There are times that depression and loneliness threaten to overtake me here. At any moment of the day I’m surrounded by hundreds of women in extremely close quarters but sometimes I feel quite alone.
It’s hard to be so far away from my family, some days in prison are better than others. There are so many things I miss about my life. I miss vibrant colors and smells, I miss taking a shower without mold and mildew and getting in a warm bed. Most of all I miss going to church on Sunday and partaking of the sacrament. I miss the kindness and goodness in people that I’ve associated with. I know that I have been extremely blessed and protected here but there are times that it is hard to find purpose. I have had a rough week and feel quite emotional and tender. The General conference edition of the ensign came this week and as I read it’s sacred words I found myself in tears just wanting the good back that was always in my life.
This last week has been a struggle for me and I realized today that many fellow inmates have noticed. They have stopped in passing to ask if I’m okay. I was touched as I thought about it. Today a girl that I’m always joking around with walked by me and said, “Louder, I’m worried about you, I can see that you’re hurting right now just by looking in your eyes.” Last week the woman named Red with the gold teeth walked up to me in the dayroom and hugged me. She said,” Louder, I love you.” Then she just hugged me while I patted her back for about a minute and finally I said, “I love you too Red.”
I had a team meeting this week with a caseworker who is assigned to assess how I am doing in prison. The first thing she told me was that she was going to raise my restitution because Chad was sending me extra money for video visits and email.
I told her that was unreasonable and that my husband is barely getting by and it is a big sacrifice for him to send the money to cover the exorbitant fee the BOP charges to email home or have a video visit.
I pointed out that the government was already taking half my income in here and the increase she was proposing would mean that I would be paying more in restitution than I earn in a month, they would be taking from my husband and children.
She suggested I do less emailing and video visits, so I pointed out that she was penalizing me for staying in touch with my family.
The caseworker was uninterested in my concern and instead told me that she had to do her job because the unit manager would probably be looking over her shoulder. I said, “I can’t imagine the unit manager or the BOP approving of penalizing its inmates for staying in touch with their families”. I asked her, “Can’t you see how wrong it is to take money that is only used to stay in touch with my husband and children?” After all, the government is the one who decided to send me so far away from my home, and my family can’t afford to visit often.
The woman told me that other inmates don’t get to stay in touch with their families either. I said,” You’re right, and that’s a tragedy! They have to detach from their loved ones and I refuse to do that.” Ironically my last team meeting’s goal was to stay in contact with friends and family”
Next she told me how she had helped another inmate get help for her gambling addiction and she suggested that might work for me as well. I thought, “I don’t have a gambling addiction, I don’t even know how to play cards?” The meeting felt very insincere and was completely useless.
I mentioned that I work a lot of extra hours in education and have built a whole new photography program from scratch, that I felt like as an inmate, I was doing a great job. She wasn’t interested. She did however bring up that Judge Shelby had ordered me to attend trauma counseling.
“How ironic!” I said, “The government almost kills me by putting me naked in a cell for days, dehydrates me, and pushes me to complete insanity. Then they lock me up and want me to attend trauma counseling?”
I find it interesting that the judge is concerned about my mental health now but didn’t have a problem with me pleading guilty even though less than 48 hours before my plea I had been put naked in a cell again and a report was written by the county jail stating I was delusional.
One of my new roommates named Kera is from a small town in Montana and serving an 8 year sentence for selling drugs. She has a child who lives with her parents, and doesn’t get much help from home. She works very hard making around $200 a month at Unicore, a mind boggling job on the telephones but she makes the best of it.
She not only supports herself in here but also sends a few extra bucks home to her son every month, I am humbled by her sacrifice. The other day we were talking and she said,
“Portia, I think it is so dangerous to let the government get away with what they did to you. It means that they can do whatever they want to any American.”
Kera was at the Nevada detention center with me when I was attacked by another inmate. She said, “I was a witness to what happened in Nevada, you asked them for help because the other inmate wouldn’t leave you alone and the staff wouldn’t take you seriously. They shouldn’t have housed you with a violent criminal.”
Prison is very inhumane at times, most of the women are brought here on the most uncomfortable bus ride in the world. The bus is dirty with hard plastic seats and the women are handcuffed and shackled together for over 14 hours, they are not allowed a bathroom break, a drink of water, or food. On the last bus that came in many of the women had wet their pants and a few of them were a complete mess because of their periods.
The Marshals that transport inmates are covered in tattoos and many of them are foul mouthed and much more disrespectful than the inmates.
A while back I was sitting in medical with a woman who was sobbing from severe pain, most likely a kidney stone. She fell to the floor and was lamas breathing. A medical staff member walked right past her completely ignoring her.
Orianna was told this week that the BOP will not be treating her illness because they don’t have funding right now. I was upset when she told me what the doctor said. It’s not like she can go to a doctor or clinic of her choice and get medical care.
If the government can’t afford to treat inmates then why do they keep locking up non-violent offenders for years? It makes me wonder if the prosecutors and judges just need to lock people up to justify their existence? If you could see what I see everyday you would be horrified!
Maybe that’s why I’m here? To shed light on a system that needs to see the light of day. If you have a dental problem in prison your tooth is going to get pulled, that’s the reason I went and made sure my teeth were in the best condition they could be in. The other day a friend of mine came back from the dentist with a big gash in her tongue, I guess the dentist accidently missed her tooth and hit her tongue?
I am helping one of our staff members teach a class that I really enjoy right now. The purpose of the class is to help inmates find their humanity. These women have been traumatized by a legal system designed to degrade and belittle it’s victims. Most of the women here were sitting in a courtroom like I was listening to a prosecutor or judge take years of their life and talk about their crimes in legal words that they don’t even understand. All you know in that courtroom is that you are bad, really, really bad! Then you’re sent to prison and given a number so your individual identity is stripped from you. Most of the women I have met here are normal women, they are just people who made a mistake and need some help. Many of them come from terrible homes and are the poorest of the poor. It just doesn’t make sense to lock them up for decades.
During our class some of the women broke down when they tried to talk about who they are as a person, It is hard to feel like a human in a system like ours. I have found some of the staff members to be exceptional people, and I am blessed to be able to associate with many of them. One of the students in the class really struggled accepting what she was charged with, the teacher helped her see that the legal reality of her situation had nothing to do with actual events. He pointed out the courtroom isn’t a place where truth is found, she would have to let that go. I too have struggled with the injustice of the legal system but through the power of God I am making peace with it. I am grateful to be able to reach out to friends with my victories and my struggles, this is a process and I am ever trying to keep moving forward.