Hi! I'm Andi
I have no problem telling you about me... but which me? The person I was before prison, in prison, or now?
Currently, I am a very happy 42-year-old wife to an amazing man, and mom to an amazing 8-year-old boy. We live on a nice parcel in the northern suburbs of Atlanta. If there was ever a charmed life, I live it. We homeschool, so life is at our leisure most of the time, and we like it that way. We are homebodies, all wrapped up in our various interests.
3 years ago life took another huge turn for us when a dear friend became very ill a few weeks after buying her quilt shop. Long story short (you can read the whole story here), I came in as a partner to her and her husband, and have been running our quilt shop since. I have also grown my sewing machine service into a full service business, and it is our main source of income. Paul left corporate in 2016 to pursue his laser and printing business, which opened up the chance for me to pursue my endeavors as well. Our professional lives at this point include: quilt shop, sewing machine service and restoration, laser engraving, sublimation printing, a pre-fused, laser cut applique business, guild lectures and presentations, and many other things in the pipeline.
It wasn't always this good.
In 2002, I found myself thrown into a legal battle that would stretch on and on with no end in site. I was a young naive girl, for sure, but I completely own that the only person that landed me in the big house is me. Was it fair or right? No. But I could give a long list of alternate endings if only I'd had enough confidence to trust myself and have healthy boundaries. The stories of how and why are within these pages and will be linked as they are available. Before prison, I was a corporate-hungry employee of a commercial real estate firm in Atlanta. I had just moved to here in 2001 with big dreams and motivation and drive to match. A string of bad decisions and blind trust for my boss left me fired from my job and facing a serious stack of criminal charges, namely 1 count of theft by taking and 10 counts of forgery.
I held out for trial for a long time. But I was a small fish in a big pond, in no way was I priority for the Fulton County Superior Court docket. I was broke from paying attorney fees and finding employment after losing my job. I naively had faith in the justice system and the innocent remain so until proven otherwise, but I know now that just isn't the case. It's about the better attorney, who has more money to carry on the charade, and leaving your entire fate in someone else's hands. My father passed in 2004, which became my final emotional straw. By the end of the year, I couldn't afford to go to trial if I wanted to, and I was emotionally spent as well. I talked to my attorney about a plea bargain, which the State agreed to: 10 years probation, restitution of $25,000, and 1,000 hours of community service. My one 'demand' was that it all happen under First Offender. It was painful to plead guilty when I had not acted with criminal intention, but if I was going to do it, I was going to preserve my future rights and integrity as best I could. Under first offender, the sentence is carried out without a conviction, and once the sentence is complete, all rights are restored and the record is expunged (though some laws on expungment have changed since then). It is very confusing to have served two years in prison, and still not be a convict, but there it is.
The day of the hearing came, and we thought it would be a piece of cake. I guess it was, in the sense it was over and done with so quickly. So quickly that we didn't realize what had happened until it was over. No one explained to me that the judge didn't have to accept the agreed-upon plea bargain. No one told me she could add on to the sentence, and there was ZERO option for me to back out. Once that hearing started it, it was all over for me. The judge felt I wasted the court's time by pleading not guilty for three years, then deciding to enter a guilty plea. So she added 2 years of state prison time on to the sentence. I had one week to turn myself in. Say goodbye to my family, my friends, my job, my cats, my life... and go to prison.
And that's what I did. I spent three months in Fulton County's Rice Street Jail waiting for a place in the Diagnostics of the state prison system to open. I cannot imagine many places worse than the pits of that jail. From there I was transferred to Metro State Prison in Atlanta for Diagnostics, the 6+ weeks of intake to prepare for prison, which is run paramilitary style. Six weeks later, I was transferred to Lee Arrendale Prison in Atlo, Georgia for the general population portion of my journey. There, things take a turn as I am selected as one of the first female firefighters of the only all-female fire department in the entire country. My time there ended abruptly when the State thought I should be moved to Metro Transitional Center in Atlanta and participate in the work release program. Because my experience wasn't unique enough to this point, I became the first person in Georgia to ever work for the Governor (Perdue at the time) while incarcerated. That's my strong finish to the incarceration part of my story.
The part after prison was absolutely more horrific than the prison story. Don't get me wrong, my prison stories are both hilarious and horrific. But nothing holds a flame to post-prison. Even 18 months of prison time (I served every single day of my sentence) changes a person at their core. "Institutionalized" is a word you will hear associated with prison quite frequently. That was me. I went from prison with razor wire and walls to one within my own home.
It is only because of love and grace from an amazing, strong community that my story has a happy ending, and that a charmed life is possible. I will fill these pages with my story and my experiences, my thoughts and analysis of social issues in regards to the justice system, prison system, and laws in this country. I hope that I can also honor those who have given so much to make sure I was kept intact while paying my debt to society.
DROP ME A LINE
Why am I doing this?
I suppose that's a good question to start with. I first went public with this journal and my blog in 2014, back before I owned a quilt shop, serviced machines, spoke in front of guilds, and had a public persona.
Honestly, this isn't something I consider a secret. I haven't taken steps to stonewall this portion of my life - obviously exceptions had to be made with job prospects here and there over the years. But I also don't wear this on my sleeve. I don't meet someone and say, "Hi, I'm Andi, and I've been to prison. Where's your family from again?"
It's been a delicate walk for me. When do I tell someone? Do I need to tell this person, I mean, is it even relevant to our relationship? I guess it's something that I am supposed to feel ashamed of. I don't... except that I do get hung up on "supposed to". Let's be real. There IS a strong stereotype and assumption of people who go to prison. Criminal, dishonest, dirty, manipulative... sure, those things do describe people who go to jail. But not all people. If you know me at all, I hope you do know that I am none of those things. But I am easily lumped into the majority, and understandably so.
The struggle in whether or not to tell someone or when isn't about being afraid of what they'll think of me (usually). It's more that it feels awkward when the other person is like, "uh, okay, I don't really care. Why are you telling me this?" And then I question why there is a need to tell someone.
I suppose it is part of my need to be authentic. When you have something this big that dominates 1/3 of your entire life and has affected every single aspect of your existence, it is quite the load of baggage to carry around. For the most part, I'm afraid that I'll form a close bond with someone and I'll accidentally refer to my prison years or my past, and the person will say, "Huh? Back up, you what?!" And then it sounds like I've been hiding it from them on purpose. My experience says it's probably better to get it out of the way sooner rather than later... then I can operate as a much better friend without the internal battle waging in my head.
My experience of telling people about my past is pretty predictable. I build up this worry and tension of what it will be like to tell a new friend that has the potential to be a great friend, thinking maybe they'll worry that their family is in danger or that I'm going to steal their identity and family jewels, and decide, "Yeah, no thanks. We don't like your kind."
That has never been the case. Not once. Not once has anyone ever said, "I think you are awful and dangerous, and I want nothing to do with you."
It's always been anti-climactic. I nervously spill the beans, and the friend says, "Huh. That sucks. I'm sorry to hear that. Would your family like to come over for dinner Saturday?" Sometimes it comes up in conversation later, as said friend realizes they have all kinds of questions about prison and me and my experience, and then we laugh and move on.
I will confess that there was a recent incident that perhaps shook me up a bit, and accelerated the personal need to be forthright about my past, so that I don't carry this burden more than necessary. Only once (that I know of) has someone ever tried to use my past against me. I won't go into details, but the person discovered that I have an arrest record (with no conviction) and felt she had some sort of dirty secret about me, and threatened to expose to me to anyone and everyone I care about in my social circle. Too bad most of them already knew of my past, even if they didn't know the extreme details. That alone wouldn't be reason enough to 'go public', but it did force the issue a bit.
And I won't lie, back when I first went public, I didn't own a quilt shop, earn a living from sewing machine service, or have any other number of businesses to run. It is a vulnerable position to wonder if someone will hold your history against your business.
That answers the questions about why I am publicly coming clean about my past, but why the blog?
I have two main reasons for this. The main reason is that honestly, it's just a good story. I mean, I am very humble about it. But this is just not something that happens to everyone every day. It is something most of us (in my world, anyway) are not likely to experience. In spite of how awful the justice system can be, and how awful jail and prison was, there are so many hilarious stories and experiences that will live with me the rest of my life. The thing about having to live in such a terrible place with no control over anything is that everything is magnified - funny moments are that much funnier. Kindness feels so much kinder. Sadness is awful.
After people hear of my experience and get a taste of what incarcerated life was like, the first thing they usually say is, "Man, you need to write a book." When I was privately blogging (it was called online journaling back then), there was an editor that stumbled across my blog and constantly begged me to work with her on a publishing project. But I was fresh out of my prison - too soon to have grown and reflected on my experience.
I've tried the book writing thing - I'm not there yet. I even successfully completed NaNoWriMo in 2009 using my experience. But I've been journaling my whole life, it's the format I'm most comfortable with. So that's why I chose this blog. It's highly likely this could all be turned into a book someday, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.
Perhaps the motivation recently resurrect this endeavor is because I know this experience was meant to do more for others than it has for me. I now speak in front of guilds, and I talk about how quilts change lives. A few months ago, I was asked to do a lecture with the theme of "quilts with a story". And that led to the expectation that I be vulnerable enough to stand in front of a guild and say "I've been to prison". It was the scariest and most rewarding experience I've ever had.
What I didn't realize is that having that kind of audience brings forth people that are dealing with a similar situation - a loved one going to prison, struggling with the legal system, whatever. So many people approached me and thanked me for being a beacon of hope and light. Just knowing someone that had been there was a comfort. And I can't do that if I don't put myself out there.
As time goes on, you'll find without a doubt that my entire view of the justice system, incarceration, criminals and crime, laws, and people changed because of my experience. Almost everything I do - both business and otherwise - is geared toward eventually contributing to solutions to these problems. I want to, above all else, help others. In prison, going to prison, coming out of prison, avoiding prison, recidivism, the death penalty, nullification... I have no idea what that means right now, I just know that all of this happened for a reason.
Perhaps a side reason, I guess this is my way of really processing everything and putting it to rest. Yes, there are a lot of hilarious stories. There are so many moments I'm grateful for that make me smile and laugh to this day. I wouldn't trade a single thing about my experience for anything. But they came at a price. There is a lot of post-traumatic stress involved here. The situation that sent me to prison is traumatic enough on its own, but add in the separation anxiety of having my life suddenly turned upside down and my freedom taken from me, the sheer terror of walking into general population in jail and prison, not knowing your fate.
I have serious blood pressure issues. I was first diagnosed with them in 2005 when I arrived in jail to serve my time. I (and my doctor) suspect I had blood pressure issues long before that, given the length of time my life was hanging in the balance while going through the trial process and living in a constant state of fight-or-flight. As I approach the final end of this, I realize how much of a toll everything has taken on me. I think I've been living in survival mode for a long time, coping with the side effects and emotions as best I can, but not really knowing how to release them. Put the past in the past, and move forward. This has been in my life for so long, do I even know how to live without it?
I'd like to use these pages to sort that out and really reflect on my growth and how my experience has shaped my life. There is so much good here, things i've learned that I'll carry with me the rest of my life. So I suppose in a nutshell, this blog is also therapy for me.