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From Surviving to Living
From Surviving to Living
(03) BAIL, SENTENCING & PRISON INTAKE
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A year passed after I was first arrested in 2010 before I was sentenced and sent to prison. During this year I served 3 months in county jail, was released on bail, and had many court hearings. I passed the year in a mental fog, in such a haze I was even unaware I was a mental zombie.

I greatly feared possible sentencing outcomes but did nothing to prevent them and very little to prepare myself and family for the future. Throughout this same year my husband’s mental health also steadily declined. Our home was so unpleasant I hated being in it. I can’t imagine how awful this was for our children.

Have you ever found it difficult to help yourself or someone you love during a challenging life situation?

Our home was so unpleasant I hated being in it. I can’t imagine how awful this was for our children.

I remember my last morning home. I hate to remember it, I treasure it. My boys ages 16, 11, 10, and 8 years old, left for school early in the morning. As if make believe made it so, I pretended a normal day and sent them off to school as usual. So many regrets now.

I readied my 4 year old daughter, Vivi, to spend the day with my mom while I was at court. I struggled to ignore the reason why my mom would be watching her. As our last few moments drew short, Vivi asked me to read her a book. I mentally shifted gears.

I’d spent the morning buzzing around the house in a frantic state of avoidance, the date jolting me into a sudden sense of urgency at the same time. Vivi had no knowledge of my hearing. She simply wished to prolong our time together before going to grandma’s house.

My purse over one arm, shoes on, ready to walk out the door, I paused, drew a breath. Turning, I looked down into her little girl elfin face. She waited, turning one toe casually on the floor.

I agreed we should read. Vivi’s face lit up in delight and she danced to her room for a book. I’m so glad now for those moments! We returned to the living room and sitting on the couch together Vivi snuggled against me while I read.

Oh, what a tragedy to have lost those days, destroyed them! The agony and grief still lurk in the shadows.

Oh, what a tragedy to have lost those days, destroyed them! The agony and grief still lurk in my shadows. It’s very hard for me to revisit these memories, to write about them even today. It’s devastating really.

That same day I was sentenced to 12 years in prison. The hearing wasn’t very long. Near the end I was asked if I would like to say anything. I had no prepared speech. As I had been all year I was unprepared, fearful, and ultimately unhelpful to myself.

Anxiously I stood. I felt awkward and rambled, or so it seemed to me. The judge’s face was unreadable, unfriendly. As I spoke my internal voice advised me, “Shut up!” I ignored it and prattled on, desperate to evoke mercy from the judge. In short order my speech was so convoluted an internal voice demanded that I, “Shut up!!” The judge’s face was darkening to a deep shade of red, and he glared at me as if he agreed with my internal advice. I got the hint and awkwardly returned to my seat, feeling incompetence and shame.

The judge then announced his decision, 12 years in prison. I reeled in shock. My vision darkened. The whole room pitched silent.

The judge then announced his decision, 12 years in prison. I reeled in shock. My vision darkened. The whole room pitched silent. The only thing I heard was the pulse in my ears. The room seemed to tilt and spin. I felt stunned and light-headed. I was shocked.

Suddenly sound rushed back into the room with a whoosh and my vision cleared leaving the room brighter than before. People yammered around me, but I couldn’t make sense of the words. Lawyers asked the judge for things, more decisions were made about me. I understood none of it.

My mind rejected all that had happened and demanded a do over. I felt panicked, frantic to fix this before it was too late! Before I could put paid to the thought I was cuffed and led from the room. Wait! NO! Wait!

I felt panicked, frantic to fix this before it was too late! Before I could put paid to the thought I was cuffed and led from the room. Wait! NO! Wait!

It was a Friday and I was processed into the county jail for the weekend to await transport to prison. This was the same jail I had spent 3 months in just after my arrest. My grief was horrifyingly raw and fresh. I lacked the ability to even imagine my future.

Do you or someone you love find yourself in a similar place today, the past very difficult and the future hard to see? There is hope!

A guard, remembering me from my previous stay, tried to perk me up. She sat to chat with me. After a few minutes she asked conversationally, “And you have five children, don’t you?” In shock I burst into tears, my stomach heaving. Alarmed she jumped to her feet and quickly backed away from me, apologizing and looking extremely embarrassed. I looked away and didn’t hear her leave. The weekend passed in a fog, a delirium.

At the time of my sentencing in Minnesota, there was (and still is) only one state prison for women- no matter her crime this is where a woman goes to serve her time, MCF-Shakopee (Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee). MCF-Shakopee, or Shakopee as we call it, holds more than 500 DOC female offenders of any security level (minimum to super max).

I entered prison in the spring of 2011. I was 36 years old. At the time of my sentencing, in Minnesota, one served 2/3 of their prison sentence, so I’d serve 8 years of my 12 year sentence.

I entered prison in the spring of 2011. I was 36 years old. At the time of my sentencing, in Minnesota, one served 2/3 of their prison sentence, so I’d serve 8 years of my 12 year sentence. Until then I’d been a wife and stay at home mom to my 5 children, four boys and a girl. I felt I’d lost my identity. My life changed immediately, and it would never be the same. My young children, then only 16, 11, 10, 8 and 4 years old, would be much older when I was released.

I suppose I had typical ideas about prison before I was incarcerated (from TV and movies of course). I was about to be surprised. I was transported from jail to prison early Monday. I was wearing a bright orange canvas jail uniform. In jail everyone wore such an outfit every day. I wondered what prison uniforms looked like. What does prison look like?

I was escorted to “Property” to collect the things I would need for my prison stay. I was told to stand against a brick wall and wait. Property resembled a Post Office window with a gray, roll up shutter pulled down tightly and locked to the counter. As I marked time across from the Property window the regular happenings of the prison continued on all around me. I was left to myself in the middle of a long hallway, branches splitting off to who knows where on my right and left.

Men and women in differing uniforms passed down the hall, radios squawking. Lines of women wearing ordinary jeans, khakis, t-shirts, or blue button down shirts marched past, giggling and whispering to each other. I stared at them intrigued. Who are they? What are they doing? They can’t be other inmates, can they? They are dressed in regular clothes! They stared back at me too. I puzzled it out and waited.

More women wearing jeans, khakis and t-shirts arrived at Property holding packages and a line formed behind me against the wall. Eventually the gray shutter was unlocked from inside and rattled its way to the top. Property was open and ready for business. It felt indeed like I was at the Post Office or UPS.

I collected a laundry bag filled with my new belongings and was directed to medical’s waiting room, my next stop as a new intake. The waiting room was tiny, chairs crammed against 3 of its walls. An interior door led to the clinic itself. A sign taped to the door read, “Do not knock. We know you are here.”

I sat and waited. And waited. And waited. After six hours of resigned waiting I began to doubt the veracity of the sign. (I didn’t knock but I really wanted to.) Eventually someone opened the door and another step in my intake process was handled.

Finally having been cleared through medical Monday evening I was released from the intake process. I was told to show myself to my living unit. Where was that??? I had no idea.

Now sporting the same jeans and t-shirt as the other women (whom I now understood were fellow inmates), I tentatively slipped out of the medical waiting room and peaked around. I was quickly spotted by other inmates who recognized my furtive, nervous demeanor. As helpful tour guides several women converged on me, full of advice. I was pointed to the OCO desk (Office of Central Operations) and given directions on how to find to my living unit.

When I first entered Shakopee in 2011, the prison had no exterior fencing at all, no guard towers, nothing, despite the fact it is a maximum security prison.

Shakopee looks very much like a college campus, nothing like one imagines a prison to be. I stepped out from the Core Building where the administration offices, kitchen, library, gymnasium, chapel and visiting room (among other things) are located to find myself in a central courtyard. It’s very picturesque, with picnic tables, benches, shade trees, flowers, and walking paths. When I first entered Shakopee in 2011, the prison had no exterior fencing at all, no guard towers, nothing, despite the fact it is a maximum security prison.

I stood looked up and out across the courtyard. To my left and right walking paths left the courtyard, heading to other buildings in the distance. Some simply disappeared between buildings. At the moment the courtyard was empty of people.

I tried to remember my directions and headed to the living unit named Broker, hauling my laundry bag with me. It was very surreal, alone on this unfenced property, unguarded, in regular clothes, hurrying across a park-like courtyard to my prison cell. What would come next?

I was shocked to see fresh faced high school cheerleader-types. I saw women straight from the church bake sale. I saw the most blessed, sainted grandmothers. I saw women from every walk of life in that prison.

Shakopee’s living units were unexpected and so were the inmates. I gawked like a tourist. I expected the women to look like they….belonged in prison. Hardened criminals, or the like. I was shocked to see fresh faced high school cheerleader-types. I saw women straight from the church bake sale. I saw the most blessed, sainted grandmothers. I saw women from every walk of life in that prison.

The living units were similar to a college dorm or apartment complex. Inside the front door was as sally port with a rack of mailboxes. Each inmate has a key to their own mailbox. Most living units have a day room with shared kitchen and living area. Wings branch off as long hallways. The inmates’ rooms are down these hallways. The hallways really resemble apartment living, with regular wooden doors, plaques beside each bearing room numbers and occupant names, carpeted hallways, and windows at the end of the hall.

I inched up to the guard desk in Broker, which is just a few steps from the front door. I was about to have another strange experience. The guard handed me a key ring with several keys and a sheet of paper. I held the keys awkwardly between two fingers, not sure I was allowed to have such things here, and eyeballed the form. It appeared to be a damage deposit slip of some kind. I peered up at the guard in confusion. She pointed at the keys in my hand. “Those are the keys to your cell,” she explained. “Go to your room with this paper and note any damage to your room, then bring it back here and sign it.”

Even lively and cheerful things, when unexpected, can be unsettling.

I gaped at her in amazement. I’m in a prison with no fence. I’ve just been handed keys to my cell. There’s a damage deposit slip for my cell?? Where AM I? What IS this place? Behind me women enjoying their time in the day room burst into laughter. Something else I didn’t associate with prison – laughter. The guard spotted my questioning look. Perhaps she also noticed the shake of my hand holding the keys. Even lively and cheerful things, when unexpected, can be unsettling. She smiled kindly and pointed to an upper hallway. “Your room is up there. Take your time.”

As their mother I intimately knew everything they owned, but that was all in the past. The past was now all I had.

Over the next several weeks and months I felt lost and uncertain. I was also worried for my children’s future. I had recurring dreams that I was wandering through abandoned houses. It wasn’t always the same house, nor any house I had ever known. In one of these dreams my children’s belongings were scattered – their shoes, toys, clothing. At first I was comforted. Then I realized these items belonged to their past. As their mother I intimately knew everything they owned, but that was all in the past. The past was now all I had. This house was abandoned. I wandered that house in my dream, but it was empty. Someone else had their future.

I did talk to my children on the phone, sometimes daily. I wrote to them, sent them gifts, and they did visit. But the details of their life, that belonged to someone else now, not me.

What interested me over the next eight years was a common theme among us women, no matter how serious a crime. Women often shared that they didn’t understand their own actions; they didn’t know why they’d done “it,” too.

Romans 7:15 “For I do not understand my own actions. I am baffled, bewildered. I do not practice or accomplish what I wish, but I do the very thing that I loathe, which my moral instinct condemns.”

I felt like this. I wanted to understand. I believed it would help me overcome the negative things in my life. I also wanted to meet my own and other people’s expectations. Why? I very much wanted to be loved!

I didn’t know what to think. I would examine my life over and over looking for clues – trying to pinpoint the “Ah-ha!” moment where things went wrong. Answers were far from me.

Time in prison would shatter core ideas I held about my family, myself, my world, everything. Prison itself wouldn’t be a source of change, however, nor would my own quest for answers transform my life. Change would come from without, and unexpectedly.

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Holly reflects on her last morning at home before being sentenced to prison. Have you ever experienced a moment in your life that you wished you could relive or change? How do you cope with regrets or difficult memories? Would you like help with this?
  2. Holly expresses surprise at the diverse range of inmates at Shakopee prison, challenging her preconceived notions. Have you ever had an experience that shattered your stereotypes or assumptions about a certain group of people? How did it impact your perspective?
  3. Holly’s recurring dreams of wandering through abandoned houses and realizing her children’s belongings belonged to the past evoke a powerful sense of loss. Can you relate to feelings of loss or disconnection from the past, and how do you navigate such emotions?
  4. The passage touches on the theme of not understanding one’s own actions, as shared by women in prison. Have you ever struggled to comprehend your own actions or those of others? How do you approach self-reflection and understanding in challenging situations? Would you like to understand yourself or others better?
  5. The passage ends with a biblical quote, Jeremiah 29:11, about God’s plans for hope and a future. How do faith and spirituality shape one’s perspective during challenging times? Have you ever found solace or guidance in spiritual beliefs?
  6. Reflect on the overarching theme of hope and a future mentioned in Jeremiah 29:11. How does hope play a role in navigating challenges and uncertainties in life? How have you or others found hope in unexpected places or circumstances? Do you feel hopeful today?

READ MORE…

  • BEFORE
    Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]Before my arrest at age 35 in 2010 I never thought about prison, jail, or the criminal justice system. Everything I “knew” I learned on TV. I really enjoyed news and drama… Read more: BEFORE
  • JAIL
    Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]I was arrested in March 2010. Again I heard the familiar questions, “What were you thinking? Why did you do that?” I had long believed myself to be the source of conflict… Read more: JAIL
  • WELCOME!
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  • BAIL, SENTENCING, & PRISON INTAKE
    Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]A year passed after I was first arrested in 2010 before I was sentenced and sent to prison. During this year I served 3 months in county jail, was released on bail,… Read more: BAIL, SENTENCING, & PRISON INTAKE
  • ORIENTATION (CHANGE, SHOCK & AWE, SUICIDE WATCH)
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  • General Assembly (Burning Rubber)
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