The Bars That Bind

Eight years for burglary. Eighteen for rape. Life for murder. Five women talk about doing time with their men behind bars.

From the start, in 1985, we were up to no good. I started doing all the drugs Tom was doing--I just got caught up in it so bad. My father and his wife kicked me out, so I didn't really have anywhere to go. I was only 18, lonely, and--just really bad judgment wound up being four years of my life gone. We did everything--stole cars, robbed. We did tons of crack and other drugs I wasn't able to get off of until '92. And I was trying to go to the U at the same time.

Pretty quick my parents disowned me, and I wasn't really doing anything for myself besides running scams. I ended up in jail in Washington County once and Hennepin County twice. I was living in Minneapolis and I was a student at the U, so I was always living on campus. I lost a lot of friends. And I got kicked out of two places I was living at because my roommates were freaked out.

Tom got arrested several times, and every time it was for something different--unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, minor drug possession, forging bad checks a couple of hundred dollars over the felony limit. He was in and out of prison three or four times. He was mostly at Stillwater, but also at Lino Lakes, with sentences of between 8 and 15 months--you know, nothing too long.

He'd get allotted so many hours for visitors, and I would go all those hours. Every other night, between 1986 and '90, I was going to Stillwater. The other nights I'd just wait at home for his allotted 20-minute phone call. When I did visit, I'd either have to take the bus for two hours or hitchhike. And I was bringing him drugs--for many years, like a lot of women I knew did. I was only strip-searched, like, three times. I think there were more drugs there than there were on the street. It was just so amazing: I'd bring him, like, 10 ounces of cocaine at a time.

I met tons of people who rode the bus up to meet inmates during visiting hours. It just blows my mind--especially those people who weren't even affiliated on the outside first, like I was. They'd put their name on a list, get approved on a background check, and come up there to meet some man because they thought, "Oh, this guy would be a good match!" Then all of a sudden they'd be dating. That happened a lot. Once in a while they'd get married up there.

Well, after we knew each other for nine months, we got married while he was in jail. Tom told me it would be easier for us to get special visits if I had his last name. And I was, like, "Why not? I've already trashed myname." So one day downtown I got married. Judge Gill's clerk of court was our witness. It wasn't the kind of wedding you invite family to.

I just believed in it all the way that when he got out he'd be good and we'd have this life together. He'd find a job and be a normal person and everything would work out. But he'd always get back into trouble. I mean, unless you get out and close yourself off in a cube for the two years you're on parole, you almost can't help but get back in trouble. All the old people come around. You're used to living a fast lifestyle and having instant money. Can't get a job for $6 an hour because of your record, and who wants to go on welfare? When you got out of prison at that time they gave you, like, $82 exit money. What are you going to do with that? Go out and buy a bunch of blow, or go drink.

I was able to finish my degree, because he was gone. But by the end of '89, I was getting tired of it. I ended up leaving him when he was in prison--with the help of this guy I was seeing at the time who was this Bible basher, in the military and all. I think I went the other way, you know, to straighten myself out. We met through my job in this marketing department. Yeah, I always had these incredible jobs, like I was a regular functioning human being or something.

Tom did sign the divorce papers, but he still looks for me even now. But I'm done with it, even though there are a lot of things I can't do because of those times. Like, I was a librarian with a brokerage company for over a year, because I was thinking of becoming a broker. They'd picked me over all these other people, and then when I got fingerprinted for the FBI and my record came up, they were going to have to let me go. It was terrible. I can never work for the airlines. I can run for public office, but I have to get my name cleared or pardoned or something by the governor. Right now I'm a bike messenger and a licensed paramedic, plus finishing up the AA paramedic degree. I'm working at the U on their ambulance team, and for this other company--I won't say the name--that sends me to places where I stand up in front of people and teach them about emergency training. You know, sometimes I'm up there all professional and straight-laced, and I think to myself, "God, if they only knew."

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