mean, not right now. Be patient and lean not on your own understanding. Ask the Lord to reveal to you the amazing plans he has for your life. Thank him every day for not only the blessings he’s given us, but the blessings that are yet to come.
The board is ready!
Three and half years, I waited for this day to come. I knew the Lord had already told me that I was going home. I had prepared for this day from day one. I let the officer know that I was there for my Parole board hearing and waiting to hear my name to be called. I was there with a couple of other ladies that I knew from my unit. As, I heard my name I walked up the steps to meet the officer who would be sitting in my hearing that day. She took me in to the conference room that I was shown a month earlier. I was told to sit at a specific chair and that the board would appear via Zoom in a few minutes. The chair was sitting at a weird angle that made me feel uncomfortable. It was set so that they could see you on the screen, but it was an un-natural way of sitting at a table. The officer sat in a chair about 2 seats in front of me, her back to me. I think that was a way of giving me a sense of privacy. I appreciated the gesture. Two men appeared on the screen. They introduced themselves, said hello and I introduced myself in the most professional way possible. I wasn’t uncomfortable with the idea of having a zoom meeting because working in an office as long as I had this wasn’t unusual. The people I was meeting was the nerve ending part. The first man seemed to be the “good cop”. He asked me questions about my family, what I intended to do when I left. Warm up questions. He then asked me about the day that brought me before him. I had gone over this in my mind so many times, I knew it well. The story didn’t get any earier to tell. He asked me some follow up questions, as if surprised. The reaction I see often when I tell this story. I know he asked me a few other questions, but I can’t remember them specifically. Next was the “bad cop”. He actually wasn’t that bad, but he asked the tougher questions. The question that he asked me though was only one question and I knew it was to see my reaction. I was actually glad he asked the question that he did because it was the one that if I was him, I would have wanted an answer to as well. It was the one question that I prepared for. That right there was the Lord’s doing! He looked at me and asked, “You seem very remorseful and have taken responsibility. When, are you taking responsibility now, and why did you file for an appeal?” I looked at him, calm and responded to him. “Sir, you’re absolutely right. I did file for an appeal. I took a huge risk in doing so, knowing that I could be facing more time if I did this. I’d never been in trouble before or in jail before. I was scared to death. Everyone that talked to my family, and even other attorneys encouraged me to file an appeal because of different aspects of the case that wasn’t adding up. I was told that I had 10 days to make that decision. After, I became acclimated and had I had more time to decide, I wouldn’t have filed for the appeal. I actually tried to request it to be withdrawn and I was told that wasn’t possible. I don’t know if that is correct or not. I was following the advice of counsel. I wanted to withdraw my request because I realized that by doing this I was not only putting the families through this again, but my family and the community. I was not trying to revictimize anyone. I realized that by doing this that is what was happening. If, I had the chance or know what I know now, I wouldn’t have filed for an appeal.” He looked at me stunned. He didn’t have any further questions. I was dismissed and left with no feeling of a yes or no. I would have just have to wait AGAIN. We saw the board on a Thursday. The following week by about Wednesday, all but two of us were on the call out to go to the parole office. They all came back stating that they were denied and had to waiting another 6 months, 9 months, etc. to be able to see them again. I was not part of that group. I thought to myself, “ok, this has to be a good sign”. They have 10 weeks to let you know, by 6 weeks you can send a request asking for the status. It was now 6 weeks, no word. I wrote a response, and they heard nothing. I ran into my counselor, and she said to me, “you did really well”. I took that as a positive too that she knew something. I waited almost the entire alotted time until I finally went to the parole office for my decision. I walked up, sat down and was shaking more than when I saw the board. This 8.5×11 piece of paper had the answer on it. I was so scared; I could hardly read it. She wouldn’t just tell me. She made me read it. I felt like it was slowest that I ever read anything in my life. I felt like the world was moving in slow motion. Then I saw it. The answer. I saw it. I looked up at her and she says, “there’s good news and bad news”.
what it means to live your life to the fullest?
We must have come across this phrase relatively at least once or maybe 50th times in our life already. They always say we got only one short life and…what it means to live your life to the fullest?
Jesus gave you authority!
Many people today think that the authority spoken about in the Bible was only for the Apostles and doesn’t exist today. Some churches want you to believe you can’t go to God directly but through a priest. I want to give you some clarity and bring you out of your baby pool faith. Let’s start with Hebrews 5:12-14 “For though by this time, you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” I don’t know about you, but I was ready to start eating solid food and stop playing in the baby pool. I wanted to take my faith into the deep! Some of this might be difficult for you to digest at first. I get that. It was hard for me to digest too. So let me start breaking this down for you. You believe in the Bible, right? You believe what’s written in the Bible is true and the word of God? I’ll assume you all said, yes. If you didn’t then stop right now because you need a different lesson entirely. When you became a believer, Colossians 1:13 tells us we were delivered from the power of darkness. You were delivered from the power or authority of darkness and into God’s kingdom. You now have entered into God’s authority because we are “in Him”. Jesus succeeded in securing all power by going to the cross, dying a horrible death, suffering the penalty for sin, and defeating Satan in the pit of hell. He came to earth as a man for one reason: to re-capture the authority that Satan had stolen through Adam’s disobedience in the garden. (This is after Jesus was resurrected and he was speaking to the Apostles about US as believers). Mark 16:15-20 (you might want to read this a few times) “And he said unto them, go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.” (don’t go drinking poison by the way!)
We have authority to stand against satan and his minions! He is nothing to us. Christians who are saved can NOT become possessed. You can become oppressed, but you can’t become possessed. One of the most vital areas of the believer’s authority is his power to successfully stand against Satan. Ephesians 4:27 says, neither give place to the devil. In the sixth chapter of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul describes the armor that we as believers are to wear in combat against Satan. He explains each piece of that armor. It is the armor of God. But not once does he say that God will put the armor on you or that God will fight the devil for you. YOU are the understood subject of these verses. He says, “YOU be strong in the Lord. YOU put on the whole armor of God that YOU will be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. YOU take the whole armor of God that YOU may be able to withstand in the evil day; and having done all, YOU stand.” God has given you the power and the authority to stand against Satan and his destructive works. He has provided the armor, but it is your responsibility as a believer to put on that armor and stand against the devil. James 4:7 says, YOU resist the devil, and he will flee from YOU. The armor and the weapons are at your disposal. God is there with you to back His Word; but all is worthless unless you take your position of authority and assume the responsibility to use what He has provided. You have the power and the authority to take the Word of God, the name of Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit. You need to speak directly to Satan yourself and stand your ground firmly.
Colossians 1:9-12 “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”
Learning to live with nothing
One of the things you realize immediately when you go to jail or prison is that you now own nothing. They take the clothing off your back. You have two choices, throw it away or mail it home. I wasn’t going to mail it home because I knew this going in and wore something I could throw away without concern. Once you get to state prison you are issued the following: 3 pairs of pants, 2 short sleeve shirts, 2 long sleeve shirts, 3 t-shirts, 1 pair of pajamas, 3 bras, 3 pairs of underwear, 3 pairs of socks, state shoes, a spring jacket and a winter coat. They then give you 2 sets of sheets, 2 blankets, 2 towels, 2 washcloths, and trial sized toiletries. You get 2 rolls of toilet paper. This is the only items you now technically “own”. I used that word loosely because, you still don’t really own them, even though your name is now ironed on them. Your name and inmate number ironed on every piece of state clothing you own. Also, don’t get caught wearing someone else’s clothes because then you both lose it and you could get in trouble for having someone else’s items in your possession. You were allowed to get new items once a year, or if they were too big/small or tore. Normally you just talked to your Unit Manager, and it wasn’t a big deal. You weren’t allowed to alter your clothes; they would make you go and take out the alterations. Some of girls wanted their pants to be so tight, I don’t know how they breathed. You really, didn’t get to “own” anything until you started to go to commissary to buy snacks, toiletries, paper, and whatever else they sold. You could also “own” books that were sent in by your family and friends. There were limits on the number of items you could “own”. We found ways to get around those numbers. Sometimes, it could have been by just moving a bottle of Tylenol to your roommate’s shelf. There were things you wanted to stock up on, especially during cold/flu season. They sold out quickly on commissary and who wanted to wait 2 weeks to be able to get what you needed or to find out it was out of stock. We were all good though about helping each other out if you needed something. You knew who you could ask. I keep putting the word “own” in parentheses because even though we purchased these items, they were all subject to search. At any given time, the search team could show up at your door to do a search of your cell. We knew that once we got searched, we would be good for another 3 months until they showed up again. We could also tell, because they would start searching our hallway, so we knew we’d be coming up soon. Our room never had anything to worry about. We didn’t keep contraband and didn’t do things we weren’t supposed to do. I was always lucky in that regard, that I had great roommates. How they searched things just sucked though. Especially when they would show up right after morning count at 6:30 am! You’d climb back into bed and try to go back to sleep, and they’d come and flick the lights on, “Search!”. You had to get up, put on your shoes, they would pat you down to make sure you didn’t have anything hiding on your person, then we were made to stand in the hallway while they ransacked our room. Sometimes, they would leave, and it would look like a hurricane went through. Luckily, because the rooms, I was usually in, they didn’t do this to us. They’d leave and it was a little messy but not ransacked so much. They would methodically go from area to area and look through your stuff. They would unmake your bedding, go through all of your cabinets, go through your boxes, open containers and sniff them. We weren’t allowed to keep empty boxes to organize things in, that was considered contraband because it was now not used for its intended purpose. We didn’t get in trouble; they would just dump whatever was in it out and throw the box away. So, we got smart! If the box held crackers, we would keep a sleeve of crackers in the box. We then, could put other items in the box to organize. Problem solved! It was a game. There were really no rules to this game. You could have items that you “owned” for years, been through several searches and then suddenly they decide that you shouldn’t have it anymore. You could write a dispute about it, but at the end of the day they make the rules. I often thought that this was something that should have some consistency across institutions. This shouldn’t be something that an employee who’s thinks that just because they think you shouldn’t have it, they’ll take it. I’m not talking about oddities. Anything that we “owned”, could only be acquired through certain channels. They’d look at us and ask, “where did you get this?” Let me see, “I drove down to Walmart and picked it up!” Duh! Ask a dumb question, you should get a dumb answer. All of this is very demoralizing and even the items that you have at home don’t really belong to you anymore either. You’ve entrusted them to others and can only hope they’ll be there when you return. Since, I know that my journey here was for the Lord I needed to remember what he told the Disciples when he called them to follow him. In Luke 12:22-34 it reads:
22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life[a]? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?27 “Consider how the wildflowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near, and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. Our heart needs to be centered on God and not the items we possess. Jesus was telling them what we all need to remember, we are to rely on God. He provides all of our needs. He is the bread of life, the living water, the light onto our path, our rock and fortress. We need to take our needs to the Lord and ask for his provision.
What road do you choose?
This was originally written in my journal on 8/8/2020.
There’s been a big move as everyone is calling it. Over 200 of us were relocated to new units to adjust to the new cohort situations. This was because 1. The current pandemic of Covid-19 and 2. In case some other pandemic or breakout occurred. That way the prison can run as smooth as possible if it does. Every one of us is here because of a choice we made. Your choice will lead you down 1 of 2 roads. 1. leading a peaceful God filled life or 2. One of regret, despair and leads you here. I know I should’ve stayed in my faithful walk with Christ. I know what I did was wrong, but I let the devil lead me instead of the heart I gave to God. The devil is a liar! I only have myself to blame for allowing him to deceive me. I know now, I need to remain in God’s word every day. I know he’s working on plans to bring me home. The move I made, never really should’ve happened, but I’m glad that it did. I’m now in an even smaller unit, in a corner room & currently alone. Time, that I’m enjoying recharging my batteries. Perhaps, the work I needed to do was done. I got my Bunkie Kim to start talking about God again and pick up a Bible for the first time in years. Praise God!
“If you go about doing good, speaking love & truth, radiant with His spirit, they will be reading in you the gospel after all.” Vance Havner – Turning Point 2/2020.
Who is your anchor?
Hebrews 11:1-Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Several years ago, my husband and I bought an old fishing boat. It wasn’t fancy. It was blue, very used and the motor wasn’t the greatest. It was what folks would call a “John boat”. We loved it. I was the one who learned how to back it up and put it in and out of the water. This was because the truck we owned was a stick shift and my husband never learned how to drive it. Once in a while, the motor would give us fits and decide to not start on the first try. We weren’t small engine experts either. We just wanted to have fun, fish and zip around the water. Each day, I ask the Lord what he wants me to talk about in my blogs and today he put this story in my heart to share with all of you. I like when he does that. He is an amazing and wonderful God.! Anyway, we have a friend that we are still friends with to this day, almost 30 years later. Walt loves to fish, and probably knows more about it and boats than my husband does. Walt came up one day and they decided to take our boat down to this local lake. Before they left, I gave them both a very stern warning to NOT GO NEAR THE DAM. The lake had a dam in it and from growing up in the area, I know how people who aren’t familiar with them don’t understand how they can pull you closer. It was important for me as a wife and friend to remind them to please stay away from that area. I had mentioned it to my husband a few times when we’d take the boat to this lake. I could only pray that he was listening and not having selective hearing at the time. They left and I prayed, “Lord, please keep them safe and return them home safe and sound.”. Eventually, as the hours went by, they came home both looking a little shaken. Finally, my husband fessed up and told me that they decided to cut the engine on the boat and just float around a bit. I can’t recall if they were actually fishing or not. I want to say they weren’t. I think they were just out messing around with the boat having fun. Well, they weren’t paying much attention, until my husband noticed that they boat was drifting closer and closer to the dam. He got up and pulled the engine to start it. Yep, you guessed it! It wouldn’t start. By now, he’s pulling and pulling with all he’s got, our friend is giving it a go. Nothing! My husband said at one point he told our friend, “She told us to not get close to this thing”. It was then he remembered that they had an anchor. He dropped the anchor, giving them the time, they needed to figure out why the motor wouldn’t start. This story reminds me of the time in Mark 4:38-40 when Jesus was asleep in the boat during the storm:
38 Jesus was inside the boat, sleeping with his head on a pillow. The followers went and woke him. They said, “Teacher, don’t you care about us? We are going to drown!”39 Jesus stood up and gave a command to the wind and the water. He said, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind stopped, and the lake became calm.40 He said to his followers, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
I think that during the storms in our life we tend to forget that the Lord is always with us. Just because he might seem like he’s not there, doesn’t mean that he isn’t. So, when you feel like you are drifting further and further away, remember who your anchor is.
The things I learned in jail
I learned a lot about myself, and I learned a lot about others. I found that sometimes, the best way to figure out what’s going on, is to sit back and just observe. When I first went to county jail, this worked out well for me. I’d watch people do dumb stuff, they’d get yelled at for it and then put that in my memory to “not do that!”. Most stuff for the most part was common sense, although that’s not very common. I learned how to make food in unconventional ways, I believe I mentioned that before. I know that I don’t like people arguing constantly. I didn’t grow up that way, my husband I don’t argue like that, so it really got on my nerves. People talk to their tv’s. I don’t know why, and it’s not a once and done type thing. It’s like a play by play of whatever they are watching. I wanted to tell them that I don’t care what you’re watching, I’m trying to watch my own show We had to wear headphones, so this commentary made the headphones useless. They would use their headphones as speakers around their necks or have them so loud you could still hear the music. If that wasn’t bad enough, they would then sing out loud. Again, why have headphones at this point? If you aren’t someone who likes to prepare, you will learn this trait in jail. We had to prepare for count several times a day, prepare for meals, prepare or lights out, prepare for yard. It was also your job to check the call out every night to see what appointments you had the following day. If it was Friday, then you would check for the weekend and Monday. I don’t think it dawned on some of the people there that they were trying to make you more responsible and GROW UP! You learned that you had an area where you kept your stuff. It wasn’t all over the room, it was in your area. You shared certain spaces with others, therefore when you were finished, you cleaned up after yourself. People will come and hunt you down if you don’t. You need to learn to speak up for yourself. Otherwise, you will be walked on. You also needed to know when to keep your mouth shut. There were some that would love to just push your buttons to get a rise out of you. The Lord opened my eyes to all kinds of people because we’re told that we need to love everyone with the love of the Lord. It made me sad because after I started to look at people this way, I realized that someone else must have been treating them this way for them to feel that it was normal to do this to others. You wanted to just ask them, “who hurt you?” You can’t ask that though. Not unless you want to get socked in the nose. Occasionally someone would open up or you’d go to a group and people would share. I pray that the Lord continues to open my eyes to see everyone differently. Everyone is going through something. Be kinder the necessary.
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