LEE ARRENDALE STATE PRISON (ALTO)
July 2005 to December 2005
The move to Alto was a shock to my system. After strict limitations in both Rice Street and Diagnostics, Lee Arrendale brought a more relaxed experience.
As you'll find, things took an unexpected turn at Alto. I became one of the first women on the ONLY all-female fire department in the entire country. This afforded me luxuries at Alto that took others years to achieve (living in the honor dorm with a few more perks). Prison life still wasn't easy, it was a struggle every day to keep one's mental head above water. But life on the fire department and feeling part of something this incredible in shitty circumstances sure did help.
It also helped beyond measure to have an in-person visit from both Mike and Kelly almost every single weekend. I formed "friendships" here that will never be forgotten. I had experiences that will never be forgotten. This leg of the trip really enlightened me to the type of people that end up in prison. While living in the honor dorm, I lived with many of the "lifers" and women that would die in prison.
Friday, July 01, 2005
Kelly's email below...
Hey ya’ll, Long story short…Andi was transferred to GP. I received a letter yesterday and posted it to the blog. For your convenience, I have pasted it below. I hope everyone has a safe and great Independence holiday
Hey everyone. Sorry I haven’t been updating the blog much, but Andi hasn’t been sending many letters and I couldn’t talk to her.It was pretty evident that she was getting very little time to herself. I did receive a letter last Saturday (6/25/05) primarily due to the fact that something happened to her money order and the money wasn’t added to her books. That’s never a good thing, but even worse at Metro, cause they do not give her any of her necessities. She has to buy them all. However, at the end of the very short letter, she did elude to the fact that she had just finished her finals and thought that she may be getting transferred to genera l population at either Pulaski or Alto. She said she would send a longer letter with better updates on Monday (6/27/05). When Wednesday rolled around and I still hadn’t received a letter, I made the assumption that she had been transferred Monday or Tuesday before she could send one. Apparently, my assumption was correct, because I received a letter today, Thursday, and this is what it says:
---Hey, Well, I’m finally at my final destination. Metro/GDC pulled a FC stunt and put me through emotional turmoil, but I’m fine. I’m at Lee Arrendale State Prison, also known as Alto (located in Alto, GA).It’s weird to be out of the city. I am just north of Gainesville. That works out if/when you get approved for visitation. This is serious, for real prison. Almost like television prison (no bars). It’s open dorm like FC, but like a gymnasium. You could easily put 80 women in here. After hardcore diagnostics,it’s a severe shock to the system to adjust to finally being in general population! The officers are so nice! We are usually treated very nicely here.I’m in temporary in-take dorm for 2-3 days, then I make one final move. Finally!I’m so tired of adjusting. I know I owe you some serious updating but Ineed to get this out to you ASAP. Should be seeing the counselor tomorrow, andI’ll be discussing the phone issue and getting you approved as asignificant other for visitation. If/when approved, you can visit starting notthis weekend, but next. I’ll let you know. Trying for Mike, too, since heis power of attorney. Gotta cut this supa short because I is supa beat. Ifanything was sent to Metro, it will follow but will take some time, FYI. Thanksa billion. Lights out, gotta go. I’ll get another letter out this week.
I can’t believe it. I’m finally at my final destination! I am no longer a diagnostic, and have joined the coveted ranks of “General Population” (GP). I am finally wearing State Browns, and they look good on me. I have a figure again! I’ve got so much to tell.
My time at diagnostics was rough and I had so little time to even write Kelly and let him know I was okay. I think I have a very easy week of nothing to do until I start my detail, so I’ll finally get caught up on my correspondence. I’m sure Kelly has told everyone already that I’m at Lee Arrendale State Prison, known amongst inmates as Alto (we are in Alto, Georgia).
It’s an old prison, and up until 3 months ago, it was a men’s maximum-security prison. Remember when I once said prison looks like a college dorms and nothing like it does on television? Well, strike that. This prison is straight out of television. I’ll get to the “how I got here” story later. Up until 3 months ago, there’d only been 3 prisons for women-Metro (mainly for sick and mental), Pulaski (Medium security), and Washington. Washington had to close so they transferred them to here. There were a lot of repeat offenders among us at Metro, and they could tell you all about the other two prisons but since no one has ever been to Alto, it remained a mystery to us.
First, it’s so huge you could fit both Pulaski and Metro’s compound onto our side of this one (male juveniles are still housed here). We have rolling hills of fence, razor wire and watchtowers. The dorms are open – it’s like living in a huge gymnasium with rooms lining the walls. Almost like Fulton County, but huge. Get this, each dorm houses 96 women!! Yes, I live with 95 others! But it’s so open and so big; it’s less stressful than living with only 42 in Metro.
Our rooms are very, very small. Very! And, get ready for your stomach to turn; I will -be living out the dog days of summer with no A/C. I live in a very old, no A/C facility. I’m kind of use to it since our A/C didn’t work at Metro, so it’s not bad. I can definitely tell I’m not in the city anymore. For one, my lungs miss the smog. Second, the staff is very country, but for the most part very nice. With exception of a few bad seeds, they treat us so good here. Oh, and for those not in-the-know, Alto is just north of Gainesville, Ga. About an hour’s drive from the city if traffic is clear. That’s a definite advantage.
They got us through in-take very quickly. We were brought into the in-take dorm yesterday afternoon. They gave us orientation, classified us, gave us a detail and moved us to our final residence by 3pm today. It was a very nerve-racking day, though. Getting your detail is very stressful, as this is your job while you’re in prison. We found out early in the process that all the good details were taken. Pretty much, everyone was getting assigned to dorm orderly (clean and look busy); kitchen (nightmare), and a few lucky girls were being assigned to a pig farm. Yes, a pig farm. There’re over 1400 hogs there that they hand feed and breed. They actually extract semen from the male pigs (use your imagination) and artificially inseminate the females. Of all the details, I would’ve taken that one.
But fate stepped in, and I wonder if I was brought to Alto for a reason. When it came time to do my classification interview, the Fire Services chief came in. Now, I had read somewhere that some prisons have a fire department detail, but not at women’s prisons. Guess what? This one does. It’s a new detail for women and extremely coveted – it’s outside detail, as in outside the compound, working in the real world. They read over my file and asked their questions, and she definitely wanted me!! For the next week or two, I have a night orderly detail until they do a full research clearance on me and the warden approves me. Then I officially have fire department detail!!
I’m sure there’s very little glamour, but I would rather have a detail I care about. I want the opportunity to work hard and learn something rather than just look busy. I think I have the opportunity to get certified in some things, too. And something cool: If it’s ready and set up, I’ll be moved out of the GP dorm and into the FD trailers. I think they are still on the compound, but supposedly it’s a very sweet deal. I am very excited about this. Even being a night dorm orderly is too easy. Most officers won’t make me work since it’s temporary. But even if they do, it’s usually only two hours of work. When we aren’t on detail, we can basically do whatever.
They offer all kinds of activities, too – aerobics, stretching, crochet classes. There is a huge talent show tonight, and tomorrow is our July 4 cookout – with real hamburger meat! My other blessing is that I am in the same dorm as my very good friend and old roommate from Metro, Mary. It was so good to see her and discover we live together. I’ve missed her! I, of course, am classified as the lowest security, and then I’ll be at trustee level, I think, when I go to outside detail. This is built as a max security prison, but it only goes to medium security for now except for lockdown (problem people). You can tell how it used to be by the tray slots in our doors, and even the showers are single stalls with locking cage doors. It makes me cringe thinking about how people used to live here. Yuck!
It seems I should have no problem getting Kelly and Mike approved for visitation, then I will finally have contact with the outside world again. Still no luck with my phone list. Still no word on a TPM or parole yet. Should meet with my counselor soon, and hopefully they can find out something. Lots of rumors going around, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are really trying to get us short termers out. As big as Alto is, it’s filling up quick. And Pulaski has always been full. But prison is a lot easier to handle here. I bet time will fly. So here’s what happened prior to my transfer:
My very close friend from Fulton County, Shon, arrived at Metro unexpectedly last Wednesday. I was glad I didn’t leave that night because I wanted to see her a bit. Even come Monday, I was ready to go to GP, but I really didn’t want to leave her. The officer on duty was a real bitch that night and wouldn’t tell who was leaving until after lockdown. Most will tell you around 10pm to give you time to say goodbye, get letters sent out to family, etc. So at midnight she finally called out 4 names. Mine wasn’t one of them. I was a little bit relieved and fell dead asleep. Come 2:30am, the officer unlocks my door, flips the light on and tells me I have 5 minutes to pack and inventory. I was NOT amused. Seems she had lost my move slip, so they almost left me behind and I had no time to prepare.
Emotionally, it was tough preparing to leave when I’d been set on staying. Shon should be shipped out in just a few weeks and hopefully she’ll come here. There’s about a 50/50 chance. If not, well, we’ve still got mail. We get each other through. I have a great roommate – very quiet, keeps to herself, doesn’t smoke and does NOT snore! But she’s leaving Thursday. She maxed out on an 18-month sentence. So there’s still another adjustment for me one way or another.
After being at Metro and being under such strict rules, it’s good to finally relax, but it’s hard to do. Even right now, it’s 9:10am and I’m sitting on my bed writing this letter. This would be unheard of at Metro. I’m in a whole new world. Once my books are back in shape (thanks to Mike, who means the world to me), I will finally have my own CD player/radio and fan. And I’ll be able to get a package from him with cd’s, tennis shoes, house slippers, lotion, make-up, jewelry, etc. I can’t wait to have music – I haven’t heard music in 4 months!! My colored pencils are no longer contraband and I can get a sketchpad here. I’ll have tweezers for my eyebrows. Yes, this was a very good move.
Some major drama went down at Metro that left me in a very delicate position, so the timing was right for me to leave. I think I mentioned I didn’t have the best roommate the last two weeks. Me being me, I found a way to get along with her. She was usually nice and respectful to me, but she carried one of the worst negative attitudes ever. She was always cussing someone out and making threats to others. That and some personal living habits just made it miserable. But we were able to make it work best we could, since I knew it was time for me to leave anyway.
Well, last Saturday, it was around 2pm, three officers, one LT, and two captains came storming into our room. I freaked out because I had no idea what was going on. They packed her up and took her to lockdown. Now, I know she’d been investigated a few days prior for stealing from the kitchen and threatening someone there, so we assumed that was what it was. My world changed – having the room to myself was amazing, and having her stress gone, the whole range was better. I started sleeping good again. All was well. Then Monday a.m., she returned, back to my room. I immediately sensed something was wrong. She was directing a lot of negative energy towards me. She left for detail and about 5 people came to me and said they were really sorry and had no idea it had gotten that bad. Huh?! Turns out, someone, or two people, turned in official statements under my name on her. A statement is like a complaint, but it’s serious. Obviously, since she went to lockdown. I never turned in a statement. It was never that bad.
So that’s why she was mad. Long story short, we still don’t really know the truth about all that happened. I just know I’m glad I left that night. So that’s pretty much the latest. I probably have a ton of diagnostic stories to catch up on this week since I’ll have time and couldn’t write about it there. But at least I’ve had time to write and tell everyone I’m doing good. Thank you for keeping the mail coming. I’m trying to respond to everyone this week, but I’ve got to wait on money to go to store for postage. If anyone sent mail to me at Metro and I left too soon, it will eventually follow me here. Thank you all for your continued support!! Sunday, July 3, marks 4 months down! I couldn’t have made it this far without the support I have. Hopefully it’s almost over. If not, well, it’s all going to be okay : )
Holy Frijoles! Talk about one hell of a whirlwind day. This is probably the most action I’ve seen in a long time. I’ve hot news that’ll blow you socks off. No, no word on going home yet. But really, that’s not even a worry right now. You know how I’ve basically been asking why in the hell I’m in prison for the last four months? Well the answer has come to me suddenly. I’ve been truly, truly blessed. I’ve already written home about having been chosen for the Fire Department. Well, today I got word I have been officially approved! This is a HUGE deal! Out of the five women who came in with me and were chosen for the FD, I was the only one approved by the warden. They are extremely picky about people’s backgrounds. This was a surprise because I thought it would be another week. Here’s how it all played out…
I’ve been a temporary night dorm orderly since I got here. That means I don’t do anything. I used to sleep, read and draw all day, everyday. I assumed today would be more of the same. Then around 7:00am, Ms. Britt, the officer, called me out. I thought I might’ve gotten in trouble for missing too many pill calls or something. But she looked at her list and said she was so proud of me for going to Fire Department detail. That’s how I found out. I was so excited I could hardly sit still. The Fire Chief called me out around 10am. There I met four others. Their names escape me, but here’s the part that totally blows me away; you won’t believe this, kids. You know how I’m prone to falling into once-in-a-lifetime opportunities every now and then? Well, this one sort of takes the cake. I am officially the 5th member of the very first and only all women fire department in the entire country! Not just inmates, but all fire departments! How cool is that? Now get this; we are eventually going to be on CNN and someone is going to do a full documentary on us. This is CRAZY! This is straight from the horse’s mouth, too, not rumor mill. So much for my incarceration being incognito. But guess what? I don’t even care. This is too grand of an honor. I came to prison to live out a dream – and make serious history, didn’t I? How did this happen to me? I am so excited and crazy about this – even far crazier and excited and motivated that any other job I’ve ever had.
As soon as I met the other girls, the chief told me I was going to be moving today (I did). We went to in-take and got measured for our fire gear. Right now we’ve got to make due with what is left from when the men were there. Oh, a note about the other girls…They’re wonderful! All of them are so very nice. And considering our line of work, that’s vital. Then we lift for the firehouse. What an ordeal. Every time we leave the compound, we go through a shakedown. Anything we leave with besides our study materials we can not bring back in. So I feel really naked without my watch. It’s so weird after 4 months of being locked up so tight – now I get room to move. We drive the ½ mile to the station in a real van. And we work as if we are real people in the real world, not inmates. The chief doesn’t treat us like inmates at all. We spent most of our day practicing rapid dress – putting your full uniform in less than 2 minutes. Since I’m new, I had to learn everything, so I wasn’t timed. But there I was, standing in a real, full-on suit, breathing apparatus and all. It was so very surreal. One of those moments in my life I’ll never forget. We also practiced knots. She quizzed two of them who’ve been there awhile. Both got the knot wrong I love it – when we’re quizzed on the spot and get it wrong we’ve got to do push ups. The chief listens to country music. So we listen to the radio all day –what a nice change from R&B that I’ve been forced to listen to. Today was great actually singing along to a radio.
We also washed our transport van. I learned a lot abut the FD. We cover several counties once we’re up and running. Also, we’re full service, meaning us inmates are it – the only employees are the chiefs. Chances are, if I’m here long enough, I’ll be driving the trucks! This is far beyond anything I thought I’d ever experience. We are trying to get MOD I certified in the next two weeks. We’ve got study materials, so almost all my off time will be spent on that. The canine unit is housed next the FD, so they brought one of the newer dogs over to do a sweep. It was so cool. The dogs went crazy at one of the girl’s lockers. Once she freaked out, the chief showed us why. They stuck a piece of tape inside the locker that smells like marijuana – and it really does, like the good stuff. Also, one other cool thing; fighting fires doesn’t work too well with glasses, especially since our face mask has to be sealed. So by GDC rules, I get to wear contacts! I’m so excited about this. We just have to figure out how to get them. We drove down to the training center where they train CO’s so we could do a quick clean. I got to see a beautiful view of the mountains. It seems the area around all prisons and jails are ghetto. Even out here in this tiny town of Alto in north Georgia. Mostly rundown trailers. Just when you think you’ve seen it all… We drove right by a rundown trailer and the owners where in the midst of building a house around it. I was floored. I wish I had a camera. You can buy a house here for $29,000. WOW. You can’t even buy a cardboard box in the outskirts of Atlanta for that.
Arriving back at the compound, we go through an entire strip search, to include “squat and cough” every single day. But it’s so worth it. I really like how tight this group is. Chief talked to us for an hour today about brotherhood and how it’s going to be a pillar in our line of work. So very true. What happens at the station, stays at the station on all levels. I know this to be true, because everyone on this compound has only been able to speculate so far. Our standard response when people ask what we’ve done all day is “study and exercise”, which is true; we just don’t go into detail. I really like that because everyone is trying to get on and asks a thousand questions everyday. It’s almost annoying. I got back to the dorm around 3pm, and before I could even say a word to the CO to sign in, she told me to pack up to be moved. I barely had 5 minutes! Yes, yet another adjustment, and this one still isn’t permanent. I’m now in the pre-honor dorm. It’s a pretty decent set-up. It’s got carpet and huge-ass noisy fans – I’m so happy about that because I’ll sleep so good. And for the first time in four months, I can use the bathroom in privacy! The downsides, well, I live in very close quarters with 5 other roommates, and 12 of us share one shower. Most of my roommates are on laundry detail so they demand that the room be quiet after 9pm. I’m very happy about that.
The one major downside is readjusting to a very different environment. Most people are very long termers who’ve been here awhile and really try to alienate the new people. Most of them are very nice, though. The girl under me has been very kind and even loaned me a pair of shorts until store on Monday. It’s a little lonely; because it’s the first time I’ve really been without real friends in a long time. It’s really not so bad since I will be really busy through the week, and studying every chance I get. I have to put in a request to get moved to 17, one of the real honor dorm ASAP. They are trying to get us all into one room before we start responding to calls. And hopefully eventually, we’ll be living in the trailers. We saw them right at the back gate today. It would be really sweet living. No officer lives near us – the only time we’d ever see one is during count times at night. Talk about the elite! It’s all happened so fast I just can’t believe it.
For awhile now, I’ve wondered if Pop can see me, and if he’s disappointed in me for giving up the fight and ending up in prison, or if he’s proud of me for handling things the way I have. And standing in that fire station today, getting the same lecture on the importance of brotherhood I’m sure he got as a volunteer firefighter for so many years, and wearing the same full Turnout gear I watch him put on so many times…I’d really like to think he was watching, and that he is really proud of me. Ironically, tomorrow marks one year since his passing. The very last conversation Pop and I had a week before he passed was about my frustrations with the city of Atlanta. They were giving me the runaround when I was trying to find out about any open volunteer slots with the City of Atlanta and Fulton County. And one guy told me outright that being a woman was going to work against me. How ironic that I end up with the very elite, in the only all women fire department. We are all ready to prove ourselves. This prison used to be all men, so it’s an adjustment for everyone, but it will come with time. But amazing gifts and dreams come in very strange and sometimes questionable packages. I’ve really been handed my dream. And this isn’t something I can get in the real world even, not like this.
Now my only fear is parole. What a backwards situation. Yeah, I miss home. But I really want the chance to become fully certified here and serve with this department. Most people write the parole board to try to get out early. Would it be unheard of to write and ask them to delay my parole? I honestly think if I was given the chance to parole and go home now or stay, I’d stay. I feel kind of guilty about that because that’s leaving Kelly and Mike with the burden of handling my life and my affairs. I figure I was given this gift, so if I’m meant to stay and finish it out, I will. I’ve heard that as long as I dedicated myself and work hard, I will have no problem finding a job immediately if I choose to. I am truly blessed, and very little could rain on my parade today. I’m very sad that I still can’t call anyone. 1.5 months without hearing anyone’s voice is bad enough, but this is something I’d love to call home to talk about. If I just make it through the weekend, life will be good. The move to a new dorm sort of puts a dent in it. My money order from Mike got here a day late (Metro sucks) so I missed store on Wednesday. I’ve not had store in 3 weeks, so no food. During the week this is fine, but weekends are rough. They only give us breakfast at 5am and dinner at 6pm. That’s 13 hours with no food. Gah! But I’ll make due. Michele was going to loan me food. At least I go to store two days earlier now. Well, I need a shower. Just had to get this out. I’m exhausted!!
It’s Tuesday already, and I’m in a pretty damn fine mood. Yesterday was finally store day and the money on my books was straight, so I’m in good shape (thanks again a million times to Mike.) And…I forewent some junk food to get a radio. I worked a deal out with a friend here. They were out of the CD/radios, so I got a small am/fm radio. I’m going to use it until I can get a CD/radio and she’s going to buy this one from me, that way I can finally listen to my own music. I am so overwhelmed after hearing no music for over 4 months. It would’ve made such a huge difference having a radio through FC and diagnostics. I can’t believe how much I’ve missed in just music. So, that completely turned my world around.
The CO did mail call pretty late last night. I wasn’t expecting to see any mail because I just moved to this dorm so I thought it might take some time due to the change. So imagine my surprise when the CO came to me with TWELVE letters! She asked if I got the whole town to write me? : ) You guys made feel so loved!
Because a good portion of them were blog updates, I spent three hours – yes three, reading mail. Bless Erin’s soul – the girl has spent some serious time and frustration printing blog stuff out for me, not the mention postage! Thank you, Erin, from April on, and what a gem of a surprise!! Sitting and reflecting on where I’ve been and how far I’ve come was amazing! I mean, it stretched all the way back to Fulton County. It makes me really, really sad that I wasn’t able to keep up with writing beyond the basics while at diagnostics. I’m going to try and keep it a priority here, because to be able to look back and reflect was priceless.
It was nice to see my witty, humorous writing side; that seemed to fall away in diagnostics. I think it’s back, so no fear. Reading my entries for the first time was almost like reading about someone else. Perhaps there is potential for a book in these pages. I also have a lot of letters to get sent out. I’ve sent out several via Kelly (low on postage) and more are on the way.
For the record, I am at peace with doing the full 18 months. Mostly, I mean… I have my moments where I crave home and real world things, but for the most part, I‘m ready to suck it up and do it. I really think being on the FD is the driving factor. I hate to do anything half-assed, to include an 18-month prison sentence. And while having music sounds like such a minor thing, it makes a world of difference. Music has always been my anti-depressant, and now that I have it to keep me going, nothing can hold me back now. Between that and the fire department, that fire (no pun intended) has been rekindled in me.
For awhile, I thought I was just going to coast through prison without a purpose, taking up space, and go back to the real world eventually. Oh hell no! That’s never been my style and it never will be. So I can only imagine how I’m going to be when I hit the ground running. I’m very content with where I am mentally right now. I haven’t been here in awhile, so it feels really good. Also, Mike has been approved for visitation so he can start visiting anytime, and Kelly should be approved soon. This will help.
Let’s see, not much else to report. I rarely get to see TV and it’s hard to read the newspaper since there’s one for 100 people, so I’ve been oblivious to what’s going on in the world. I wasn’t even aware of Hurricane Dennis until it hit us. I hear Atlanta is a mess. We just got one day of crazy rain, but being out here in the open made for some amazing skies. I miss my camera! It was amazing. The power was out at the station, so we didn’t get called out to go. It worked out because I spent 3 hours in medical for the face rash and BP checkup.
They’ve got me a little nervous. They are suddenly testing for colon cancer out of the blue. I guess because I’ve had gastric issues, coupled with the fact my uncle once had colon cancer. I’m sure it’s just routine. Well, time to go. I’ll write more later.
Sunday, July 31, 2005
Email from Mike:
Well....I finally got to see Andi!!!!
Kelly and I went to the metropolis of Alto, GA this AM to see her.....unfortunately, the state being what they are...there "list" did not contain Kelly's name so he was denied access.....he took it well...I would have been pissed.....
Anyway....the guards at Alto are incredibly nicer than Fulton County...pleasant, professional and polite....what a shock to my system....I was given instructions to pass through a series of interlocked doors to the visiting area...they verifyed my access stamp and told me to take a seat in the visitation area which was a large room with plastic chairs facing one another....one chair was for the visitor and the one opposite for the inmate being visited....the prisoners must sit with their backs to the wall therefore I had to sit facing the wall...I had to wait 5 - 10 minutes for her to get there....
The room was like a school cafereria....vending machines lined one wall and there were plants etc. decorating the dead space....
Andi entered from the right through another set of doors and looked absolutely fantastic....she had to check her ID at the desk and then was allowed to come to me....I had not touched her in 5 months and it was incredibly wonderful to give her a huge hug....her hair has gotten so long that it is no longer than any time since we have met....obviously her blonde highlights have grown out and her "brown" natural hair has grown into the center "part" area of her head....she cannot wait to get it colored when she gets out....she was dressed in a pressed tan uniform with "State Prison" adorning the back....frankly...the uniform was fairly form fitting and looked nice on her....on her feet she wore combat type boots (black) that had a Maxi Pad in each for added comfort...LOL....I told her she had not read the instructions very carefully....she assured me that when her sneakers arrive in a week or two (on order) life would be better
She talked with obvious excitement about her firefighting and although fun...it is also very demanding so letters etc. are reserved for weekends....but she begged me to let everyone know that receiving letters is extremely important to her so PLEASE....don't stop writing....
Books are virtually non-existant...she can receive teo per month that she must order with money on her books and only directly from the publisher so first she has to know who that is....
She has a catch 22 on housing...because of the firefighting thing she gets preferred housing at a trustee level which is good because she is lumped in with people that don't cause problems but at the same time many have been there for a long time and she is the outcast....AND there are 12 in her room so privacy is minimal....but she is still doing great and wants everyone to know she totally appreciates everything...especially Kelly and Rae who have helped in so many ways and went shopping for her last week and got her everything on her list (although the panties didn't make it through cuz they were not "granny" enough...LOL....prison issue ones are OK though)....she hates relying on people in any way but I reassured her she should not dwell on that...
Anyhow....we talked about a ton of other stuff...ate snacks...drank drinks...hugged one last time and went our seperate ways....but I wanted everyone to know she is hanging in there and doing OK....and seeing her was the highlight of my day/week/month....and thanks to Kelly for being patient while I spent time with her....
7/22/05 Friday 8:05PM
Well, the good news is the weeks are flying by now. Somehow, it’s nearing the end of July already, and I’m approaching the five-month mark. I try not to monitor a calendar so closely so that I wake up every once and awhile and realize haw much time has passed. The bad part about it is that because things are moving so fast, my writing has gone down the drain. I come in exhausted every night from detail and fall asleep by 8:30pm if I can make it that long. And, I admit, I get very lazy on the weekends. It’s very much like life in the real world in some aspects, except I am doing very hard, physical labor every weekday. That’s a far cry from the desk jobs I’m used to. I’ve gone from pushing a mouse around on a Mac to pushing around a lawn mower on a field. But guess what? I’m loving it!
I’ve got so much to tell as always. I am vowing to get loads of stuff written this weekend and sent out finally! First, its been so long since I’ve written, forgive me if I repeat myself. Trust me when I say if I had my laptop here, I would write so much ya’ll would give up on trying to read my stuff. But pushing a pen across pages for hours is tiring. Okay, enough complaining, lets get to it.
It’s the weekend, unfortunately. Yeah, it’s the reverse in here. Out there, civilians live for holidays and weekends. In here, most of us who can’t stand extreme laziness dread the weekends when time seems to crawl to a near stop. Our weekends hold few options – read, sleep, and television. That about covers it. We leave the dorm only for breakfast and dinner (we must provide our own lunch). Those lucky enough to get visitation get out for a few hours. It’s just awful, really. It’s the one time reality and loneliness gets a chance to set in.
Last week was especially a source of pleasure/pain, by my own doing. I stayed glues to 99x on the radio while I studied all weekend. They had their top 1000 alternative songs of all-time on from 10am to midnight. Man, too many songs bringing back memories of my life on the outside. Some reminding me of current friends, lost loves, and events dating all the way back to high school. The most painful songs were reminders of past trips to Texas and Jackson, MS to see Rat Ranch – trips I won’t be taking this summer to see them – and times to come.
Talk about a serious let down. The number one song was as I expected, but vehemently willed a miracle to happen. Unfortunately, Nirvana’s “Smell Like Teen Spirit” still reigns some, what…13 years later. Yeah, 25+ hours of listening time ending in such an anti-climax. Did I mention I despise nirvana and their music? Yeah, okay, they changed the face of rock music forever. And really, that’s half the problem I have with them. I loved the hair bands and corny power ballads. Not grunge bands trying to make bold political statements cloaked in suicides and such. But that’s just one girl’s opinion. Yes, Nirvana fans everywhere will want to shoot me. I guess gotten a little off track here. Good thing I’m protected by hundreds of thousands of yards of razor wire and many, many, many officers – Nirvana fans are crazy. I know! I live among them.
With any luck, my weekend will be broken up tremendously with my first visitation tomorrow. I found out about two weeks ago Mike was somehow approved for visitation already. So I wrote and told him since MCI refuses to let me call anyone. I didn’t know if I gave him enough notice, so I wasn’t even expecting a visit last week. I just got a letter from him today saying he drove to the sleepy town of Alto, but got here an hour after visitation ended. He didn’t say anything about this weekend, but if I know him, he’ll be here. I’m quite excited – I’ve not had contact with anyone on the outside other than the occasional letter in two months. And unlike county, I will get to hug him and actually sit here with him. Hopefully Kelly will be approved soon, too.
I’ve got a ton of stuff to say about life at the Fire Department so I’m going to save that for last. So far, I’ve stayed in this form for over a week now. It was by far the hardest adjustment besides first going into Fulton county, but I’m finally more comfortable and not quite at home, but close enough. Of the six beds on my side of the room, two are empty for now. One bed is occupied by a girl I really could live without. The other two beds belong to Crystal and Shannon. They’ve been a couple for 16 months now. At first, Crystal was real put off by me until she realized I’m not a threat to her of Shannon. I’m not chummy enough with them to hang out and gossip with them or anything, but I get along with them very well. They are kind enough to wake me for breakfast if needed, and last night they apparently killed a big-ass bug that landed on my butt and tried to spend the night there as I slept. I was oblivious to the whole thing.
A bathroom and shower separates us from the other six in our room. Over there, I only really talk to one girl, Quin. Well, used to. She used to be on the FD with me. More on that later. Lauren is across the hall, also on the FD. She and I are very much alike. We have gotten to be pretty good buddies. I’ve got some crazy Lauren stories for later. There are a handful of other folks that I make small talk with. And my friend, Tenley, upstairs, is moving down here Monday. Her best friend, Dean, just moved down Monday and is waiting for approval for the FD. I have a feeling I’ll be among that crazy little group. So slowly but surely, I’m finding my place. The important thing to me is that the four of us at the FD have bonded and formed our Brotherhood. That’s where I really feel at home.
We live in what’s considered the pre-honor dorm. We are all waiting for beds to open up in the honor dorm, but we get most of the same privileges. Sometimes I fail to see the honor in this dorm, especially since we’re living in 6-man areas, in 12-man rooms. Industrial carpet, a huge-ass fan (no A/C on this compound) and being allowed to visit other rooms are supposed to be some perks, which they are. The one perk my roommates get to indulge in, that is probably my biggest struggle dealing with, is that the officers let them smoke in here 24/7. You all know how I feel about that. Yes, it’s miserable. My sinuses are the worst they’ve been since High School when I live at home. But, there’s nothing I can do about it at all. As we speak, someone is smoking a Black and Mild next to me – it’s very much like a Swisher Sweet. It actually smells better than cigarettes. And, I once thought nothing could smell worse than cigarettes – try cheap, hand-rolled cigarettes. That’s what everyone smokes here.
There is one honor dorm perk I got to participate in this week. Every Monday night, they show a movie in the gym just for us. This week it was “Million Dollar Baby”. It was fantastic! I was so exhausted but I’m so glad I went. Hillary Swank was amazing. You know ¾ of the crowd was crying, including your truly. That was a nice perk.
I am finding my self in a weird place lately. Of all places, as miserable as it was most of the time, I’m finding myself very homesick for Metro. I thing such contrasts are very common for people – finding priceless nuggets of pleasure among miserable chaos seems to stick with you. I mean, our diagnostic experience was easily the real punishment part of prison. The majority of our time there is spent in pure hell. But some of my most favorite times in my entire incarceration were there.
My friendships there were honest and true – they weren’t just people I sort of got along with to pass the time. We spent every minute together we could. There was no such thing as “mine”, only “ours”. And we honest to goodness spent most of our time together laughing so hard we cried. We had our rituals, our habits. It just worked. We all have events in our lives we’ll remember fondly. Most of you know mine and Kelly’s last year or so in Texas ranks pretty high on my list – Rat Ranch, Cody’s, our friends, road trips, etc. and it kind of baffles me that a few moments in my personal hell on earth rank among our last year in Texas and the rituals Mike and I’ve put together the last two years – our hockey and Rams games, and our jokes that cause wine to spew from my nose.
I suppose that’s what’s made my experience in Alto so hard to adjust to. Those girls and I separated in the system, and now I’m living among the girls that have had that for years already. I think the fire department is going to be my saving grace. It is not your typical detail – our lives depend on each other, and that really adds a bonding element to our friendship. Regardless, I will be sad knowing those days at Metro are gone, and I know they won’t be replicated. But they sure make me smile. I can’t wait to get more time to go into detail about them.
In other news, my assigned mental health counselor got a hold of me finally on Monday. I’ve started to write about it a number of times this week, but just thinking about it exhausts me. Back at Metro, I requested to be put on the mental health caseload for counseling only, no medication. I know that’s unheard of - most people refuse the counseling and will do anything to get the meds. In fact, when you meet with them, they are always poised with the pen over the prescription pad. But you know me…I’m anti-med girl. So I’m finally given a counselor. I figure at the very least I need some grief counseling in relation to Pop. And, if I find a counselor who is actually willing to counsel, I probably need to invest some serious time into unloading some Jim baggage. Long story short, this counselor is probably going to be able to help, as painful as it’s going to be. I did not realize how many games I play with myself to deep all those emotions under control. At first, I thought this woman was just being mean or was plain crazy. She hit a real sore spot by challenging my case; basically telling me there’s no way I could be innocent considering the sentence I was served. I mean, the woman all but called me a liar. I struggled so hard to not get defensive with her. Then she just seemed to deep pushing every single button I had – within 5 minutes, she had me in all-out tears of frustration. That’s the short version. It really disturbed me. It stuck with me all day and through the week. And I finally realized what was going on. I thought at first she was a half-assed, bad counselor. But no, she’s going to be one of those really good counselors, isn’t she?
Most of you know I went through several months of counseling with Beth a few years ago. It was very comforting, like talking to an old friend. But as I look back now, I realized Beth was probably too passive with me. That just let me feed into my own games. I think this woman caught on to right away, that I am a master at burying things and moving forward, never letting those emotions surface. And she pushed my buttons on purpose to break through that. Very scary, because the woman actually got in.
Towards the end, she admitted that she wasn’t really trying to challenge my innocence, and she felt that if I really wanted to resolve the Jim baggage, it’s going to take someone who knows how to be aggressive, yet passive when necessary.
I’ve done some thinking about my sessions with Beth. Yeah, I realize now, Beth was an easy ticket. Beth would lead very gently up to questions, and when we got to things that make me squirm, she would feed me the “right” answer if I stared at her long enough. Not Ms. Caldwell. I could stare all day, and she would star back until I really answered her questions, which were mostly point blank.
It’s suddenly occurred to me how good I’ve gotten at masking things below the surface. Everything is still revolting to keep them there. But I know if I don’t do something about this now, it’s going to follow me back out to the real world, and my issues, fears, pain, hurt, anger, sadness, fury, etc with Jim will still be there even though the trial is over.
I really don’t want to live like that. So, I’m going to give it a try. I’m scared as hell to say the least. Terrified, actually. This boat is going to be navigated into dark, uncharted territories. I’m honestly afraid of unraveling and not being able to keep it all together. But I figure it’s better to unravel now, willingly, rather than down the road when it’s because I really can’t hold it together anymore. So I’ll be going to grief counseling group every Thursday, and seeing Ms. Caldwell once a week. I think I start Monday. Did I mention I’m terrified?!
Saturday 7/23/05 1:20pm
It’s a very hot Saturday afternoon. Rumor has it that it’s supposed to reach 104 deg today. Considering, our dorm room is not feeling all that hot without A/C. I’ve gotten absolutely nothing accomplished today, which is a good thing. My body needs serious rest to recover from last week and to prepare for next week.
It was a really busy week at the FD. So much happened this week. Most of the week was spent doing yard work, cleaning the station, inventory for the trucks, the usual.
At the beginning of the week, we pressure washed the hoses because the previous crew of guys left them covered in Georgia red clay. Later this week when it dried, we learned how to lay hose (back on the track). Yes, yours truly got in plenty of hose-laying jokes.
Wednesday was a real treat for us. We loaded up the 5-minute emergency tanks for the dorms, then we drove to Baldwin, the next town over, to refill them at their station. It was strange being back out in the real world. A chief and four inmates with “State Prisoner” emblazoned on their backs, in the middle of downtown Baldwin, population 250. Baldwin is so small, the FD and PD are pretty much one and the same. There were only two businesses in the downtown square – a salon called “ The Hair-Port”, and “Woody’s Taxidermy”. No kidding – I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. But it was a cool field trip. Our station, when up and running, is a community station, meaning we actually answer to at least 8 counties calls. So we do a lot of stuff with surrounding towns.
Thursday was a strange contrast of relief and disappointment. We lost a firefighter. Quin, the girl that lives on the other side of my room, had to be fired. She was the stereotypical girl the rest of us are not – very prissy and spent all her time at the station in front of a mirror. Her heart certainly wasn’t into it. She was just trying to hold out for 5 minutes of fame on CNN. She honestly thought it was all for fun, and that we weren’t really going to go into burning buildings. Needless to say, none of us wanted to go into a fire with her. So now we’re down to 4. We need at least 6, but Chief is aiming for 6-10 in the very long term. Regardless, if things go the way Chief wants and plans, we’ll be up and running as a full-service station in 6 months.
Friday was our first book test. It was a tough chapter, too – Fire Behavior. We did all right, not as good as we wanted to. Chief made us to 2 push-ups for every question we missed. I did 16 pushups. Then she have us our individual evaluations. She had nothing but good things to say about me and my efforts. She really likes that I am extremely positive all the time and very encouraging to my fellow crew members. She thinks I’m definitely going to make a very good firefighter as driven and dedicated as I am. She said she’s sure my dad can see me and that he’s very proud of me, which was very sweet of her. It was a very good evaluation, and was one of the brighter spots in my career as an inmate.
So around noon, chief said we’ve got a meeting with the Warden up at the conference center. In our experience, meetings with the Warden are never good. Chief said he was pulling the outside detail people (off-compound) together to basically issue a stern warning to us and to discuss issues he’s already had. Needless to say, we were dreading it.
We met up with the farm and general labor details. The Warden drives up and we all stand at attention to wait for him to come in. Much to our surprise, he comes in smiling big and carrying 6 gallons of ice cream. Because he, in fact, has had no issues whatsoever and nothing but good reports about the outside details. So he pulled us together for an ice cream social. He apparently recognizes us as the hardest working inmates since all our jobs are very physical and requires long days out in the heat. And as trustees, we are the most trusted inmates on the compound. So it’s quite an honor. It ended up being on all-you-can-eat, so you know we left sick. I’ve not had ice cream in 6 months, so it was really good!
Chief had a talk with the four of us before we left for the day, saying the four of us have already formed some of the strongest Brotherhood she’s seen in her years as a firefighter. And it’s true, I’d trust those girls over most of my co-workers I’ve had out in the real world. I just free so at home and so encouraged at the station.
Chief has also been constantly preparing us to use our training on the outside. As much as I really want to go home, I really do hope I’m here long enough to get certified in all 3 modules. Apparently, former inmates are the country’s highest commodity because of their training. You technically are only required to be Mod I certified to be hired or serve as a volunteer firefighter. That’s where most firefighters remain. But for inmates who complete the whole program, they come out Mod III certified. Chief showed us the letters she receives from stations all over the state trying to recruit us when we’re out. Should I be lucky enough to be Mod III certified, you’d better believe I’m going to go to City of Atlanta. For one, it gives me a huge upper hand (it’s still a good ole boys world) to be hired as a woman if I’m Mod III. Also, the pay is a lot better and you know I’ve got to make restitution.
Back in county I was struggling with what I’m going to do when I get out, feeling like I need to be on a new path, because graphic design certainly wasn’t where my heart was. I think I’ve been led right to my answer. I’m at such peace about my future fight now.
So that’s pretty much the scoop on work right now. It’s what keeps me going here. I can’t imagine where I’d be mentally without it. My job this week is to come up with a work out regimen for us. The GDC is not real smart. They have banned workout equipment in all state prisons, yet they expect us to pull victims out of burning buildings. Go figure.
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Email from Kelly:
Oh My God! This blog took forever for me to get posted.Sorry guys…It’s volume 3 edition 5. I did get to finally visit Andi this Sunday! She looked Great!She got everything she asked for from the care package I sent her. Every 90 days she can receive items in a package. She sends me a prison form on which she marks the things she needs/want with the quantities, which is approved by the prison. I get the items and send them to her in accordance with their guidelines…blah,blah, blah……..She now has CD’s, make-up, “essential”,etc. So, her spirits are high and she had her old glow and smile back. Since she works outside a lot more, she’s gotten a lot of color back. She is doing very well in the FD as you will read in the blog and she hopes to be MOD III certified within 6 months. She’s really digging the training and the friends she’s making, but would still come home faster than you could say, “paro…” if they would let her. She has definitely set herself on cruise control. My goal is to visit each Sunday as I did when she was in Fulton County.It kills two birds with one stone. I get to visit her and she gets to have lunch each Sunday since they don’t supply it on the weekends. : ) She hadn’t thought of that, but sure like the sound of it… Not much more to tell at present. The blog is pretty informative….and long. So grab a cold one….of what? That’s your choice. And set back for some good reading. Hope this reaches everyone in good health and spirits.
I am so exhausted; I don’t even know why I am attempting to write tonight. Yesterday was one of the most awful days I’ve had in prison. A girl in our dorm died yesterday. She was only 21. Actually, she would have turned 21 on August 9th. I knew her and talked to her often, but I can’t say we were close friends. Long story short, I was walking back to the dorm from store. She was across the way from our dorm at the library, and I saw her collapse. It’s happened a lot a around here lately because of the heat. I was concerned but didn’t worry too much about it because of that until an officer we call “Coach” started doing chest compression on her. Everyone in the dorm knew about it by the time I got inside. I’ve known this girl for about a month. Everyone in here has known this girl for a couple of years. She was a real sweet girl, the kind that was friends with everyone. So you can imagine how emotions were running pretty high by this point. The Chaplain soon came in and said that they started CPR on her, got her in an ambulance and will try to everything they can. He came back 10 minutes later and told us she didn’t make it. The whole dorm fell apart. Everyone was upset. Her best friend had just moved to this dorm. She had an anxiety attack and fell off a top bunk when she found out. Then two girls had severe asthma attacks right after each other, so the medical team stayed over here. It was crazy. The place was so emotionally strung out that the Warden and Deputy Warden stayed here trying to keep chaos down, and every single mental health counselor was here to give a debriefing to us individually. It really affected me unexpectedly, I think it hit a little too close to home. I remember the phone call I got about Pop. And I know her family got that same call. In the aftermath, they aren’t sure yet as of the cause of death. A few inmates have come forward and said she was drinking Bombays all weekend. Bombays are these strange drinks inmates make for a caffeine rush. It consists of coke, kool-aid and coffee. I guess all that caffeine, mixed with certain medications, especially if they aren’t yours, can cause a stroke or heart attack. Rumor has it she fell out once last year at Washington prison over the same thing but it wasn’t as severe. (Obviously) That’s all rumor, but it came from Chief, so it’s reliable information. Pretty tragic regardless, that’s all I’m going to say on that topic, because I’m so exhausted from all that as it is. The good news for the week is that I finally got visitation this weekend! The bad news is there’s been some sort of glitch in the system, and they only let Mike in. Kelly had to wait in the car. I was not happy about this. I’m happy I got to see Mike, though. It was so good to hug him. Apparently my hair has grown quite a bit. He got to meet my good friend Michelle and saw one of my fellow firefighters. It was a really good visit. Hopefully I’ll see both of them this weekend. Also, I got my package from Kelly and Rae on Thursday. It was like Christmas! I got stuff to make me feel more human again – make up, socks, underwear, bras, t-shirts, perfume, earrings my ring and CDs! Man, what a difference those CDs have made! They sent me Rob Thomas, Joss Stone, Michael Buble’, and Maroon 5. That Rob Thomas CD is one of the best I’ve owned in years. I love every song on it. It’s funny how I chose it – when I was at Fulton County, Target had a commercial out that featured a 15 second clip of his song. That’s all I’d ever heard of him as a solo artist. It was a good gamble. Joss Stone turned out to be a really good CD, too. The other two I already knew I liked. Now I’ve got to decide what CDs I want for August. They will help keep me sane.
Sunday 8/7/05 8:00pm
I just realized I’ve been slacking really bad on my writing. It’s been a rough week. I’m finding myself in a very conflicted state of mind today. On one hand, I’m finally settled and at ease with my surroundings. I have people to hang out with usually. I was moved to a new room last Wednesday, so I am so much more as peace. My room is so much more quiet. I have a good friend, Donna, that I hang out with. She’s new to this dorm as well. She just turned 21 yesterday. On the other hand, I’ve been dreaming about home an awful lot. I really miss home. I miss my friends. I miss everything.
I suppose it was compounded by visitation today. I finally got to see Kelly today. It was such a good visit we got three hours together. It was so good for the soul and much needed. I think Mike and Kelly are going to work it out so that one visits on Saturday and the other on Sunday so that it fills up my weekend. This will be wonderful. I have the best friends in the whole world.
So I need to do an update on the things I’ve done on my cliché prison list. So far I have:
1. hustled milk and food
2. gotten into a jail fight
3. used a Bible as a phone book
4. sold cigarettes for other items
5. learned to roll cigarettes
6. learned to pop a socket to light a cigarette
7. learned to play spades and chess
8. made such food items as baked potatoes, burritos, Bombay, scalloped potatoes, tuna casserole, and cake
9. had my hair plaited into corn rows
10. worked on the side of the road as state prisoner
11. gotten a prison tattoo
YES. That last one is true. My friend Lowe is a professional prison tattoo artist. She’s been locked up 6 years and has done hundreds of tattoos. I’ve been watching her give them for a while. Also, she works in laundry and gets needles all the time. I finally decided I needed one. I’ve been saying over and over I wanted to get one to landmark my experience, but I was planning on doing it when I got out. But it occurred to me that it would be more meaningful to landmark the actual occasion, not after the fact. I still intend to get the Maltese Cross professionally done when I get out.
This one I got is no big deal whatsoever. In comparison to everyone else’s prison tattoos, mine’s laughable – It’s so tiny. And I really was the only person I knew without a prison tattoo. So I got Lowe to do one Friday night since I trust her. It took 5 minutes. It’s the Japanese symbol for Strength, comprised of three lines, one each for each for character, courage and compassion. It’s so tiny, near my right ankle. But I love it. Everyone loves it. Everyone wants one like it. Three people have already gotten one. I’m a trend starter.
Friday was about the most festive I’ve felt since I’ve been in this dorm. One of my roommates turn 30, so the other girls had a big party for her. A lot of us didn’t directly participate, but the whole dorm was super-hyper anyway. I guess the good time was contagious. Most of us were drinking Bombay (no mental health drugs with ours), which made us hyper. It was a good time. We were all up late. You’d swear everyone was really hung-over yesterday.
Tomorrow starts another week. We are having our pictures taken at the Fire Department. I think tomorrow is movie night, too. I’m sure there’s more to tell, but I’m exhausted and I’ve got to get this out. I’ll right soon.
Monday, August 15, 2005
Email from Mike:
I had the good fortune to spend 3 wonderful hours with Andi today......she is doing wonderfully....and looks fantastic....and she wanted me to share several messages with all of you.....
First and foremost....she misses EVERYONE!!!!!!! She cannot wait to get out and catch up with all of you....
Secondly....she apologizes that she has not written more....but the fireman training is a wonderful kick in the but and it leaves her completely drained so it is impossible for her to find the energy to write in the evening.....but she asks that everyone has patience with her and not stop writing her because she receives so much joy from your letters....she asked me to say a special thank you to Kelly S because she is so consistent in sending correspondence....and she really loves your letters....and a big thank you to Dawn R for sending post cards from the cities you visit....she loves them (I am gonna start doing that as well).....
She also wanted me to acknowledge Kelly G and Rae who have shopped and sent her her wish list with so many things that make life better in the "big house"....it truly makes a huge difference and she appreciates it so much and hates relying on us but has little choice
She also wanted me to tell everyone that the rules have been changed and she can now receive print-outs of Internet articles as long as they are not inappropriate or focus on weaponry or jailbreaks...LOL.....so please print away...
She looked great....and she was sporting new tennis shoes which were spiffy and a far cry from the combat boots last time....and I am not sure if I was supposed to share this but she has a new tattoo on her ankle...a "prison" tattoo which is an oriental symbol....I think it stands for "perseverance" ....anyway...she was proud of it.....
She is getting a bit homesick which makes your letters all that more important.....so please keep em coming
I don't know how many of you knew our routine but Andi and my friendship grew outta watching Ram Football.....this was supposed to be our third year of donning Ram Jerseys and going to a local tavern to watch the game....eat shit food (see Nachos and cheese fries) ....have a drink or two and bond with fellow Ram fans.....so with the beginning of football she has a new bout of homesickness.....she even discussed it with her counselor who just didn't get it.....she responded..."It is just football"...to which Andi responded....."You don't understand....It is what I do"....so the next few months and especially once hockey starts our support will be critical...
September marks Andi's first opportunity to modify her visitor list....she plans to send J, Kelly S and Rae a visitor application....if anyone else wishes to be added...please let Kelly or I know....
Erin~ I gave her a big hug for you and she asked that I give you one in return (which has to be virtual cuz you are in another state).....but she asked me to get you to promise to come visit once she gets out because she loves you...wants to meet you in person and wants to personally thank you for the dedicated effort you have given to her blog.....I can tell from the way she talked that you are extremely important to her....
Anyway...I could type another 200 words but I won't bore you.....just wanted to keep you all updated
Friday, August 26, 2005
Note from Erin...
Hello everyone. I have some news, not necessarily good news, but apparently Andi was not surprised. She was denied parole this week and her release date was set for August 31, 2006. I heard this information from Mike, but I have not received official updates from Andi herself. Please keep writing Andi, I'm sure she needs all the encouragement and support you can give her and she really appreciates hearing from everyone.
8/15/05 Monday 9:45pm
I'm coming to the blog tonight with very mixed feelings. It’s one of those situations you pretty much prepare yourself for, but realize you can never prepare yourself enough for it when it happens. I got my letter from the parole board today. They reviewed my case on August 3rd, exactly 5 months to the day into my sentence. My parole has been denied. This means as of right now, my release date remains August 31, 2006. Fifty-four weeks of pure prison bliss. Of course it’s never permanent. This could change, and it’s likely I could be reviewed again in 6 months. But it’s safe to say I’ll be here through at least March. I pretty much knew it was coming. It’s unheard of for the most part for a short-term sentence to be paroled this soon, if at all. There’s a common saying that the less time you have, the more time you have in front of you. Seeing it in writing sort of helps. For one, I’m not sitting here wondering. It’s done, at least for now. But I’ll admit it’s really hard to stomach another full year here. For the most part, I’m okay with day-to-day prison life. I’m used to it. I’ll never like it, but I’ll live. It’s the outside life that makes it hard. Football season and hockey season are upon us and I’m already trying to cope with that. Soon it will be the holidays. And, I’ll be turning 30 in prison. Yes, that might be a tough one to swallow. One of the hardest things for me to accept is that Kelly and Mike will continue to carry my load and have to live my life for me. I cannot stand being a burden. There are a thousand significant things I cannot bare thinking about at this moment, mostly family-related. Being away from them and out of their lives is so hard. So you know ‘Survivor Andi’ has stepped up. Most of my friends in my dorm know and keep asking if I’m okay - I am okay. It’s just going to take few days to digest it. My ever-silver lining will remain in my place and certification with the fire department. Honestly, I think it’s harder to tell my family (via visitation next weekend and via this blog – you are all my family) than it is to accept it. But if all of the 54 weeks ahead of me fly like last week did, all is good. I’m trying so hard to stick to the ole ‘one day at a time’ method. The bigger picture is that not much of a choice is to be had. It’s only one tiny slice of my whole life. But really, it’s hard to feel that way when you’re still in it.
Tuesday 8/16/05 6:40pm
Energy level is low today. I think it’s mostly the heat. It’s sooooo hot and you know we don’t have air conditioning. Seems we’re stuck in another heat wave. We are so miserable.
Saturday 8/20/05 2:05pm
Well, things got really crappy Tuesday night, hence the very short entry. I went to bed around 9pm because I wasn’t really feeling well. I really thought it was just the heat and the blahs. Around 8pm, the officer told me a letter had been delivered for me up in dorm C18 by mistake and that I’d get it on 3rd shift. Gut instincts are a son-of-a-bitch sometimes. I just had a feeling it was from Shon and it was news about her father. She and I had been going through a rough spot in our friendship the last few weeks, so our letter exchanges had been emotionally draining as it was. Officer Gullett woke me up around 11pm to give me the letter, and it was from Shon. I noticed I already didn’t feel well. Sure enough, Shon had just found out by letter from her ex-girlfriend/friend that her father had passed the previous Sunday. I’ve never felt so helpless, being stuck here while she was falling apart at Pulaski. I cannot imagine being stuck in prison while dealing with my father’s passing. I ran to the bathroom to throw up. I thought it was just a reaction to Shon’s letter (the whole letter was terrible) but I threw up and had diarrhea all night long. I couldn’t even keep water down.
Off. Gullett was great and took care of me as if I were her own daughter. She made me go to emergency medical at 2:30am. They gave me Pepto which just made me throw up more. But they got me on the sick call list for the next day. I slept the best I could Wednesday. They sent me back to medical around 1pm. I sat in the freezing waiting room for two hours, miserable (I’m sick and not used to the A/C). The doctor was very kind – I got the usual “you don’t belong here; you’re not a typical inmate” spiel. She tested for anything serious, and said it was probably a stomach bug. She gave me a Finnergan to take and a prescription for the next four days. Finnergan calms your stomach but also helps you sleep. Shoot, it completely knocked me out like nothing ever has that I can remember. I slept from 4pm that day until about 3pm the following day.
Everyone says they got me up for the count times but I don’t remember it at all. Eventually it passed and I feel a whole lot better now. I went to work on Friday but took it easy. Same today – it’s pretty hot again. Yesterday was our big day with Turner South at the fire station. It ended up being a disappointment on our end. See, the documentary is about women in fire fighting in general. It pretty much focuses on our Chief. The cameras followed her through her entire certification at the Academy in Forsythe. (She did the three-week suicide course) But it also includes women from other departments throughout the state. Yesterday’s taping was basically the closing to the documentary. So Chief’s entire interview was about us and where she is now. And of course it’s a big deal that she’s Chief of the only female fire department in the country.
Well, the guy doing the documentary begged the warden (who was there) to let us be in it. The warden was more than okay with it, but the department of corrections, who owns us (literally) and is the hand of God, said No. The guy had previously asked for permission to do future documentary on us once we’re up and running; the GDC approved that and said they’d rather wait until then to allow us on camera. Honestly, the four of us are very humble and aren’t really bothered by it. We’re so proud of Chief. She’s really an amazing woman. It’s hard to believe she’s only 27. Apparently, HBO is the highest bidder and they are paying $180,000 for it. He said it should air sometime in October.
I’ve been coping with football season as best I can, which pretty much means not really watching any. Being in Georgia, most everyone here is a Falcons fan. (Barf!) I usually just read the sports section for now instead. Happy to hear the Titans beat the Falcons last night, and that New Orleans beat New England, though I think that’s probably because NE likes to preserve their energy for the actual season. The Rams play tomorrow though I don’t know if it’ll be televised here or not. I really hope so. Atlanta hockey starts Oct. 5th. To cope with both seasons, I’ve started making my own jersey’s I may have already mentioned that. My Dany Heatley (Thrashers) jersey is almost done, and everyone loves it. I’m going to do my Jackson (Rams) jersey as soon as Kelly sends me the Rams logo. I have a feeling people are going to want to buy Falcons jerseys from me.
One more disappointment about being stuck here hit me this week. I’ve heard via Star 94 that Rob Thomas is going to be playing at The Tabernacle on October 24. OUCH. You here that?! That’s my heart breaking. I love him – and his music. I’ve run his CD out because I listen to it so much. Man, to see him live…and at a smaller venue at that. Maybe I can still drag Mike to another city to see him next year. I hope so. Speaking of CDs… Man, I realized today how long some of my roommates have been locked up. Some of them have never even owned a CD. Several still have a tape walkman…and only listen to cassette tapes. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve seen a tape?! For some reason, this freaks me out.
Monday night was our weekly movie night. We watched “Coach Carter” which was a fantastic, inspiring movie. But I also had a huge moment of wasted humor. I’m still quite upset about it. Before the movie and previews, there was a warning about piracy being illegal, but it was like commercial. Each of the following sentences flashed separately across the screen:
“You wouldn’t steal a car…”
“You wouldn’t steal someone’s money…”
“You wouldn’t steal a television…”
So I’m sitting there reading the statements and I’m thinking “Haha – that’s funny – They obviously don’t know who they are talking to. (a gym full of felons and convicts)”. Oh, the irony. But alas, as usual, no one got it. I hope as least you, my friends, are chuckling.
Also, big news this week, our prison has been under terroristic threat watch, mostly last weekend. See, we house juvenile boys here. It’s the only facility in the state for them. Well for the last month, someone connected to one of the boys has been calling in threats to the prison. Oddly, he’s been threatening to shoot other prisoners, but not officers. They’ve taken him seriously enough but not too much because he never acts on it. Last weekend he was threatening visitors. But Chief told us because we work outside the gate, we could be an easy target because we are high profile. Like we really need excitement. So how’s that for a week at Lee Arrendale State Prison? Next week should be a normal work week. Then Chief goes on vacation for two weeks. We’ll be studying for MOD I most of those two weeks, but we’ll also be going out a couple days to keep up with our grass. With all the rain, it’s been hard to do as it is.
Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Email from Kelly:
There’s a new blog posted and it contains information about her parole….She was denied.
Now with that said…when I last spoke with her she wanted me to ensure that everyone understands that that is not a definite crushing blow…NOTHING is final. She has seen inmates get a temporary parole month and have it pulled two weeks later. On the other side, she’s seen inmates get denied parole one month and then turn around and get paroled 2 months later…
She also said that the current Board of Corrections is new and younger and is more highly focused on “Family and family values”. So now that we know her case has been reviewed, now is the time to really pump out those letters and show the board that she has a solid, caring, and loving support group that will ensure that she will not have cause to repeat her past mistakes.
According to Andi and her “sources”, keeping her name forefront, constant, and positive in the minds of the board is very important. Her case, as is, will be reviewed again in 6 months, but can be reviewed at anytime if they see cause to do so….We can make every attempt to give them that cause.
Bottom line: Until she is walking out of the front doors, it’s not over.
Additionally, Thanks to Mike for his visitation updates. He thoroughly paints the picture of the Andi’s look and demeanor that I only need to concur with. She does look great and even better with each passing week. Her position on the fire department and along with the weekly visits have definitely revitalized her hope and resolve to see this thing through. “A much needed breath of air”, if you like.
That’s all I have for now. All of you are wonderful. And Andi, as well as I, can’t express how thankful we are for your ongoing support.
In some respects (incarceration aside), it’s been a crappy year. Atlanta got screwed out of hosting the NHL all-star game (through I couldn’t have gone anyway). Mine and Kelly’s most favorite comedian, Mitch Hedberg, died very unexpectedly. Today, we have a day off from the fire department, so I sit down to leisurely read the paper. You talk about a stomach drop. To pull out the sports section and see Dany Heatley’s picture taking up ¾ of the front page, and a headline screaming “Heatley Traded”. Honestly, its not a surprise, I’ve just been in denial. I kind of figured he was waiting for the right time to get out of Atlanta, to move on from the Dan Snyder mess. And post-strike when the NHL is a mess anyway is the perfect time. Me personally, I’m not dealing with it too well. Yeah, we got Hossa, and no doubt he’ll do good things, as will Holik. But damn. I am a diehard Heatley fan. It’s going to take awhile for the shock to wear off. To further dampen my spirits, Pasi Nurminen, my choice of goalies, will likely retire before the season starts due to severe knee injury. I knew he had problems, but I thought he still had some miles left on him. I know all this seems petty, but I am totally in a funk now. There’s a three-page write-up in the AJC. I just got Lowe to steal it for me.
Thursday 9/1/05 10:55am
Yeah, My unwillingness to accept that I’m in an institution is going to make my time harder than it has to be. I am not dealing well with accepting being under someone’s constant command. I mean, it’s just ridiculous to me, that twice a day I have to wait in a 45 minute line just for someone to watch me take a blood pressure pill, an aspirin, and a Zantac, and have them check my mouth to make sure I’m not stashing them. If I have an extreme headache, I’ve got to wait until a certain time of day for an officer to dispense two 25mg Tylenols to me. A black magic marker is considered contraband and is punishable. It is to the point where most days I dread getting out of bed to face the stupid routine that treats me like a child.
My day starts at 5am every single day, including weekends, and it takes about three hours in the morning to get through the pill call and special diet process. The whole thing eats at me and makes me miserable. I had to wise up and realize I’m letting this stuff run me. I refuse to let my time “do” me. It’s one of the things that make 364 more days hard to accept. But I’m coping. I’m always finding subtle ways to break up the monotony.
Monday night, I got to wear my new St. Louis Rams “jersey”. I spent Sunday laboring over it and it turned out fantastic! I had to use wet colored pencils, and my color choices were limited, so the logo is more like the old Rams colors – Royal blue and yellow. I wore it to the movie before the game, so our whole unit saw it. The game, of course, was great. It was so good watching the Rams play. And a 37-13 win is great, too. It was really hard to watch it without Mike, but I coped. And I had to miss the last 1:30 of it because lockdown is at 11:30pm. I just hate that I won’t get to see many games. Grrrr...
Apparently there's a hurricane moving toward New Orleans that has everyone worried. When we were watching the game, 1/4 of the screen was showing the moving hurricane and talking about evacuation. It looks pretty awful.
I am forever grateful for Kelly, Mike and Rae, for financing my vacation to LASP. I received a package yesterday, containing underwear, socks, makeup, house slippers and 8 CD’s. Man, those CD’s are my sanity. I escape prison life into them all the time.
Saturday 9/3/05 5:25pm
It’s kind of hard to believe, but today marks my 6th month of incarceration. 6 months ago, I said goodbye to Kelly at the Fulton county superior courthouse and walked into a new life. It’s crazy to think about what all I’ve been through. At least I got to spend a few hours with Mike today. It was a great visit. Although, he did force a cheeseburger AND pizza on me. Things are going okay these days. I’ve gotten lazy since we are on “vacation”. I basically lay around all day except for when I study. But I am really missing outside life. Simple stuff. Missing my cats, my house, my bed!!!, my car… Considering Mike’s job situation, he said it’s a bad time to be locked up. I couldn’t agree more. I am quite pleased Star 94 is doing a summer Send-off weekend, where they are mixing in hit songs from past summers. This ought to bring back some memories!
Happy Labor Day! So hard to believe summer is over already. So sad to see it go. Ready for it to cool down, though. Great weekend for me, though. Mike came to visit me Saturday. Kelly came to see me Sunday. And they both surprised me and returned to visit today since it is a holiday. Sure made my weekend go quick. Despite my really good mood after I returned from visitation, seems I was extra-sensitive to the people who get on my nerves in here. It’s like things were magnified. They were getting on my nerves worse. I think visitation all weekend was a great escape, and then reality set in. I am so ready to go home. I am writing my own letter to the Parole Board this week. Also, Kelly told me something that really upset me for a minute and got me really angry about being here. You may remember that I was a voluntary member of the Georgia State Defense Force, our state military, in the Medical Detachment Unit. If I were out there, I would’ve been deployed to help do triage for victims. Man, I would be 1,000 times more useful out there, being able to help people rather than just sitting here talking about it. This topic angers me more about being here than anything, I think, thus far. I am going to include this in my letter to the Parole Board. With that said, I think I’m going to go write my letter to them while I’m mad.
Sunday, September 25, 2005
Email from Mike:
I have not sent out an update in a few weeks so I figure I better do so....
First of all...I hope you have all been monitoring Kelly's e-mails and sent letters to the Parole board to help get Andi out as early as possible.....I have written countless memos in my life but I never word-smithed as much as I did my letter....and i wanna personally thank Erin for her input....encouragement and good sense to tell me to stop editing and just "send it"....
I spent a little over 2 hours with Andi today...as usual she looked great....she has gotten in the habit of doing her chores at the fiirehouse wearing her pants and boots which helps her get used to wearing the equipment but also handling the heat....and as you can imagine the result is that she is in amazing shape.....this past week she wore them to "mow" a hill using a string trimmer....I can not imagine her doing that but she is definately toughening up....and she says this next week the cheif will make them crawl everywhere because in a fire you don't stand....so she will be crawling all over
I imagine many of you have never visited a prison so let me share a tip...
When you come upon Lee Arrondale Prison it is a impressive and intimidating fortress but frankly I have found the staff to be friendly and nice
When you arrive you must present your ID...your keys...and any cash you bring to use in the vending machines (Andi likes the Angus Cheeseburger with a crapload of ketchup and the Ice Cream Taco)...
after you clear security there is a set of 2 outside gates that you must pass through ....one gate first and then when it is interlocked a second gate is released letting you pass inside the prison grounds...once inside you enter the visitation area which has the same 2 door process to get into a cafeteria-like setting to visit...
So here is my tip....when you pass through the first set of gates outside which are stainless steel and about 4 feet wide....do not pinch your finger when closing the gate.....
My nail is the prettiest color of purple right now.....nail is gonna be history
Ok...other updates....they have a new anal mail officer who is a stickler for rules so if you do not want internet print-outs returned....cut the internet addy off....I am apparantly getting my mail back....again
Well...you will all be happy to know that today is square fish night again....she was salivating...this after a sumptuous breakfast of French Toast....
I don't want to steal Kelly's thunder but apparantly there are firefighter photos in our future....hopefully Kelly will get them out next week sometime....she said they came out awesome...
Saturday 9/10/05 3:30pm
Hi everyone! It’s another lazy Saturday at Lee Arrendale. Mike is in Miami for football this weekend, so no visitation today. I spent my day so far sleeping late and studying. This week went pretty quick, really. I guess cause it was a 4-day week though. I was on “vacation” so it really didn’t matter. We finally go back to work on Monday. I am ready. It will really help my frame of mind to be outside and be busy again.
This past week was an emotionally heavy week for me. I’m not sure if it was PMS, the usual cyclic depressed mood that pops up once in awhile, of just circumstances that got me, but Wednesday was a pretty yucky evening. It was the worst I’d felt in a long time. I know the biggest part of it is that I honestly and truly hate where I am. What really scares me is that if I just sit down and let reality set in, and truly think about my surroundings, I think I would find that I am miserable enough to fall apart. I know its been six months of suppressing everything and ignoring the misery to just scoot by, make the best of it and get the hell out of here. I am wondering how long it can go on ignored? I am impressed that it has stayed concealed (to myself) this long. It started seeping through the cracks Wednesday night. Like Dupo’s levee in the Flood of ’93, emotions sloshed over the side and threatened to breech the levee, but my corps of engineers managed to remedy the situation.
Yes, I know its prison and not a paid vacation. I guess the biggest part is that I am back in the dilemma I was in before Shon came along in Fulton county: I have no one to relate to and I’m very lonely. On the outside, there have been so few environments I’ve not been able to adjust to. Well, high school had its moments. But new jobs, new cities, new groups of friends, etc. I’ve always handled that well. Why is this one so hard? I know, it’s obvious why it’s so hard. I hear it at least once or twice a day from various inmates, officers and personnel: “You’re not our average inmate.” Meaning it’s obvious to everyone, I don’t fit in. And yes, I am happy and relieved about that in the hig picture. But it makes current times really hard.
I live among the long-termers, those who are serving life sentences and more. This is their life. This is all they know and will know for quite sometime. My life is on the outside. This is just a 3-hour tour. Furthermore, 98% of the people in this prison have/had drug problems. All their stories and conversations revolve around this topic. So really, the only thing I have in common with of them is that we are inmates. It’s not helping that I just seem to refuse that this is my life right now, better or worse. My bed is miserable (the mattress is from 1972), our very unhealthy food menu is miserable, the noise level is miserable, our work boots are miserable, having 11 roommates in a dorm that’s turned ghetto is miserable, and living among miserable inmates and their miserable attitudes is, well, miserable. Wednesday felt like on of those days where I just couldn’t stand another day of this. As I have obviously proved to myself, I can and I will.
For whatever reason, it felt like everyone just looks right past me. To some degree, they do. It’s pretty standard for people to not talk to you unless they want or need something from you. It sometimes feels like being the last kid picked in gym class (and if we played softball or waffle ball, I always was) again. Everyone functions in cliques here. My last clique dissipated a few weeks ago. There are people I usually tag along with to go to chow or whatever, but I am always on the outskirts fog activity. Being alone has never been a problem for me and still isn’t. But I guess I thought being lonely and feeling like that kid in gym class was something that got left behind in high school, not something you’d still feel and deal with at 29.
My sister, Nikki, sent me pictures Wednesday, and seeing some of them was a serious shock to the system. There were two pictures of me from the night we took mom out when I was in St. Louis. It was the week I was sentenced, just 4 or 5 days before I had to turn myself in to serve my 18-month prison sentence. It was a time when my spirit should’ve been broken. In the pictures, you can see my spirit was anything but broken. They are quite possibly two of the best pictures of me I’ve ever had. I think I even look almost radiant. It was a reminder that the girl I see in the mirror right now isn’t the real me; the one with the bad skin, grown out highlights, very tired and drawn looking. People probably think I’m full of myself because I have looked at those pictures several times a day. But to me, they serve to remind me again and again that this it temporary. I know I haven’t lost my radiance, it’s just coping with current life circumstances. What a relief.
Those are my thoughts today.
Saturday 9/17/05 1:30pm
How is it mid-September already? I love it! I am recovered from last week’s little depression tantrum. I really do think going back to work mostly cured it. And work itself has improved since we don’t spend 3 days a week dong yard work in 100 degree plus weather. Don’t get me wrong, I’m ready to go home. But I’m not on the edge, either. I just had a good visit with Mike. I swear visitation keeps me sane. As does mail! It was a crazy week back to work.
Apparently the Warden and Deputy Warden were so impressed with us, we are like the teacher’s pets now. Some of the details we do now are supposed to be for General Labor, but they request us because they know we’ll get it done right. It kind of stinks because the details really suck, but it’s good for political reasons. Tuesday we had to clean the Deputy Warden’s house she is moving into. It was all good until we got to the Hannibal Lector-like basement. There was hardly any light, trash everywhere, and …critters. Every time we move something, stuff would scurry. You know I’m not really scared of bugs and stuff, but even I was getting unnerved. There was a huge-ass burry spider with stripes sitting on the wall staring at me. Then we found a piece of snakeskin on the floor. We looked up and found the other 4.5 feet of skin in the rafters above our heads. That was it for the other girls. It was a gross experience. When I got back to the dorm and showed, I found a dead spider in my sports bra. Nest week se get to paint the window frames at the front entrance of the prison.
Some good news is that even though I’m not certified yet, I am officially a GDC firefighter because of on-the-job training hours. I’ll continue to earn those until I leave. That’s what makes us more valuable than most people on the outside. I also did a very good deed. While Chief was doing classification Wednesday, someone found a bay black snake in the yard by the vocational building. The Major and another Warden came out with Chief and had it in a plastic bag. The Major was insisting that it be killed. Somehow I talked him into letting us take it out to the fire station and letting it go in the woods. It was just a tiny baby. I can’t stand when things get killed unnecessarily. When I let it out of the bag into the grass, it was so scared. It just sat there breathing hard. I have too much heart sometimes, don’t I? We also have a family of salamanders living in the station near the water heater. They are beautiful – with blue pails. Chief said they could stay. Besides, they eat bugs.
It was a frustrating week with inspections. A class of pre-law and criminal justice students visited with a very important local judge, so that wasted our entire evening until 9pm. We had to stay inspection ready (no showers, no sleeping, reading, etc. – we had to stay in uniform and sit and wait). They finally came through at 9pm. They walked down the hall and out the door. All that for 2 seconds. I felt like I was on the other side of the fence at the zoo. It’s just been a crazy week, but it’s what keeps time moving at a steady pace.
Saturday 10/1/05 9:55am
It’s Saturday morning. Mike should be coming to visit in the next hour. I seem to be thinking more clearly today. I’ve been meditating on the situation and maybe I’ve come up with something. The check from when I was freelancing for Given is still floating around. They apparently had a hard time trying to cash it at the bank without me there since it’s for $3800. Kelly has felt really strongly about not touching it so I’ll have it when I get home. I see his point, but, no. I really want and need to use that now towards my bills he’s struggling with. That is almost enough to pay off my Kia, which would alleviate $160/mo. Or he could use it each month to continue making payments on that, my storage, utilities, etc. Whatever works. I’ve just got to find a way to get the damn check cashed. It is a good solution, or part of one. I expect Kelly to protest, but I am going to insist. For some reason the issue of finances isn’t really what’s bothering me. I/we have been in much worse places. It’s the guilt of Kelly being in this situation knowing I’m the one that put him there. Knowing he feels like he’s failed is killing me. Visitation can’t come quick enough tomorrow. For the most part, I’m feeling less stressed about this topic.
Now on to the topic I didn’t get to write about last week. I am mostly over it, too, but it sure did affect me heavily for a few hours. It came out of nowhere. I’m starting to realize it’s the element of surprise that gets me. Ever since we’ve been back to work, my spirits have been so much higher. I’ve been at peace with everything. Last Thursday was a very rollercoaster day for me. Chief called us out around 8am. She had Brenda, Lauren and I sit in a vocational room while she attended a meeting. There was a really long prayer written on the chalkboard, and we were talking about it because it was off the deep end – very occult-like. They talked religion for awhile, and talking about people who say “never” and ethically and morally judge others when they have done the same things in the past.
The only thing I really contributed to the conversation was that in all the places I thought I’d visit in my life, I never expected prison to be one of them. So then they got on the topic of parole and probation. You know me – I talk less and listen more. Very rarely do I get in on the conversations – for one, I am sick of the topic, and two, I am tired of everyone becoming an instant expert on the system and my case. They started off talking about how parole is so much easier than probation because parole earns their money by keeping heads out of prison and probation only gets paid by heads who violate parole and end up back in jail. This I already knew – common sense. This spawns a conversation that turned the whole conversation in the wrong direction.
The trap was set and I fell right into it. I think my guard was down because it was Lauren and Brenda – my two fellow firefighters. They know the details of my case and we all seem to respect each other. So I’m sitting there studying, half paying attention, when Lauren says, “Anyone who takes several years of probation is really stupid.” Before I knew it, my head popped up and I was staring at her trying to figure out where she was going with that, because she knows I have 8 ½ years of probation ahead of me after these 18 months. I still don’t know and I may never know what her intentions were. Anyway, she said, “oh yeah, I forgot you have a lot of probation. I just hope you know it’s a trap.” I was kind of perplexed at this. So imagine my surprise when Brenda said, “Yeah, and even double since you’re under the First Offender Act.” There’s the trap.
I should’ve said, “yeah I know” or “uh huh” or not said anything at all, but instead I got sucked into the conversation. So first they are telling me that I’ll probably walk a straight line for a few months when I’m on probation, then I’ll be careless. I was kind of looking at Lauren like she was crazy. Then again, that’s where everyone forgets that I am not your typical inmate. I don’t lead a criminal life. I don’t use, sell or even know what most drugs look like. I don’t steal. I’m certainly not a violent person. There really isn’t a behavior for me to repeat. No, I’m not perfect. I also know things that were once seemingly simple, a speeding ticket for example, now mean the difference between freedom and standing before a judge.
But who are these people to tell me how I will be living my life when I’m out of here? I should’ve definitely thought about that and stopped listening then. This advise was coming from Lauren, one of the top drug sellers in all of Atlanta, a girl who’s had a 15-year dope habit and been in prison twice, and from Brenda who is in prison under the Repeat Offender’s Act – she’s been arrested more than three times for the same charges and has been to prison before. My life and theirs is very different. When I’m not in prison, I don’t have to watch my back as carefully as they do. Believe me when I say I didn’t want 8 years probation, but the judge and prosecutor and my attorney all said (in my presence) that my probation on paper has to be twice as long as the restitution period. In other words, you have to pay it off by the mid-point of your probation. So Lauren tells me that’s not true.
See what I mean? Instant experts on my case. So she spends 10 minutes trying to convince me I should’ve convinced them that isn’t true. WTF?! How am I going to tell a judge that isn’t true?! So the topic switches over to the First Offender Act. Brenda asked how I got stuck with that. Again, trap set, Andi falls right in. I told her I didn’t get stuck with it, I pretty much demanded it as part of the plea bargain deal. I explained to her that since I typically work in corporate America, it wasn’t good for me to have Forgery charges on my record. People with felonies, especially 11 felony charges, don’t get hired in corporate America, regardless of the situation. What’s Brenda’s grand piece of advice? I should be honest with potential employers and if they don’t hire me, I wasn’t meant to have that job. It took everything I had to not laugh in her face, because she’s obviously wearing serious rose-colored glasses.
I told her that the state offers the FO Act for a reason, to give a second chance to keep or get your life on track. So why shouldn’t I do my time and earn my right to not tell future employers? Why shouldn’t I earn my right to rightfully maintain on an application that I have not been convicted of a felony? Both of them laughed, looked at each other and said “you really think that’s how it works?” I know how FO Act works. Most of your remember how much I researched and thought about the terms of the FO Act before I would even consider it. Both of them are telling me I still have to check that I have been convicted of a felony even after I complete the terms of the FO Act. I know that’s a bunch of bullshit because I remember exactly what the judge said in the courtroom and the papers I signed. I know that law enforcement will always be able to see my record, but employers won’t unless I mess up.
So Lauren spews out some story about a girl she knew who got arrested at her job for saying she’d never been convicted. Granted it was at a bar and involved a state liquor license. But even so, you don’t get arrested for saying you haven’t been convicted on an app. You get fired at worst. If the girl did get fired/arrested over that and she was under the FO Act, she should’ve fought that over the Equal Opportunity Law. Even if your employer finds out later about your record, they cannot fire you based on that because you technically have NOT been convicted of a felony and it IS your right to withhold that info.
So yeah, it bothered me that Lauren came at me with “some girl’s” story. The girl was likely a parole/probation violator. It seems people never tell their full story, so who knows why she was really arrested. So anyway, Brenda kept on with this whole being honest when I apply for jobs, even if I can legally not claim being convicted of a felony. I couldn’t understand why if I did all this to earn my rights. She said, “well, it’s more of an ethical thing…you committed the crime, so you should just be honest about it on the application.” Oh, no. That’s where my blood pressure rose and I knew the conversation had to end. No way was someone serving time for a third offense going to lecture me on ethics. And again, what the fuck is with telling me how I need to life my life on the outside. We left about 30 min. later, agreeing to disagree. I was really bothered by the whole thing. I couldn’t believe I let them get to me. I let it stick with me, and yeah, suddenly I was really overwhelmed and worried about life when I get out. About finding a job, etc., wondering if I really know the terms of FO Act or not. It just started a whole spiral of worry.
Much to my chagrin, we had to weed eat the entire steep embankment at the FD that day, which further bothered me. The weeds were as tall as me, and the hill is so steep it was hard to keep my footing. It ended up being good therapy for my anger over the conversation. I ended up having a really stern talk with myself out there. I know better than to listen to inmates. I should know it’s only their opinion and it doesn’t really matter. I especially know not to get sucked into those conversations. I’ve got to worry about life in here right now. Life out there is later. Besides, I’ve always overcome the hardest obstacles. This is no different. Besides, look at Martha Stewart – and she’s not even on First Offender. J This happened over a week ago and I already had let it go. It just felt better getting it out on paper.
10/27/05 Thursday 7:25pm
This has been one of the most overwhelming weeks I’ve had in a very long time. That’s pretty impressive, considering I haven’t even been to work for a week. I’ve got so much to write about. I’m so exhausted; I’m surprised I could even pick up this pen tonight. But I’m trying to make it until 9pm count to go to bed. Here’s the rundown of the latest:
1. I have two new addictions: The Fox TV show “Prison Break” with my new crush Wentworth Miller, and the Japanese Sudoko puzzles. Hey, there are worse things to be addicted to. Ask my fellow inmates.
2. I got a great letter from Mom Monday. It was emotionally overwhelming, but wonderful.
3. Monday night’s movie was great – we saw “The Longest Yard” with Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Burt Reynolds and Nelly. It was really good.
4. My gut instincts proved true. I had a feeling Shon had gone to county jail for court. Sure enough, I got a letter from her Tuesday saying she’d been at Cobb County to clear misdemeanor charges since the 19th. She goes to court November 3rd.
5. Major shit went down in Culinary Arts. A student – (inmate) went to lockdown, the instructor got fired, and the program is shut down at least for now. This leaves my friends Butterfly and Piggy without a detail, at least for now.
6. Ms. Woods up at medical threatened me with a DR for no reason Tuesday. It really bothered me. It also caused tension between me and the officer that was working my dorm.
7. Today, Mary and I were very honored to go to White County Middle School to talk about drugs and staying out of prison. It was an amazing experience. I’ve got a lot to say on this.
8. Found out that the 90% rule might affect me for real. But that’s no surprise.
So yeah, I love “Prison Break”. Our room watched the marathon on FX Sunday to get caught up on the season, and now I’m addicted, I LOVE Wentworth Miller a lot. It’s kind of an irony watching a prison show…in prison. And also, the So Doku puzzles…I saw a write up on them in the AJC a few weeks ago, but really hadn’t given them much thought. Now I’m totally addicted. They are challenging yet doable. They can be copied from the newspaper really quick, so they are something I can get even if I only see the newspaper for two minutes. I love having something I can carry around to do when we are on standby for everything. I just love them. I’ve never been that way about any type of puzzle.
One of the officers in the mailroom did me very kind favor. Technically we are only supposed to receive letters, cards, photos and money orders. Absolutely nothing else. Up until recently, they were letting most everything through as long as it’s not inappropriate – internet stuff, puzzles (crossword, etc) and such. But now Ms. McAllister runs the mailroom so we’re back to just the basics. Erin can’t even get blog updates sent to me. But someone in the mailroom (they know us from the fire department) was very kind. Yesterday, I had received a letter from Shon and an envelope from Kelly containing some photocopies of So Doku puzzles. At mail call, I only received Shon’s letter, but I noticed it was much thicker than a letter coming from Cobb County Jail should be. Sure enough; inside was Shon’s letter and Kelly’s envelope containing the puzzles. Kelly’s envelope was marked to be returned, but I guess Ms. Nations or Ms. Pierce pulled a fast one for me. I thought that was nice.
So yeah, turns out my gut instincts were right abut Shon being at county jail. At first I thought I wasn’t getting letters from her because holidays slow the mail down around here for some reason. But something just told me it was some thing else. I got a letter from her Monday saying she was at Cobb County to take care of charges that were supposed to be dropped. She’s miserable there. I can’t imagine going from a fairly relaxed prison atmosphere to living in a box with a bunch of animals again. She was supposed to go to court last Monday but she didn’t get to see a judge. So she’s been sitting and waiting, and now she goes back November 3rd. Hopefully then she’ll get it done and get back to Pulaski. The hardest part for the both of us is mail. She can’t get letters directly from me there, so it’s killing her not hearing from me. I did send a letter to Kelly to send to her just to tell her I’m thinking of her. And it really, really sucks for me not getting to hear from her as much as I’m used to. The one plus for her is that she can get visitation there where she’s not be able to at Pulaski. Her best friend’s father has not been doing well so at least she can see her now. Who would’ve ever thought I’d meet a friend I care so much about in prison?
So there’s been some pretty crazy stuff going on around here. As I have mentioned before, my friends Butterfly and Piggy are in the Culinary Arts program. Butterfly used to bring food in for me all the time. One of my old roommates, Bonnie, was in the program, too. For months, I’ve known she’s been involved with the instructor. I really don’t know if she’s been involved with him sexually or not. But I did know he supplied her with lighters (serious contraband), sent her packages and put money on her books. This stuff happens all the time; it’s just a shock to actually see it go down. You know eventually someone is going to get caught because girls can’t keep their mouth shut. Hell, I didn’t know her very well, and she even told me about it. You have no idea how big a deal “personal dealings” are in the system. Well, someone told or word got around because Monday, the CERT Team showed up, searched her locker, cuffed her and sent her to lockdown. Tuesday they went into the class, fired the instructor and escorted him off of the compound. It’s crazy. So for now, Butterfly and Piggy are bored. I’m sure Bonnie will catch new charges, and the instructor might too. The whole compound has been in an uproar about it all week.
Now on to really good stuff. I was given the most amazing opportunity yesterday. Tuesday afternoon, I was dead asleep in my bed around 3pm. I woke up to 3 people telling me the officer had been yelling my name down the hall for 5 minutes. I wasn’t supposed to be anywhere, so I was a little nervous. She said Sgt. Martin and Deputy Warden Woods wanted to see me. I got really scared. Then I noticed Mary going in that direction as well. I thought maybe it was about the Fire Department, except Brenda wasn’t with us. So we get over there and the CERT team was standing there. This really made us nervous because Chief has been out for a week and the culinary Arts thing had just gone down. So imagine our fear when we’re standing there with the CERT team and one got on the radio and said they have the investigation team on the way. Little did we know the CERT team’s presence was pure coincidence.
Mr. Wood’s came out and got us, and told us we weren’t in trouble. He told us that the Warden went through over 300 inmate files and chose us for a special detail. If we agreed to it, the two of us were going to go talk to a local middle school about drugs and crime since its Red Ribbon week. We were so flabbergasted. I was speechless. Above everything, I was honored. He said it would be all day the following day, and either Chief or someone would take us. I could tell they chose one white, one black person. The main point they wanted to drive home was anyone can go to prison. We were so excited and psyched up about it. I was so sired about it. It was one of those times I’d really wired I could call home and tell someone about it.
Apparently Chief didn’t find out until 4am that morning. So Chief comes to get us around 8:30am on Thursday morning. The Warden ordered that our feet be shacked (cuffs connecting our ankles with short chains) and our hands be cuffed. Partly out of respect for the school, but mainly for the effect of the kids seeing us as prisoners. It was a beautiful 35 minute ride through the mountains. We went to three schools before we found the right one. You con imagine the looks the administration gave us since we weren’t supposed to be at their school. So we get there a few minutes late. All we know is we are going to be there all day. We thought maybe they were going to have an assembly or something what we would speak at. As soon as we got there and Chief unshackled us, we were ushered into the Library where the first group was waiting for us.
Fortunately, Mary and I both are experienced in speaking to groups. We started off telling them who we are, how life was before prison, how we got there, etc. Mary’s story is much more compelling than mine. As a result of a drug habit, she robbed her landlord and stabbed him 3 times. He was 73 years old, but lived. So she got a 20 year sentence, which she served 11 years of next month. She was up for Parole in 2004, but it was denied. She was already at the Halfway House with one foot out the door and everything. So she’s up again in September 2006. To look at her and know her, you’d never think it possible. That was the point we were to drive home. I was so relieved this was not a political visit. There wasn’t much that was off limits, and the point was to scare them with the truth of what prison really is. We were afraid we’d get there and no one would ask questions, or that they would be bored.
But they loved it. We spoke to 4 groups, for about 70 minutes each. It was the most amazing experience. They asked so many questions, and we couldn’t get to all of them. When their time was up, none of them wanted to leave. As they were supposed to be filing out, a lot of them came up to talk to us longer and to hug us. For some reason, it was just way more than we were expecting. Then at lunch, we got to eat in the cafeteria with them. This was the craziest experience. The three of us walk into the cafeteria and I swear it was like being in 8th grade all over again. I was always the overly-shy new girl. But instead of being worried about where I was going to sit and with whom like when I was in 8th grade, the two classes that had already heard us speak kept yelling our names out and waving at s. I felt popular. It was very weird. Kids crowded around us all the way through the line to talk to us and ask more questions. One girl was telling us about her brother being on the run right now. We quietly told her it’s probably not something she should be telling people.
Everyone wanted us to sit with them, but the teachers had us sit with them. Lunch was great. The kids said they felt sorry for us because we had to eat their cafeteria food, but we told them that their food was a hundred times better than ours, and it was. We got to have pizza! It was a slice of pepperoni with cheese in the crust. I t was sooo good. We also had salad from a salad bar with Ranch dressing, a slice of fresh cantaloupe and a brownie. You know we were happy. At the end of the day, the teachers told us those kids really looked up to us. I just have a hard time grasping that. She said before Lee Arrendale housed women, they had a male inmate come to speak. She said the kids listened for the first two minutes uninterested, but that she’d never seen them so engaged or be so involved before. It really makes me feel good to know that maybe one of them took something away from this.
My biggest point to drive home is that I know how it feels to show up at a party and all your friends are drinking and doing drugs. And it feels really stupid to not drink and participate. But it is better to feel stupid for 2 minutes, 5 hours, or even the whole night, than it would to feel the way I felt walking into their school in leg chains and cuffs with State Prisoner written on my back. When we were done, school let out when we were standing in the front foyer of the school, so we got cuffed and shackled in front of them as they were leaving. Then we had to walk down the sidewalk through all those kids, waiting for their buses and their parents. They all continued yelling our names and waving at us. Some hugged us even though we were restrained and we couldn’t hug back. The looks on the parents’ faces as we went by them, doing the convict shuffle…Priceless. You could see some of them telling their kids to stop waving at the convicts, and we heard some of the kids say, “that’s Mary and Andi. They’re our friends”. What an amazing day. It’s a day I’ll never forget. The Principal came and thanked us again and said the high school will probably want to hear us as well. I think Mary and I have stayed on a mental high from this. It also gives us hope that people will be more forgiving than we’re expecting when we’re out. So that was the big event of the week. And the month. Maybe even the year!