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Filing into the prison visiting room with the rest of the ABE students, I found a seat and dropped into it. It was September 2016, and the quarterly education meeting was about to begin. The visiting room furniture had been re-arranged. Now blue plastic chairs faced a projection screen and podium. Students from every class filled the room to receive awards.

Mr. Frye, a math teacher, and Ms. Schaibley, my boss, co-hosted the event. “We’re going to have a spelling bee six weeks from now,” Ms. Schaibley announced as the room settled. “If you’d like to participate, we’ll have sign-up forms in your classroom.” The room rumbled with voices, excited students whispering to each other. “Everyone will be permitted to attend,” Ms. Schaibley continued, “and prizes will be awarded.”

My co-worker Sylvia sat in her wheelchair nearby. A fellow inmate, she was 68 years old and a former English professor from a Boston University. We first met in the mental health unit in 2011. The years had seen her change from a very depressed and isolating woman to a helpful co-worker in the ABE English department. They had also ravaged her mind and body; dementia slowly claimed her brilliance and pain forced her into a wheelchair.

I appreciated her, although we couldn’t be more different politically or religiously. Sylvia was often my personal tutor as I drafted and polished essays for my college classes. I respected her immensely.


Do you have mentors who invested themselves in you despite personal difficulties or differences? Have you invested yourself in others who were different from you, even when it was challenging?

Classroom Dynamics: Language Barriers and Laughter

Returning to class later that day, we all settled in for the afternoon studies. Nyachoul, a very dark-skinned woman from the Sudan, approached me with a question. I noticed Shefa also heading towards our table. Shefa was also an ESL (English as a Second Language) student. Originally from Ethiopia she’d first learned English when she arrived to prison. English was her fourth language; she became fluent almost immediately and was very dedicated to all things American.

Noticing Silvia was the only tutor available, Shefa made a beeline for her desk. Silvia, grading papers, didn’t notice. Silvia was also hard of hearing, and she often failed to wear her hearing aids.

Settling herself at Sylvia’s desk, Shefa set down her work. I watched out of the corner of my eye as Shefa sat back and shouted, “I need help with question 3!!” Sylvia reeled back as if slapped, shocked at the noise.

“Quiet down!” Sylvia hissed, “women are studying!”

Giggles had begun and I struggled to keep a straight face as Shefa now appeared surprised. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well you sometimes don’t wear your hearing aids, you know.” Sylvia appeared not to know, inspiring more giggles as I returned to my work.

“Giggles had begun and I struggled to keep a straight face”

The Looming Trial: The Best and Worst

The laughter helped ease the stress I felt in the face of the looming trial. Soon I’d be fighting in court to keep my parental rights with my youngest son Tim. The trial would come just days after my daughter’s 10th birthday. I hadn’t spoken with her in a year and half, didn’t even know where she was.

I think of 2016 as the most devastating year of my life while simultaneously being the best year of my life. The trial of my parental rights wasn’t a singular bad event. It was rather the climax of many. The months leading up to it brought intensity to past conflicts I’d tried to forget.

“Mom, Tim’s caseworker said if I lose my parental rights, you will also lose the ability to have any contact with Tim,” I explained. I wanted to make sure everyone understood the possible outcomes of this trial. I’d been told if I lost no one in my family would be allowed contact with Tim.

Ignoring my assertion, she replied, “We are retired. This is our special time. We want to enjoy it. This is our time!” Silence followed. She had not addressed the issue I raised, leaving me confused. Over the next several months, despite my repeated attempts to share this information, I was always met with silence.

I began to wonder if my family knew something I didn’t. To this day, I don’t know the answer to that. Were they told something different? Did they wish to keep it a secret? Or did they not care one way or the other? I have no idea.

“The situation heated up, as if Satan wanted to remind me of every reason to disobey this command.”

11 Put on God’s whole armor [the armor of a heavy-armed soldier which God supplies], that you may be able successfully to stand up against [all] the strategies and the deceits of the devil.

12 For we are not wrestling with flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the despotisms, against the powers, against [the master spirits who are] the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spirit forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) sphere.

13 Therefore put on God’s complete armor, that you may be able to resist and stand your ground on the evil day [of danger], and, having done all [the crisis demands], to stand [firmly in your place].

Ephesians 6:11-13

Family Tensions: Spiritual Warfare

I pictured finding Tim a home in Minnesota as rescue from his difficult foster care experiences.  I also saw it as a path for Tim to learning about God through godly caretakers, which is desirable.

It was during this year, 2016, that God had begun a new work in me. An important part of that work was in my relationships with others, especially my parents. I became committed to honoring and respecting them. I began to ask God frequently for help in doing this. I think Satan hated it.

The situation heated up, as if Satan wanted to remind me of every reason to disobey this command.

“You know your mom likes to tell everyone how awful you are, don’t you?” my cousin asked me.

In fact, I did not. In my late twenties at the time, I thought teenage days of conflict with my parents were long past. My face must have shown it, so she explained, “I was at a baby shower and your mom was there. She pulled a letter out of her purse she said you’d written when you were 15 years old. She passed the letter around and said it demonstrated how horrible a daughter you are.”

I couldn’t remember writing the letter. I had no idea what it contained. I was hurt. I did not understand, but things didn’t improve.

Years later, when I was in jail, my husband came alone with my daughter, 3 years old at the time, for a special visit.

Betrayal: Tit for Tat

Vivianne’s beautiful blonde hair had grown into beautiful long curls. By the age of three she had never experienced a haircut. Her long hair was precious, cherubic. I waited at the video visiting booth, phone in hand so we could talk. The screen lit up and I gasped. Vivianne’s hair had been chopped off into a very unflattering bob with bangs. I burst into tears.

“What happened?!?” I choked out, upset. My husband explained that my mother had agreed to watch Vivianne recently. When he returned to pick her up, he found Vivi with a new haircut. I felt sick, weak, hurt. Tears continued to flow as I tried to understand.

I felt terrible as poor Vivi, who was not having a nice special visit with me, watched as I cried and cried. The challenges of living in jail had left me with little emotional resources to deal with this type of betrayal. I ended the visit shortly after it began, unable to rebound.

Calling my mother afterwards I asked her about this. She stiffly rebuffed my question with the retort, “Well if someone has to watch her, we shouldn’t have to comb that long hair of hers.”

“Why didn’t you ask me first?” I asked.

My mom choked out a laugh that wasn’t a laugh at all, as if I were ridiculous. More – as if I were irrelevant. While I cried her hostility was palpable over the phone.

Things got worse.

After I was sent to prison my dad reassured me that they would care for my children.

The Harsh Reality: Family Estrangement

“We’ll keep them until they’re 18,” my dad reassured, repeated, and I felt better. This would quickly dissolve into fear and outrage. My parents’ next move was shocking.

“Your husband came and asked to have the kids back,” my dad informed me over the phone. “We thought that was the best plan,” he finished.

“Where??” I gasped. “Where did they go to live?” I asked. I knew he had no job, no money, and all utilities had been shut off. I was unable to imagine this as “the best plan.”

“In the home you were renting,” my dad explained, sounding very practical.

“There’s no running water! No heat, no electricity!” I stammered out, utterly shocked.

“I’m certain everything will be fine,” my dad reassured me. “We think it’s the best idea,” he added.

The following fall, I’d be dealt yet another shocking blow. One Thursday afternoon my husband delivered our children to my parents, stating he would be moving to the state of Washington the following Monday and would be taking our kids with him. He needed the weekend to get ready.

My dad calmly explained all of this to me on the phone that night.

“There’s no running water! No heat, no electricity!” I stammered out, utterly shocked.

“He cannot take them! My restraining order is still in effect.” I rushed out.

“I don’t believe you, I don’t believe that’s true,” my dad responded.

“It is true,” I countered, “and it would be illegal to give them to him,” I finished. I waited for a reply. I was shocked by its force.

“Well if he can’t have them, they will have to go somewhere else, because we don’t want them here. In fact, you had better find a new home for them immediately. I don’t want them here even another day,” my dad stormed angrily.

 “I could not convince this caseworker to understand this bizarre situation and act. I gave up, defeated.”

 I read an article about “Emotionally Immature Parenting” which hit home for me when it said, “It’s difficult to be vulnerable with them. They rarely introspect about the reasons behind their behaviors, and are dismissive of the emotional needs of others.”

Frantic, I asked the prison for help, and was put in touch with a staff member whose job was to help incarcerated mothers. Entering her office in an area of the prison I’d never seen, she allowed me to use the phone to call social services.

“I am in prison and need a foster home for my children,” I told her.

“Where are they now?” she asked, to which I explained they were with my parents.

“We only put children in foster care who don’t have a place to stay,” she responded slowly, clearly confused. “Why do you want them in foster care if they stay with your parents?”

“I don’t want them in foster care,” I stated forcefully, trying not to cry. “My parents want them in foster care,” I stressed. “My parents don’t want them.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” she answered. I didn’t blame her. I could not convince this caseworker to understand this bizarre situation and act. I gave up, defeated.

Finding Strength & Seeking Answers from God

The next day, Friday, my parents refused to pick my children up from school. The school principal called the police for help, who in turn called social services. Police and social workers from two different counties arrived. They began to argue over who had jurisdiction, neither wanting responsibility. Finally they left without resolution, convinced it was not their problem. The principal was alone again with my children.

He called my parents for a second time and explained, “The school day has long ended, and I need to go home. You must come pick up these children.” My parents did so.

Frantic, I spent the remainder of the weekend talking to police and trying to convince my parents to obey the restraining order – which the police strongly explained to them was the legal thing to do. Monday found my parents giving my children to my husband, calling the police after he left. My parents would insist in the future that they “did the right thing,” and “did nothing wrong,” and that “it doesn’t matter anyway because it all turned out fine regardless.”

Recently I read an article about “Emotionally Immature Parenting” which hit home for me when it said, “It’s difficult to be vulnerable with them. They rarely introspect about the reasons behind their behaviors, and are dismissive of the emotional needs of others.” The article goes on to say, “An adult child of emotionally immature parents might end up an internalizer, a people-pleaser who self-sacrifices their own needs to take care of others. Or they might become an externalizer, who is reactive, looks to others to self-soothe and can be emotionally disruptive.”

The author of the book Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, Lindsay Gibson, says, “if someone tells us our behavior is hurting or angering them, and we continue to insist that we are right and entitled to treat them that way, then to me, that is emotional immaturity full-force.”

All these hurts and many like them were brought to the fore that year as I began a new journey with God that Satan hated. In past I’d used coping skills such as denial and avoidance when faced with conflict. Now I wanted a genuine relationship with my family.

Satan’s attempts to intensify my hurt, bitterness and resentments drove me to seek answers from God. Jesus is the Source of all Truth. It was His command to love, honor and respect my parents. It must be possible even considering all these experiences! I went to Him for answers.

What struck me as most important was this – before 2016 I had a lot of problems. Many people may have tried to tell me about myself or intervene but that wasn’t the cure. God Himself alone stepped into my prison cell and gave me a supernatural desire to read His word. He taught me what it meant and then gave me the ability to obey it. That being the case, I could trust Him to do the same for others, including my parents.

“if someone tells us our behavior is hurting or angering them, and we continue to insist that we are right and entitled to treat them that way, then to me, that is emotional immaturity full-force.”

I also began to understand that I’d been relying too heavily on other human beings for needs only God can fully meet. God was allowing it to become painfully clear that He is the only Person Who can be fully relied upon, so that I would in my heart be certain of the fact. God hates idols, anyone or anything that we believe can meet our need fully other than Himself.

Now that I was learning these lessons about my family, He was about to take away my son.


  1. Reflecting on Holly’s journey with God during a tumultuous period, have you ever experienced a moment where you felt God’s presence or guidance during a time of intense struggle or uncertainty?
  2. In the face of betrayal and hardship, Holly turns to God for answers and guidance. Can you recall a time when you sought spiritual guidance to navigate a difficult situation in your own life? What was the outcome?
  3. Holly’s experience highlights the challenge of maintaining faith and trust in God amidst trials and setbacks. How do you stay grounded in your faith during times of adversity?
  4. As Holly reflects on their journey with God, they come to realize the importance of recognizing God as the ultimate source of strength and guidance. How does this perspective resonate with your own beliefs about relying on God in all aspects of life?
  5. Holly describes a shift in their relationship with God and a deeper understanding of His role in their life. Have you ever experienced a similar transformation in your own spiritual journey? If so, what prompted it?
  6. Reflecting on the theme of forgiveness and reconciliation in the narrator’s story, have you ever struggled to forgive those who have wronged you? How did your faith play a role in the process of forgiveness?
  7. As you consider Holly’s journey of spiritual growth, what lessons or insights do you take away from their experiences that you can apply to your own relationship with God?

Introduction: Get to know From Surviving to Living!

A brief note or two for first time visitors. First, welcome! I'm so glad to see you! Are you in need of rescue? Here is my rescue story. I share it because I know it can be your story too! It is my prayer that every post lead you one step closer in your walk with...

Chapter 1: BEFORE

Prison didn’t change my life.  Earthly things don't change us into heavenly creatures. Salvation is a gift from God. It just so happens I was in prison when that happened for me. Before my arrest at age 35 in 2010 I never thought about prison, jail, or the criminal...

Chapter 2: JAIL

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 in our family. Our family's shared religious beliefs, strong convictions, and high expectations...


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...


I have said I was unaware previously that I needed to change. What does that mean? I believed myself to be a good person or at least a person who understood what good is, even if I lacked the ability to consistently and reliably perform it. I felt I had a good moral...


Suicide watch in Shakopee takes place in the facility's segregation unit. While inmates are most often taken to seg for disciplinary reasons, suicide watch and health concerns are other reasons why segregation is also used for administrative detention. It was October,...

Chapter 6: WoW

In October 2011, as I waited to be released from seg, I received a kite (internal institutional mail) from the director of Shakopee's Women of Wellness program (WoW). She invited me to participate in the six week "in-patient" mental health program. Already terminated...

Chapter 7: General Assembly (Burning Rubber)

It is November 2011. I finished the WoW program and became eligible for the workforce. Nervously I checked my mail daily, waiting for a job assignment. I'd been fired from my last job so I could not choose the next one. It would be assigned to me based on the needs of...


I began my job in General Assembly the end of November 2011. Also called Rubber, it was housed in a large warehouse building shared by several educational and industry job opportunities. There were 2 main jobs - ring inspections and cutting rubber. Rings were actually...


It was January 2012 and I worked in General Assembly inspecting gaskets at base pay, 50 cents an hour. PIE work, given out on seniority, paid $4-$6 per hour. I set my sights on top pay and planned. I didn't have long to wait. One afternoon prison guards entered,...
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