When I first arrived at FCI Dublin I pretty much stayed to myself, I was overwhelmed and intimidated! I get claustrophobic in the cell so I would come out to the day room early in the morning to read scriptures and have a little quiet time to myself. It was usually just me and another girl named Pam sitting quietly and reading around 4:30 am. Pam looked so out of place here, she is usually by herself and very innocent looking. I learned that she pretty much runs the whole recreation program and is very disciplined in the way she lives her life. I had a desire to meet her and get to know her but she can be very standoffish. I started to ask around and found out that she had arrived from Danbury FCI less than a year ago.
Recently, I had the opportunity to get to know Pamela and with her permission I’m going to share some of her story. Inmates have told me that before Pam arrived, the gym seemed more like a seedy nightclub. Pam told me, “Right after I got here, I went over to the workout barn to look around and it was intimidating. I was literally afraid for my safety. It was dark and card tables were set up every where. Loud music was playing and women were braiding hair in the middle of the gym.” There is an upstairs area that we now use for yoga but at that time it was a dark place that some of the women would use for their sexual liasons. Pam got here and set out to turn things around and now it is a very nice recreation gym with Zumba, aerobics, yoga and spin classes.
She teaches several of the classes and loves to give the women a good workout, we even have organized sporting events and the lighting is much better now 🙂 She has done an amazing job of getting people who are either overwhelmed because of their weight or lack of mobility to participate in classes. She’s almost always the first one to rec in the morning and the last one to leave in the evening. Needless to say she works well over 40 hours a week and her last paycheck was under $50.00 bucks. She’s a talented artist as you will see by the sketch she did of Chad and I, she could make a little money drawing for inmates but the BOP doesn’t allow women to have a business while incarcerated. It is a real problem because many of the inmates make less than $20.00 a month and can’t afford to buy a book of stamps, deodorant and call home with just their monthly income. She has learned how to buy only absolute necessities like running shoes and personal hygiene items.
After getting to know her I asked how a sweet, hard working, All American girl ended up in Federal prison? She told me her parents divorced when she was young and her Mom moved around a lot with her and her sister. She described childhood like this, “Everytime I got close to a friend or became part of a group my Mom would move. I learned at a young age not to get attached to anyone because we were going to leave anyway.” She excelled in school though and obtained a degree as a civil engineer. She told me that a high school chemistry teacher took an interest in her and became her mentor which made a real difference in her life. She said, “He saw my potential and even suggested I become a chemical engineer, he inspired me!” She continued, “I like fixing things, that’s just how I’m wired. I was a serious and thoughtful kid.” When she went away to college she met her first serious boyfriend Stan and describes a dysfunctional relationship that was abusive. She said that she worked very hard to be self sufficient, even while she was in college. She paid the bills for both of them. Out of nowhere Stan and one of his friends began joking about robbing a bank. She didn’t think much about it at first but over time he became obsessed with the idea and ultimately he and his friend put a plan together that included Pam as the getaway driver. She said, “It all happened so fast, it was surreal!” The two men had purchased guns to use for the crime. Pam described her feelings to me as terrifying, “He was very abusive, now he had a gun and I was literally afraid for my life. Things had changed and he was acting very paranoid and strange.” Both Stan and his friend had criminal records but Pam’s was spotless.
She told me that, “In an instant my whole life changed. One minute I’m working hard and moving forward, the next thing I know I’m a criminal.” She was arrested and put in a county jail where she was held in lockdown 21 hours a day. The stress became so severe that she broke out in a rash that looked like hives and had blood vessels bursting from the stress she was under. The day after she was arrested her Mother came to visit her and told her she would not help in any way. “You got yourself into this, you can get yourself out,” she said. Pam had just turned 25 years old and was facing 25 years in prison. She said, “I didn’t feel I had any legal support because my family didn’t know anything about the laws and I didn’t know what to do. The lawyer the government assigned to me told me I was lucky to get a 10 year deal.” She had been held in lockdown for months and was desperate to go to a prison where she would at least see the light of day. In that condition she agreed to take a 10 year deal. Sadly her lawyer didn’t bring up any of the relevant factors of the crime as mitigation for Pam. She had participated in counseling because she had suffered severe abuse at the hands of her boyfriend and her government assigned lawyer said it was irrelevant.
As Pam and I were walking around the track a few days ago she said, “You know the worst part Portia? I was always a law abiding citizen that believed the Federal Government and it’s laws were fair. After going through this experience I have no faith in the people who are supposed to protect us. It honestly seems like a numbers game to them, a big business if you will. There’s no mercy in this system, nothing to hold judges and prosecutors accountable. They have lunch together and decide to put people away for decades with out so much as the blink of an eye. I don’t trust a thing I hear in the press and I certainly don’t trust the government to do the right thing. I made one bad decision and was condemned. I was so vulnerable when I pled guilty, and in my weakest moment I made an uneducated decision to take a 10 year deal. For years I have watched other inmates involved in bank robberies who were much more culpable than myself walk out of prison in under 4 years. I’ve already served more time than that and still have many years to go.” She told me that she’s trying to make the best of the 10 years she will do in prison but doesn’t understand why their aren’t more positive rewards for good behavior. Federal inmates do about 89% of their time. In state it’s between 50-65%. Pam could have killed someone and if the state instead of the Feds had picked up the case she would have done a lot less than 10 years. In Federal prison the only way a person gets more than 12% good time is if they are a drug addict, it just seems unfair to someone like Pam. I agreed with her that it is unfortunate that their aren’t more incentives to improve yourself and live a good life while in prison. Positive rewards could make a big difference.
Unfortunately, Pam has found that the way to survive and cope in prison is to trust no one! She said, “You have to learn how to survive in here. I never swore or treated people unkindly in the free world but in prison, I’ve learned that in certain situations it’s the only way to survive, people will mistake your kindness for weakness.” She refuses to participate in the gay for the stay activities and has found the only way people take her seriously is if she doesn’t get close to anyone. Pam has a grandmother she talks to and a few aunts and her Dad but for the most part she is alone. I have loved getting to know her and hope to continue to spend time with her while I’m here. I hope that laws change and someone like Pam who is responsible for taking the initiative of building a program as helpful to other inmates as Pam’s rec program will qualify for additional time off. There is currently a law before congress called the Safe Act that would give non-violent offenders additional good time if they are spending their time in prison in a positive way. We hope and pray the country will take notice to the Millions of American’s currently incarcerated by the Federal Government with no end in sight.
Before I close I want to share a tender moment I had with my youngest daughter CJ yesterday. When I called home she picked up the phone and said, “Mommy, why can’t I call you whenever I want? Doesn’t the government know I can’t handle this?” I love that sweet little one:) I also wanted to thank sweet Jeff from the Draper 12 step group, I got your letter and am working on getting approved correspondence and I will send visiting forms out. Please give all my love to the missionaries who have so loved and supported me. I love you all dearly and am so grateful to stay in touch. Writing my blog has given me a great deal of purpose and makes me feel close to many loved ones, thank you for your support