Mothers in Prison Interview - Estella Brown
Catherine's House is a non-profit organization. We work with adults and teens to help them get their GED and computer literacy. Catherine's House was run through a lady named Catherine McCullough out of Dublin, Ireland and she wanted something to help other young people who were less fortunate than she was and she found some people that was helping her. So, she decided she wanted to help someone else and so they created a program through the Sisters of Mercy out of St. Louis, Missouri. And here in Little Rock it's been here ever since 1995 run through the Sisters of Mercy here in Little Rock out of St. Louis, My job now is Head Start connection and what I do is go in to a Head Start Center to see what child or children have parents incarcerated to connect them with the material things that child or children are doing.
When I was down there I was in Cummins and at Cummins we were there with a bunch of mens and we was just like in a chicken coup and it was just - I think it was about 30 women or 32 women when I went in. The number has changed to about 800 womens now. That's a big old building with, you know, like a sewing class and well, we did have, well we had education classes and we had a big old barracks where everybody was in one big old room. Now, they have like little section off, you know, and it wasn't like a prison to me. It was more like a place where you just go to stay in a dorm. Now, you've got some people coming out and say, well, like myself and say, "I'm not going to hang around them people no more." I got away from them, you know. I just found a volunteer job. I just went and volunteering until I found me a job because when someone found out I really wanted to work and they gave me a job. That's how I got my job with AmeriCorp Vista.
like my daughter was saying before when you did that clip, that once you become hooked, you're hooked and it's hard to get off of it and I've never used no cocaine so I don't know. I mean, I've used other drugs but not that. I hadn't never used nothing you've got to go steal from your mama. You know, I mean, that's terrible, you know. You've got to do things that hurts your family member, you know. Well, they've got quite a few places around here but it's just an idea. When a person gets out and they come right back to the same environment and then say I'm going to a drug treatment program, that ain't doing no good unless they really, really wants to change.
as they grow up and you can sit down and talk to them and they know where you've been and you read your little stories to them and tell them about what you've been through, I mean, that doesn't mean that they have to do it. You know, if you don't want to do like mama do, you're going to have to do better. You know, now they've got kids of their own, you know. Do a lot better. I mean, I want to see them do good.
She's good little girl but I just want to let her go ahead with her school and do the best she can. I really do. I mean, I can see it in her but I want her to do that because she wants - she's got that thing in her mind and she wants to be a model and I told her that there's a big risk in being a model. You know, all glamour is not gold, you know. It's just something that she needs to really try to just think about and go ahead and get her education.
Don't do like her and don't do like her grandma, do better. You know, she don't have to be around that environment. I know she's in it because, you know, they say they sell it in our neighborhood and they say it's the ghetto and they'll see it's the hood or they'll call it all kind of names.
Kamella, she needs to get her butt and sit down and stop running like that and letting mens take advantage of her. I've seen some of my nephews getting hurt and put in the hospital because of my daughter, you know, mens taking advantage of her. - it hurts. It really does and it shore hurts me to see my daughters, my daughters when they come in. they have programs here in Little Rock, but if they live here in Little Rock they're close to it. So they need to be away from it and 30 days to 90 days is not enough time. You know, do you know what I'm saying? If they end up going and staying or they put them in a 30 day program or a 90 day program and I think six (6) months to a year is good and I believe that would help them, And a resident treatment program, you know, that's what they really need because 30 days and 90 days is not enough because I see a lot of them come out, even my daughter done come out of there. She's done that drug program. She done come out and she needs to go back really. To be honest with you, if she can't settle down and be with her kids and they want her, you know, I know she love her children. I know they love her but she just can't sit still.
Oh, I've got another one, one that wants to come here from California. She needs to go and take a drug program herself. She done got three (3) of her kids taken away from her and she's got one (1) baby now. I think she wants to come down here just so that mama would keep the baby because she needs to go in to a drug program but I'm not able to keep any kids. If I was able to keep any kids I would have kept my own. If it weren't for my mother and my sisters helping me with my kids, I don't know where my kids would be, you know, half of the time but I was just grateful to get all my kids back when I got out of prison and that was by the grace of God. You know, because I didn't go get any one of them. They all came on their own back and that was in 1970, well, '74 really because that was when I got my first apartment cause I was a mama's baby I had ten (10) in all. I had ten (10) children. I had three (3) boys and six (6) girls and I had a baby that was born dead. So, I've got seven (7) living now. I always like to do something. So, I started raking leaves to make money to earn a little change to put in my little pocket. That didn't work out. So I decided I was going to go shoplifting. So, I went shoplifting not to make no money. I was just shoplifting to get clothes to wear, you know, dress up and look good. You know, to go out and I was beside my sister and she said, "Girl, you know what, you can make some money because you was good, you know." I said, "Okay." So, I started going out shoplifting and I started making money and it got so good I started having a name tag for every store downtown. I'd go in the store and just go ahead and buy stuff, put it in layaway. I spent $200.00 or $300.00 because I was making about $3,000.00 or $4,000.00 a morning for about an hour. I always had personal people that I sell, sold to. That was my party money, you know.
So, I decided to go to Texas to be a dancer and when I got down there, the guy said, "Well, we really don't have any room for any dancers. So, what else do you want to do? What can you do?" I said, "Well, I can shoplift." So, they taught me how to really steal, how to shoplift. You know, so, I started making money and that's how I went to jail. I got busted in 1969 and I went to the Arkansas Department of Correction in Grady, Arkansas, Cummins Unit. I was there for four (4) years. I got out and they sent me back down there, within, I think a couple of months later because they said it was a technicality thing and I stayed down there until 1974. That's when I got out. I've been out ever since.
But anyway that, that's my life and being in prison, it really taught me a lot of things, you know. I learned how to sew. So, therefore I got a chance to do things for myself and sew for my kids. Basically I learned a lot of things, you know, while I was in prison. I mean, it wasn't no easy task. It was something like an experience. It's an experience when you go to prison, you know.
When I got out I was more happy, you know, because I still lived with my mother, you know, and my mama said, "When are you going to get out on your own?" "I don't know." But I was in my thirties when I got out, you know, but anyway she was a good mom. Bless her heart she's never been in no trouble.
my mom and dad separated and, we was young, you know, we didn't know what to expect. We didn't know what was going on and I think that's when our life really changed, you know, because my mom basically was a single parent then and my mom had 14 kids I wound up in West Field State Farm in New York and they said that I hanged with the wrong people, you know, prostitutes and they waited for my mom to, at 30 years of age, they waited for my mom to send a letter there saying that I could come home but my mama didn't get the letter there in time. So, they sent me up to West Field and I stayed there about 14 months and then I was paroled out in New York. So, I stayed in New York for at least four (4) years before I came back home. I came back home in '64 and then that's when I got pregnant, I wanted to come with Antonette, Kamella's mama.
A lot of my kids resent me and I know they mean it. They told me in various ways and I knew they resent me. Like one of my daughters said, "You gave me away when I was baby, blah, blah, blah". Well, so be it. You didn't get in no trouble. Now you've finished school. Do you know what I'm saying? Be thankful. Be happy. Do you know what I'm saying? I'm still going to be mama regardless.
I appreciate them giving me an opportunity and a chance, you know, and I've been with them for five (5) years now. That's a big change in my life and I've learned a lot since I've been here at Catherine's House and Catherine's House has paid a great part in my life and my children's life.
Kamella, when she was young, see, her daddy played a great part in their lives. They were with their dad for a while and then they went to their mom for a while and then they went with their grandma for a while. Then they come back to me. Then they go back to them - then they left and went to Florida. So, really we was, I was just in and out. You know, they was in and out with me but basically they have been around me more than they have anybody else but I love them. They're some great kids and I'm just glad they had a place to go.
That we all could get along and get together, get along and be together. That would be big wish. I mean, That we could take one of these pictures, you know, and everybody be on it it's not going to easy to find a job because when you go, when you get out of prison, you go look for a job, you've got to put that on your application saying I've been convicted of a felony and they say, "Well, have you been out ten (10) years?" And you've only been out what? About a month or two (2) and nobody is going to hire you. I don't care what kind of education you have. They're just not going to hire you unless it's somebody you really know that's going to try to help you, be a mentor to you, see.
I'd advise anybody, you know, hey, get out and try it. Like I said it ain't easy. It's really not easy. You come out of prison and you're looking for a job, unless you really know somebody and they know you and that's the only way you're going to make it. The only way because being in prison, you're locked up in a prison, you don't have no rights when you come out.
When I got out I didn't get my kids right then. I waited at least a year. See, I got out in '73 and it was in '74 before I got my kids but I will tell you how I got my kids. You know, like I said, I stayed with my mother and my mama had a house full and it was about time for me to get out of here.
So, all of my kids came back one by one. I didn't go get them. I didn't ask for them but I told them if they wanted to come, you know, I wasn't going to force it on them. It was their choice. Even though they were little and the people that kept for them, you know. Your mama's home, go on over there to her. They came right away. They were welcome. I kept them until they got to where they wanted to leave on their own.
Like I say I don't have no regrets. I'm just glad it's over with and now I don't have to go through that no more. but anyway, I'm not going to hold no grudges for nobody, you know, because it was my mistake. I made it and I played and I paid. I've got some people here that I have worked with and I've got a position for them coming through the classes up here that, you know, like a young lady came through the door a while ago. She was in prison at McPherson. She got sick. They had said she had died one (1) or two (2) times. She had cancer and she decided she wanted to make something out of her life. So, I said, well come on up here to Catherine's House and they have classes up there and she's been here ever since and she's been here since March and she never missed a day. So, there is some people that do want some help and do want to - but they need somebody, you know, to say, "Well, you can make it. You can do it."
If they want some help, like I said, it's their choice. It really is. It's their choice but you've got all of these programs that's down there now that they didn't have when I was down there.