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Before Incarceration

Here you will find my original journal entries in the time leading up to my hearing that sent me to prison.  My incarceration was not expected, so there was very little preparation for my departure from life as I knew it.  Just a reminder that some names and details have been changed to protect the privacy of others.  But otherwise, this is a true account of my experience.  These are actual journal entries written at this time.  Any added info will be indicated by italics.

To give an overview, my charges of forgery and theft by taking came in April of 2002.  From then until January of 2005, I spent thousands of dollars I didn't have preparing for trial to defend my innocence.  Every month, I was sent a notice (except when the court didn't send a notice) and I had to appear in court with my attorney, simply to show that I haven fled and that I am still pleading guilty.  A string of events, including The State arresting me on a false bench warrant and the sudden death of my father, the emotional toll on my health and well-being, and running out of money led to my accepting a plea bargain from The State.  What was supposed to be the end of uncertainty, fear, and disruption was only the beginning of what was to be.

February 23, 2005

Tomorrow is it. This whole thing is over and I can breathe and move on. No more worrying about Jim, the State of Georgia, court dates, the criminal system, or what lies ahead. Tomorrow, my life changes for good.
 

I spent a good portion of the day reflecting on the last 4 years. I often wonder how I got here, though I know the answer to that question.

 

I think about Jim and wonder if he feels guilty for having such a part in this, or does he just drift off to sleep at night without a hint of remorse? I’ve racked my brain looking for answers as to what changed and why I became the fall guy. Am I really that transparent?

 

It’s devastating to think about how naïve and stupid I really am sometimes. I’ve always thought of myself as a smart girl with high ambitions and the tools it takes to accomplish them. I thought I was street smart. My intuition has never failed me; in fact, it’s only when I ignore my gut instincts that I get in trouble. And so is the case this time.

 

I am saddened when I think about the tens of thousands of dollars I spent the last four years on attorneys fees and my defense fund. My education and all my aspirations were put on hold in order to defend myself and maintain any shred of dignity I could keep my hands on. I really thought there would be some vindication, a moment when it would be clear to everyone what my role in this really was: stupidity, not criminal.

 

I think about going into the courtroom tomorrow to plead ‘no contest’ to ten counts of forgery and one count of theft by taking, and I am disappointed in myself. Am I taking the easy road? Am I giving up?

 

I’m tired. I’m tired of knowing that I am just another unimportant number in the system that will just continue to be pushed back. Over and over again, my court dates will shuffle around to keep me off of the calendar. I’ve reached a place where I need some rest, some peace. I need a life outside of reporting to court every month and building a criminal defense trial that will never happen.

 

I wish I could’ve seen into the future four years ago. If I knew then that I would eventually accept a plea bargain of probation, restitution and community service, I would’ve taken that plea bargain back then when it was just one count of theft by taking. I could’ve save all this time and money. But that’s when I was still optimistic.

 

I’m very nervous about tomorrow. I am used to being in court in front of a judge, but never have I had to speak or play a big part in the show. Jim will likely be there. This is the first time I’ll have seen him in four years, since the binding over hearing when they arrested me in court to go through processing. I was humiliated then, knowing he held the upper hand. I feel even more humiliated going before him tomorrow and basically saying, “Yes, I give up.”

 

My peace of mind only lies on the fact that once I leave the courthouse, it will all be behind except for carrying out the terms of the plea bargain. I can handle twenty years of probation. I’m a good girl and I don’t commit crimes. I am not happy about $25,000 worth of restitution, but I’ve paid more than that to attorneys as it is. If it gets them off of my back, they can have every dime I make outside of my living expenses. Neither of these conditions will take away from feeling free of the system, of feeling like a human being again. If I look at the forest through the trees right now, I can see that in the end, it will all go away. Under the First Offender Act, which is a condition of my plea bargain, my record will remain untouched and I will not technically be a convicted felon assuming I complete the terms of probation and restitution.

 

Once I finish in court, I will be on the road and heading to St. Louis. This trip is very important to me. It’s my first trip home since Pop died. We’ll finally celebrate a delayed Christmas, and my family and I can mend my heart and celebrate my newfound freedom. I’m very lucky to have the support system in my family that I have.

 

I can’t sleep tonight. Part of it is nerves, knowing I’m finally going before a judge. But more than that, I can’t help but think about what my future holds. Why did I let this hold me back so much? Is it possible that I could’ve broken these chains sooner?

 

It’s time I put the past behind me, and look forward into the future.

 

 

 

February 24, 2005

Court is over. It’s bad. Really bad.

 

My mind is reeling, trying to piece together what went wrong today.

 

There were two main conditions to the agreed-upon plea bargain with the State and Jim: one is that I don’t serve any jail time whatsoever, and two, that I am sentenced under the First Offender Act so that my record remains free of conviction should I carry out the terms of my sentence. Lucky for me, the second condition was granted. The first was not.

 

I should’ve listened to my gut instincts going into the hearing this morning. First, my regular trial attorney couldn’t make it since he was tied up in another hearing. He sent Brendan, an associate that I have worked with in the past. I wasn’t fully comfortable with anyone other than my attorney, but I was desperate for this to be over with. And I figured the hearing was pretty cut and dry.

 

Next, I learned that the Prosecutor handling this case is also unavailable, and someone else was filling in for him. Again, with a cut and dry plea bargain that everyone agrees on, what could go wrong?

 

Everything.

 

The judge didn’t like the plea bargain, especially after the Prosecutor couldn’t answer questions as to why we agreed on these terms. Her main concern was that no jail time was recommended as a term of my sentence. The correct answer was, “the defendant is agreeing to $25,000 of restitution to be paid off in four years. If she goes to jail, she loses her job and jeopardize being able to pay back the restitution to the victim. If she misses even one payment, she will violate the terms of her sentence and will be eligible for 100 years in prison, no questions asked.”

 

Instead, the Prosecutor flipped through some papers, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “I dunno.”

 

As the judge was going over the terms of the sentence hearing, she mentioned that I would not be able to withdraw my plea once I enter since I’ve been removed from the calendar. Confused, I turned to my representation with a questioning look and said, “I thought I would have a chance to withdraw my plea if she doesn’t agree to the plea bargain?”

 

He said, “that’s okay, we can still reverse the plea under Habius Corpus and have the same effect.”

 

Again, something didn’t sit right with me, but I moved forward with the hearing anyway.

 

When asked if I had anything to say, I addressed the judge and apologized for making irresponsible decisions and for wasting the court’s time. I cried and sweated while speaking, and I felt Jim's eyes behind me.

 

Everything happened so fast. I felt light and disoriented, almost like I was watching someone else’s hearing as I had so many times before. I heard the judge say “18 months” and “serve” and “probation”, but I didn’t put the words together in my head. The judge left the bench, and all I could think about was the end of this horrible ordeal.

 

My best friend Mike, who had accompanied me for moral support, looked at me in horror. I looked at my attorney, who turned to me and said, “I’m sorry this didn’t go as we planned. My office will file a letter with the judge to ask for reconsideration. We’ll also consider Habius Corpus if you’d like.” He looked nervous and shifty with a line of sweat forming above his brow.

 

Slowly, I put the last few minutes together in my head and realized what I missed while the judge was still on the bench: I was going to prison.

 

For some reason, I thought the judge added an additional 18 months of probation to the proposed sentence. Instead, she sentenced me to 10 years of probation and 18 months of time to serve in prison.

 

The bailiff quickly escorted me to a table and started filling out paperwork. He informed me that I had exactly one week to wrap up my personal affairs and turn myself in to serve my time.

 

I was surprised when he looked up from his paperwork and said, “I’m sorry this happened to you. I think your attorney should’ve spoken up, because this obviously didn’t go the way it was supposed to.”

 

It occurred to me that he and I have crossed paths once a month for the last four years, but never gave each other a second thought. It was the last place I expected to find kindness at the moment.

 

My mind is reeling, and I have no idea how to accept a prison sentence. There are so many places I knew I’d go in life, but this one didn’t even make the short list. I don’t know anyone who’s been arrested, much less been to prison.

 

My attorney tells me I will likely only serve half of it at most, but right now that doesn’t bring me any comfort. There are so many things to consider – what happens to my apartment? I have to quit my job. What will I tell people? How am I going to survive prison?

 

I called my mom not too long ago and told her what happened. Instead of driving home to celebrate my new freedom from the system, I’m driving home to say goodbye to my family to prepare for confinement. Oh, the irony.

 

Prison.

 

 

February 26, 2005

This is the first time I’ve been home since Pop passed away. I am oddly comforted here. I still feel his presence, and I need him right now.

 

The seven hour drive to St. Louis last night was a battle between positive and pity. I wish I’d had a way to record my racing thoughts as I drove and reflected on my predicament. I cried a lot, mostly out of fear and despair of giving up life as I know it.

 

My friends and family are pulling together to form a network for support. In talking to mom, we’ve decided not to tell everyone right now about my going to prison. Neither of us are ashamed of my sentence… well, that’s not true. I’m not exactly comfortable with it, and I feel like I let everyone down. But mom doesn’t feel the same way. She is proud of me for holding up and facing what’s ahead of me with grace and strength. However, she thinks it smarter to only tell those who need to know for now, so that I have less to worry about.

 

Mike and I did an internet search on Georgia state prisons and found that there are two possible prisons for women: Metro State Prison, which is near home in Atlanta, or Pulaski State Prison, which is on the east coast. My vocational options? Culinary or hairdressing…

 

 

February 28, 2005

My sister and I took mom and our aunt out on the town Saturday night. Neither have seen ‘a night on the town’ in at least two decades, so it was a good time. I appreciated everyone’s efforts to give me something to hold on to and take with me.

 

I’ve decided that I don’t fear prison. Well, I have fears, the biggest of which is keeping my idle mind busy. I don’t know what a girl like me does in prison.

 

I choose to look at this experience as something positive. I know I push myself daily for a boss who doesn’t fit my attitude. I never take time for me to relax and read or write, so guess what? Fuck Jim and the system. This is my vacation. This is my time to read and just be. I WILL make this a positive, life changing experience.

 

It’s surreal that I am thinking like this. That I am living every minute with my family as if it were my last. It’s not, but it is for now. I have no choice – these minutes count. And I have to start living my life differently now.

 

I have a feeling I will discover more about myself and my life in the next few months or year or whatever than ever before. I bet I will be motivated to come out of there and kick some serious ass. I bet I will accomplish more than ever.

 

 

March 1, 2005

Holy shit. Tying up the loose ends of someone’s life is overwhelming as hell. I decided to set up a website to publish my journal to while I’m gone. I apparently haven’t lost my sense of humor, because the name of the blog is “Soap on a Rope”. Kelly has graciously volunteered to accept my letters and journal entries and publish them to the site for me.

 

Saying goodbye to mom was really hard when I left. We both cried, as I knew we would. My heart broke when she said she wished she could do this for me. Now way would I ever agree to that, even if it were possible. The drive home was fine. I beat the snow home, but it snowed a little today. Now its just freezing.

 

I am wrapping up all the loose ends I can. I took care of the most important one this morning, though I’m not sure I did it gracefully.

 

I am officially unemployed. Quitting my job is one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do. I went in to the President’s office and resigned effective immediately, since the owner wasn’t available. And I cried the entire time.

 

My mom and I discussed quitting my job while I was in St. Louis. Neither of us felt telling them the truth at this stage was a good idea. Not only would this give me more pressure to deal with, because going to prison isn’t a common occurrence, but also because Bob, the owner, has a history of expecting the impossible from me. I know this was quite possibly the most cowardly way to resign, but I have heavier things on my plate right now. I have two days to put my life on hold, and this needs to be the least of my worries.

 

The rest of the day was spent getting stuff squared away. It was a big day if you think about it: I quite my job, got Powers of Attorney for both Kelly and Mike, cancelled subscriptions, signed my lease over to Kelly, who has graciously agreed to move into my apartment while I’m gone. The good news is my landlord doesn’t have a problem with the situation. As an added bonus, Kelly won’t be here full time until April 1, so he’s going to completely rip out my bathroom and put in a new one in March. I’m really happy about that one, and that will give me something to look forward to.

 

My mind is mentally preparing for the journey ahead, but I keep running into small things I will miss that make me sad:

 

-I was looking forward to summer in my neighborhood, living so close to all the action.

-Eating when I am hungry, taking aspirin when I have a headache, etc.

-My cats. They are both sleeping next to me right now, and I can’t fathom my life without them or their comfot.

-Music. I hope I have a chance to purchase a radio at the commissary, becase I can’t imagine no music for however long I’m gone.

-My apartment that I’ve worked so hard to have. I am sitting here right now, enjoying my beautiful (but messy) living room.

-Above all, my friends and family. I can’t imagine not having the familiar comforts of an understanding friend with me at all times.

 

I spoke to Dawn last night. I’m so lucky to have her as a mentor and friend. There’s a reason she’s in my life. We’ve always shared the same attitude and outlook on life.

 

She said, “You know, Andi, I am only half sorry you are going to have this experience.”

 

I knew immediately what she meant. She is sorry that our system failed me, but she also recognizes how much growth and benefit will come out of my experience. As odd as it sounds, that’s exactly how I feel. I know good will come of it. She gave me the pep talk that just added value to this situation that I’m facing.

 

I talked to my attorney today. He confirmed what I’ve been reading, that I won’t serve the full 18 months unless I was a troublemaker, and we all know I’m not. My crime is non-violent and I am low security so chances are I will serve about sixty percent of the sentence at most. Maybe even less. One could only hope.

 

-------------------------------------

 

I have 36 hours of freedom remaining, and sadly they will mostly be spent getting the remainder of the loose ends tied up. On the list of things to do during my last 24 hours of freedom include:

 

-make a list of access information for my utilities and accounts

-book wish list in case Mike and Kelly can send me books

-contact information sheet of addresses to take with me

-meet Dawn to handover the items from my last graphic design freelance job

-say goodbye to those I haven’t seen yet

-and a zillion other things.

 

 

March 2, 2005

With just over 16 ½ hours to go, things are coming together. I’m just down to the small, annoying details.

 

I’m starting to fear Fulton County Jail less and less. I know what I’m facing since my four day stay there a few months ago, when the State mistakenly had a warrant out for my arrest that I didn’t know about. I guess that’s both good and bad, because that was one of the scariest experiences in my life. I’ve gone into the unknown before, into situations I’m not fully comfortable. But this was different. Jail in downtown Atlanta, where I was the only white girl in the pod, was scary on a whole different level.

 

I remember being looked at as the ‘rich, white girl’, and I assume that’s how I’ll be looked at again. Last time I knew I was only there for a few days, until my attorney could get paperwork straightened out with the judge. But this time… my stay could be longer.

 

I managed to avoid eating the disgusting smelling food last time. I am pretty sure I will have to eat something this time. I worry about my safety, the way I’ll be treated, the people I will have to share a cell with.

 

But I got by fine last time, and I am sure to get by fine this time. I guess the last trip to jail was a blessing in disguise, because it has ultimately prepared me for the task at hand.

 

…………….

 

I’m down to 9 ½ hours and my last post.

 

Dinner with Mike tonight was fantastic. We ate ourselves silly at our favorite restaurant, calling it my ‘last supper’. We laughed and had a good time. No bad moods plagued this dinner. I decided before dinner that I wouldn’t be drinking. Drinking increases my anxiety, and its not like I need to do that. I did agree to a half glass of pinot noir, and it was a good choice.

 

There’s not much left to say right now. I’m having a hard time parting ways with my journal. It all seems so… final. I told mike I’m not scared of where I’m going or the long term situation. But my mind is having a hard time conceptualizing nine months

 

But I’ll be back. And look out when I am. Like Martha Stewart, the most ‘dangerous’ thing they could do was send me to jail. Jim still doesn’t win. He is just fueling the fire by giving me time to educate myself, learn about people and the system and come out stronger on the other side.

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