Involved in The Game
This is Zasha, one of the sweet women I work with in education. As I have gotten to know Zasha I have come to realize what a truly amazing person she is. She is confident and strong, despite challenges that would have ruined most people.
Zasha has that special “It” factor that people are drawn to, and has risen above what I would consider insurmountable pain and suffering. She has become an advocate for good here at FCI Dublin, and with her permission I’m going to share some of her story with you.
Zasha and her younger sister were both raised by their Great Grandmother in Hawaii. In Zasha’s family everyone drank and did drugs, her Mother became an alcoholic and her Father had very little presence in her life.
She told me,
“My Father left for good when my sister and I were only six and seven years old. He moved on and had another family. I guess he wasn’t really there for us anyway.”
She describes her youth as wild years.
“I got into the game at a young age. I doubt anyone could have stopped me, I thought I was invincible!”
Zasha progressed quickly in the drug world, using pot and alcohol before she was even a teenager. Then, at the age of 15 she picked up methamphetamine and between the ages of 15 and 17 Zasha used drugs heavily and started running drugs as a mule, or carrier. She told me,
“I started going to California from Hawaii to pick up drugs for a bigger organization, they liked me so I moved up quickly.”
At the age of 17 Zasha did something I’ve seen very few people do on their own she kicked meth. If you know anything about methamphetamine you know it’s virtually impossible to quit on your own. A testament to her strength for sure!
In her words,
“I gave up drugs, but I couldn’t give up the game. I was making good money transporting drugs and had connected myself to the higher ups.”
At the age of 22 she caught her first Federal case. She said,
“It was a big indictment that brought down a lot of people and I was named part of the conspiracy.”
Zasha had a four year old son at that time and the Feds gave her 5 years. She said,
“I was grateful that my family was able to take care of my son, most women in here don’t have family and they lose their kids.”
She did her time at the Dublin prison camp and got her GED while she was there.
Unfortunately, shortly after she got out of prison she got sucked right back into the game.
“Things got really crazy after I was released. I had no money, I was on probation, and the only thing I knew how to do was run drugs.”
She got herself into trouble again and decided to head to Mexico, while in Mexico she realized that she was pregnant. She told me,
“I knew I had to come back, I didn’t want to spend my life running. I decided to turn myself in and take the violation, I figured I might do another year in prison.”
Once Zasha was back in custody the Feds came to her and asked her to cooperate against someone else. When she declined they hit her with her own case, charging her as the leader/organizer. One of Zasha’s good friends had given the Feds information against her in exchange for easy time for herself and with that she got a 20 year sentence! Twenty years!
She was pregnant with her daughter and was just a kid herself, can you imagine? There was less than a kilo of drugs involved in her case and it was based on someone else’s word. Someone that benefited greatly by saying what the Feds wanted them to say. Zasha told me,
“I realize to a normal person cooperating with the Feds might seem like a good idea. But I had grown up with a different code of honor, you take your own bullet. In most cases the cops want you to lie about another person to save your own skin. I couldn’t do that! Not to mention the people I knew could have killed me if I would have. But I was certainly not prepared for a 20 year sentence.”
Zasha told me,
“I found out that I was a lot stronger person than I thought I was. Things got real for me, real fast!”
She had her baby girl in prison and arranged to have family come take her. She said,
“I knew what I had to do. After I gave my little girl away I laid in bed for 2 weeks and cried, my heart broke. My pain was so deep! Finally, I walked out of my cell and said to myself I refuse to rot in this place!”
She described all kinds of emotions she went through,
“At first I wouldn’t ask for help because I had to guard my emotions, it hurt too much. I put on that macho attitude that so many others put on. Allowing yourself to hurt takes courage, more courage than most people have. Finally, I realized that I have to live in my own skin. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, If I bottle up all my feelings I’m going to explode and hurt someone.”
She decided to go to psychology and ask for help. Not for drugs, she refused to take anything that would numb her out. She went for counseling.
Zasha has found great healing in serving others, she teaches Microsoft Word and is a great example to the other inmates. She’s had every job on the compound, but told me she knows her calling is to help educate the women even if the pay is better in other places. Zasha is strong, kind, and beautiful, and all the inmates love her! She told me that she has learned how important education is. She said,
“These women need the confidence that comes from learning, they need people that believe in them.”
Zasha is a great leader! She doesn’t hold back her real feelings, a rare quality in prison. As I talked with her about her life she teared up several times as she told me how much she loves another inmate, or how grateful she is for her family.
She doesn’t get to talk to her family much, but she’s grateful for the contact she does have. She doesn’t complain at all about her sentence, which I think is amazing! Zasha’s son is 20 now and her daughter is 10 years old, her projected out date isn’t until 2022. I asked her if she has any hope and she said,
Every year Zasha produces a musical Polynesian festival. She is an amazing dancer and want’s to produce music when she gets out. Her dream is to become an audio engineer, to help other troubled youth or people who have life sentences. She brings a great energy to everything she does, all the inmates know that when Zasha shows up something cool will happen. She has found so much joy through music, and has incredible talent!
When I decided to start my photography class, many of the other inmates and staff members told me I would never be able to get it approved. Zasha was supportive and positive and even came to my first few classes. There is so much more to this beautiful woman that I wish I could share with you.
It is my hope that the Federal Government will reform Federal sentencing and give a woman as amazing as Zasha a chance to shine and show people in the free world what a person who makes mistakes and rises above them can become. Thank you all for reading along, your support means alot to me and my fellow inmates!
Zasha would love to hear from you. You can write her at:
Federal Correctional Institution
Sasha Botelho #87622022 – Unit A
5701 8th Street – Camp Parks
Dublin, CA 94568