LINDA, 70, in the rec room for the medically unemployed at Taconic Correctional Facility (2019). Sentence: 30 years to life. Incarcerated at the age of 43 in 1992
“This is my 27th year being incarcerated. I’ve been scared, lonely, hurt, disappointed and forgotten. When I got here 11 months ago, I couldn’t believe all the women I had done time with were still here going to Board after Board, and never getting out. Will that happen to me? I do my hair and makeup every day. It makes me feel good. But on the inside, I’m breaking down. To name a few, I had a triple bypass, 2 strokes, major back surgery, and I take 30 pills a day. The bottom line is—I beg for forgiveness and a second chance. Will I ever see my freedom????? Will I die behind these walls??????????”
“Being incarcerated at such a young age, in the beginning I felt as if my life was over. But as the days and the time went by I knew that God had a special plan and purpose for me. There is light at the end of my tunnel. I will be free.”
“Just because we ask for a second chance at life doesn’t mean we have forgotten what we have done; it means we were once part of the problem and to heal those we have hurt we must be part of the solution, part of the conversation. You’ve held the state accountable by our punishment. Now let us show you how we’ve held ourselves accountable to your pain.”
“Do not judge me by my crime. One incident should never define an individual. Majority of the time, inmates are characterized by their crime. However, our crimes are not who we are as people. They do not define us. Some of us chose the wrong lifestyle, were brought up in dysfunctional homes, suffered domestic violence, or suffer from drug addiction or mental illness. Most of the time all we need was someone to intervene and get us the help we desperately needed. Incarceration and excessive prison time is not always the answer. We have redeemable qualities and deserve a second chance.”
“When I first came in it was weird, but I learn to deal with it by going to church and working, studying for my God. Reading, bible studies, just doing me. My upbeat attitude comes from Jesus. As a woman who has rebuilt herself. I love being in my 60s because I have seen and heard about so many people I know dying.”
“Society’s outlook of those serving LWOP tend to be negative even more so if you are a woman. Regardless, people can change. My choices of the past do not define me today. Although I wear a “scarlet letter” I am so much more. Rehabilitation is within. It’s the desire & ability to change. I choose to change, to grow & to better myself. Mentally, emotionally & physically. This journey gives me the strength to survive my past & be someone who is more than a number or statistic. LWOP is not a remedy.”
“Recently I spent the night caring for a 9 week-old baby girl whose mom was removed from the nursery unit. I fed her every 3 hours and changed her diaper after each feeding. As a nursery aide and doula, I am one of the very few women entrusted with caring for precious life and supporting new and experienced mothers. Despite the bad choices that landed me in prison and away from my own children whom have had to grow up without me, I can still make a difference.”
“I am not a monster. I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am a auntie. I am a friend. I am a fighter. I am a strong Black woman. I am a child of God. I am a believer. I take full responsibility for my actions. I put my faith in God. I am a woman with long and short term goals. I have people out there who believes in me. I believe in myself. I see light at the end of my tunnel. I will stay proactive and do what’s needed to get from behind these walls. I will never give up.”
“I look at others who have been to multiple parole boards like me and they’ve lost hope and don’t see the light. I wonder when I will lose hope. When will I stop seeing that light? That’s my biggest fear. My dream is to feed people with food made with love. I will give back to my society and will never stop growing.”
“There are days I wake up in a fog. I think I am home. After all this time—it feels good and it hurts all at the same time.”
“When you look at me you see the face of what society has deemed a criminal . But when you look at me and other women like me, see who we really are. We are mothers, wives, sisters, aunts. We are not just numbers. We are women who love the same thing in life as anyone else. See me as the woman I am today, not 22 years ago.”
“I am a casualty of domestic violence. I had been brought up as a princess and now I have turned into Cinderella. My life as a woman and mother ended at the age of 35. I am painfully aware that my family has their own lives in which I no longer have a place. I am still a normal person. I haven’t yet developed the mentality of a prisoner. And yet this is how I am treated and will continue to be treated until I am set free.
How can anyone appear normal after such suffering? How can I live, laugh or love? How can I go on when I’ve lost the best years of my life without my children as a result of this incarceration?”
“Every time I put the pen to the paper when I’m supposed to, or someone is depending on me to do so … nothing comes out. Nothing that I feel like I should say comes out. Am I too negative? Too optimistic? Too deep? Too much? I feel like there are so many eyes on me and yet there is no one looking over my shoulder. It’s been 5 years since I’ve been incarcerated and I still feel like that. As if there are so many people waiting on me to do something. But I’m scared. That’s probably the most honest thing I could say to you. I’m scared.”
“i am not unlike u. Yet no one saw my potential. Unlike u I was deemed unworthy, unredeemable at the age of 21 and given a 50-to-life-sentence
i am not unlike u. I too have hopes and dreams. Like u I struggle to find meaning, to find love.
i am not unlike u. Like u I am not the person I was 23 yrs. Ago.
We all change when given the chance to grow from within and to reach our full potential.
I am not unlike u.”
“When I was able to move around without a cane, I was able to work, doing floors, stripping, buffing, polishing. Because of my health, now I’m just sitting in my room doing nothing. Spending taxpayers’ money. I’ve been denied parole six times, either because of the nature of the crime or my disciplinary, like smoking in the wrong place.
We came here when we were young. I was 26. And we’re leaving here like old ladies to begin the process of turning back into a baby. SAD but true....”
“As much as I desire to, I will never be able to change my past, but I have allowed my past to change me. Today I realize that it will never be about me, but in my endeavors to do better and be better, I know it starts with me. Today I make better choices and I have better ways to cope in any situation without resorting to violence. I have become a respectable, responsible, selfless, compassionate humbled and mature woman who is always conscious of the people I have hurt and the damage I have done.”
“I CANNOT MAKE ANYONE UNDERSTAND, NOR DO I DESIRE TO.
I WAS VERY YOUNG AND DIDN’T STAND A CHANCE, BUT I FOUGHT FOR MY FREEDOM.
NOW THIS SENTENCE IS NO LONGER MY SENTENCE. I THANK GOD FOR THAT.
AND STILL PRAY FOR THOSE WHO ARE FIGHTING. FOR THOSE WHO WERE YOUNG LIKE ME.
FOR THOSE WHO ARE STILL BEING JUDGED LIKE ME. FOR THOSE WHO ASKED FOR HELP … AND RECEIVED NONE LIKE ME.
ESPECIALLY FOR THOSE WHO KNOW THIS IS NOT THE END OF THE LINE FOR THEM.
AND FOR THOSE, LIKE ME, WHO CANNOT MAKE ANYONE UNDERSTAND. “
“In my bedroom, I close my eyes & I am free. I’m not locked in a cell the size of a closet, pieces of my mind and soul stolen with every knock on the door, privacy non-existent. With my eyes closed, I open the front door and go for a drive and laugh as loud as I want. Then I open my eyes, still praying for a chance. Thinking of the past, present and future. One I can’t change no matter how desperately I want to, the other one I survive on hopes and wishes, and yet another I can’t begin to know. I close my eyes as often as possible!”
JUDY, 69, in the nursery at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility (2019). Sentence: 35 years to life. Incarcerated in 1981 at the age of 31. Released on parole in 2019 after serving 37-1/2 years.
“People ask me all the time why I smile so much. It’s not that I’m always happy. I suffer the pains of imprisonment: separation from loved ones, daily barbs of degradation like being strip searched after every visit, and being forbidden to hug. Human touch is banned and loving another woman is illegal. Every day I carry the burden of guilt for my crime and all the pain and loss I am responsible for. I cannot change that. But I can decide how to wake up each morning and meet the day. I choose love, curiosity, aliveness. I choose to smile.”