My family and I moved to Arkansas in October of 1998 from Atlanta, Georgia. My husband and my three (3) children and myself. When we moved out here, my husband had not worked for about three and a half (3 ½) years and we moved out here, to try to start over, to make a new start, a lot of marriage problems and thought change would be good. And after we got here, his routine continued. He never found a job. I decided that I would be better off financially without him because he was just adding to the stress and the strain and supporting him without him helping the family out. He moved back to Georgia in February and everything hit rock bottom. I didn't put in to perspective that I was going to be adding childcare for three (3) children on top of all of the other bills that I had and my finances just went tremendously down the drain. They (DHS) can't help provide childcare. They told me I needed to buy a new car or a car with less payments, less insurance, a house with less rent and I didn't have the money to do all of that. I didn't really think about what I did before I did it. A friend of mine that I had moved in with after the children and I got evicted from our home, had taken some checks from her sister and I was the ignorant one that wrote them. I was charged with forgery and every check that was written was for diapers, plus food, necessities. I mean, it wasn't, it wasn't anything that we didn't need. In June of 1999 I got arrested, went to jail and that same day my children went in to foster care.
The detectives came to my house on June the 15th. They asked me to come down to the office the next morning. I told them I would and I knew what was going to happen . The children were staying with a friend of mine and I thought that maybe after I got arrested I could get out on bail and they would never know what had happened. I had to call from the jail and tell them that I wasn't coming home and I couldn't make bail. I didn't have the money to and I have no family here to help.
The children went in to foster care. They were all kept together. I had two (2) girls and a boy at the time. They were all put in the same foster home. I didn't see them for about a month after I was arrested. The foster parents brought them up to visit one day and I have a mixed child and the foster parents told DHS that they would not keep the children because of racial issues. And so they were put in to another foster home that was right in Texarkana where I was at. And they stayed together and the children came to see me every two (2) weeks while I was in jail.
I was waiting on my court date. I thought that I would get probation and be released. I went to court on August the 5th. On August the 4th I found out I was pregnant. I got sentenced to ten (10) years in the penitentiary on August the 5th.
I was mad at the world. I didn't think I had done anything to deserve to go to prison for. I knew what I had done was wrong but I didn't think I deserved to go to prison for it.
They stayed with them until January of 2000 and the children were, they were inter-state contact and the children went to Georgia to live with my family.
Before I even got back in to the room, there was, the test was sitting on the table and I saw it before I even sat down and I just burst in to tears. I mean, it was totally unexpected. Definitely not planned. It was horrifying. I was horrifying.
I was in Miller County jail from June through November. In November I got transferred to Newport, which is the women's penitentiary and I was eight (8) months pregnant and when I had Casey, the daughter that I had in prison, I spent six (6) hours with her after she was born before they took me back to the prison. In April after I had my six (6) weeks clearance from her being born, I was trying to get in to boot camp and do five (5) days there and you get released. But they wouldn't take me at boot camp because I just had a baby. So, the warden took me at work release, which is in the same facility that boot camp is and he told me that if I could prove myself, you know, through work and him just watching me that he would consider turning me over to the boot camp program. In July the 26th he came to me and asked me if I was ready and I said, "Yes, I was ready to go home." I went to the medical facility there at the prison at 2:30 in the morning and, oh, gosh, I don't know, I was in hard labor and I got to the hospital about 3:00, a little after 3:00 and when the doctor came in, you know, they were asking me about anesthesia, the epidural. I didn't want anything because I knew how much time I had. I didn't want to not be there for all of it. And I think I had three (3) Tylenols while I was in labor and then Casey was born at 5:36 in the morning and at 11:50 I was back in prison.
I spent the time with her that I was there at the hospital and I saw her twice at the prison after she was born. Her paternal grandmother got custody of her and they live in Texarkana and she's allowed me one (1) visit since I have been released. She never brought Casey to see me while I was incarcerated and the judge granted her full custody two (2) months before I got out of boot camp and she's cut off all of my communications. She had her telephone number changed. She doesn't return any letters, you know. My mail correspondence with her, she doesn't write me back.
Well, you know, it was an awesome experience. I think it had a lot to do with the change that I made within myself. When I was in prison there was nobody to talk to. They wouldn't give me counseling service unless you were a mental patient, qualified as a mental patient. At boot camp, the DIs, they were tough and they were hard but they would listen. I mean, they really cared, not, you know, they didn't, they didn't judge. They didn't judge.
I think the biggest thing that I learned was to get over the pride that I had. You know, you can't go through life all on your own. Things happen and you have to reach out for help. If I had it all to do over again, I would have asked for help. I think one of the biggest things that I learned from DeAnn was once I did get my children back and get them home, that I couldn't try to make up for the time that I'd missed. I couldn't let them get away with, you know, I had to start off the way that it's going be and it had to be from the beginning and that's really hard. You know, my children have only been home for a week now and the little things that, you know, really don't matter, you know, if they do it or don't do it, but, I mean, it's just discipline and it has to be that way.
When the children went to Georgia they were all separated. My oldest daughter went to live with my father and my middle daughter went to live with my cousin and my son went to live with his father. And the two (2) oldest girls lived less than four (4) miles apart and weren't allowed to see each other. They saw each other at Christmas, not even their birthdays because the last year that they were in Georgia because when the girls would see each other and they were separated, they had go home or whatever, they were unmanageable. Like I said, they lived four (4) or five (5) apart for a year and probably saw each other four (4) times. Whenever I was in prison I would write letters. I would draw them pictures at least once a week. I was always sending - I called home about once a month. I remember talking to my oldest daughter on the phone and she'd say, "I wrote you a letter, you know. We're going to put it in the mail." And I'd wait for that mail to come and it never comes and since I've been released I've called home every other weekend to talk to all of the children.
I went, I had to hire an attorney. All of my family had full custody. Whenever I got released from prison in November, I talked to my family on the phone and told them I was going to in touch with DHS to find out what I had to do for reunification. Well, a week later we found out that I didn't have custody any more. They didn't even know that the judge had granted, had turned the custody over to them. They didn't sign papers. They weren't in court. Nothing. DHS told me that I needed to hire an attorney and it would have to go back before the judge in Miller County because that's where the children were when the State took custody. So, I went to Texarkana and I hired an attorney with money I couldn't afford to pay but I did anyway. And the paperwork got started. My cousin and my dad signed changed of custody forms. They said they weren't let the children home until we went to court and the judge made a final ruling because they didn't want the children to be traumatized by coming home for a little bit and then, you know, for some reason it not go the way that we were expecting it to. They were acting out and they were disobeying and doing what kids do when they're in pain and, you know, going through that and knowing that mama's out of jail and not understanding why they can't come home.
A lot of people that go to prison, if they don't have support when they get out, they're going to end up right back in there. If I didn't have my family and friends that I have made through the prison that I've been in since I've been released I can't say that I'd be where I'm at right now. I have wonderful people that I work with. A wonderful church that's really helped me and supported me and I think support is the key issue. I would tell them to keep their heads up. Think positive. Find God and ask for help because you can't do it by yourself. It's hard. It's hard. Especially coming out of prison and going in to the work force and you've got all of these people looking at your records. It's hard to find a job. It's hard to find people to trust you because you've been to prison, no matter what your crime is. Just stay focused. I was devastated. I had never, my children had never spent one (1) night away from me ever. They'd go visit grandma's, play with friends during the day but they were always at home at nights and mom was always there with them.
My oldest daughter, Torey, was having problems in school, not minding the teacher, not listening, got sent to the principal's office. Was reprimanded time and time again and when she was asked why she was doing the things she was doing, why she wouldn't mind, why she wouldn't listen in school, her response was, "Maybe if I'm bad enough you'll send me home to my mom." She's eight (8).
It was very difficult. When it was time for me to be released from boot camp, they wouldn't release me because I didn't have a parole plan. I was there two (2) extra weeks waiting for second Genesis to have a bed open for me to come to. When I got to second Genesis they assisted me in getting the job. I took the first job that I found which was horrible but it got me by until I could find something better. A lady that stopped by at second Genesis one night in prison ministry, she was in Tucker for five and a half (5 1/2) years and she invited me to church and told me that she would help me get a better job, you know, if I wanted the help. I ended up going to church with her the next Sunday and on January the 2nd I got hired at the place that she worked at. I worked there for three and a half (3 1/2) months and worked my butt off and now I'm a supervisor there.