“Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” – Janis Joplin
As my mind was returning to consciousness, I had no idea what had just taken place. My eyes were still closed and I felt too weak to open them. Bits and pieces of the previous evening started playing in front of me. The laughs, the good times, and the extra shots of liquor, but also there was a lot of missing scenes from the blackout I had experienced. Suddenly, I am overwhelmed with an unbearable guilt that brings more pain that the physical pain I am trying to withstand.
It is at this point I remember being the “least drunk” and most OK to drive home last night. These scenes start returning to my conscious memory. I remember the curve in the road and then everything goes blank. My heart starts pounding and I am hearing loud machines and voices of strangers around me.
Out of fear and confusion my eyes open to discover I am in the emergency room of a hospital with excruciating pain in every cell of my body. But, again, there is an overwhelming feeling of guilt pressed against my body as I am trying to figure out what happened last night.
“Where is John?” I asked. John was my boyfriend and father of our six-month old child and was also the passenger in my vehicle last night.
“Where is John!?” I managed to shout louder.
But the louder I cried, the quieter the room grew. The police officer in the back approached me and took off his cap and with a tear in his eye, he put his hand on my shoulder.
“I’m sorry Holly,” he couldn’t even maintain eye contact, “He didn’t make it. He was ejected from the vehicle and died on impact.”
With so much intoxicants still in my system, I could only hope this was part of the worst nightmare of my life. I yelled, screamed, tried to do anything to escape reality but nothing could be done. I had just killed my boyfriend and my child’s father because I drove drunk and lost control of the vehicle.
Powerless, hopeless, trapped, and unable to escape, I momentarily lost touch with reality.
Once stabilized and deemed safe for discharge from the hospital, I was put into handcuffs and walked to the back of a squad car on sent to the county jail. I sat there in a lifeless form of a body as they took my mug shot and notified me of my charge – homicide by intoxicated use of a motor vehicle.
I only sat two days as my wealthy parents were able to post $5,000 bond. I felt like I had cheated the system as I had a far more severe crime than any of the women in that jail, but I was able to go home due to the condition my parents had money. While I awaited my court date, I felt completely numb and they had checked me into a psychiatric unit but they did not keep me because I was not suicidal. Honestly, the only thing keeping me alive was the fact that I had a six-month old daughter that I was trying to raise the best I could before my judgment date.
I signed the rights over to my parents, knowing that I would be facing prison time in the near future. There are no words that can describe the pain trying to play with your six-month old daughter, knowing she will never know her father and the most crucial parts of her development her mother will be incarcerated. But beyond all of this, all I wanted to do was to apologize to John and his family.
On the day of my sentence, I couldn’t even bare to have words come out of my mouth as the state prosecutor questioned me. All I could repeat that I was sorry and that I feel nothing and only want to make sure my daughter is safe.
At this point, there was nothing anyone could say to me that hurt any more. I have heard it all. My name is on the front page of the paper, I read all the comments on the article, I read the comments on John’s social media pages, along with many hate messages of my own. There was nothing that could be said that could push me down any further.
“The maximum sentence for homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle is twenty-five years in state prison,” the judge looked at me as my heart sank.
He went on and explained the results of the Pre-Sentence Investigation and how I would be better served to be a part of society as opposed to a long prison sentence. Following some more lecturing he handed down my sentence – two years in state prison along with seven years of parole.
As tears rolled down my cheeks and I hugged my parents and kissed my child, I knew how fortunate I was to only be serving two years. But at the same time, I realized that my life was forever changed. My name will always be linked to the word homicide. How will I explain to my daughter when she asks about her father? Every time I apply for a job, this will come up on a background check or a simple Google search and you can see my mug shot.
Welcome to the Jungle:
My attorney had pleaded for a lesser sentence and argued that I was not mentally prepared to handle being incarcerated with the general population. Terrified for my life, I was sure my parents would find a way out of this. But, there was nothing anybody could do. The judge informed us that I had taken another person’s life and if I am capable of doing so, then I am capable of living with other criminals.
I was powerless, hopeless, and terrified for my life. For the first time, things were completely out of my control. I had no choice but to fully surrender. And it was this forced surrender that granted me this irony – finding greater freedom while locked behind bars than I had ever experienced in my privileged life in the affluent suburbs.
As I sat alone in my cell, I refused to talk or make eye contact with anyone.
“Welcome to the jungle princess,” said one of the guards as he smiled at me and seemed to be getting joy in my anguish.
For the next two years, nobody used my name. I was always referred to as “Princess” due to my privileged lifestyle outside the prison walls. I would estimate that ninety-percent of the people in that prison were minorities and came from poverty. In those that I got to know, I would argue that 100-percent of them have experienced some sort of trauma or abuse in their life.
And then there was me, the incarcerated princess. I had been sheltered my entire life and had no idea how the rest of the world lived.
Every day, I witnessed the prisoners being abused and ridiculed. Nobody deserves this type of treatment. The guards were untrained, highly judgmental, and abusing their power daily. If anyone saw how they treated the inmates there would be a public uproar.
Punishing the Abused:
Since I was a young child, it had been engrained in my mind that prison was the place that the “bad guys” go for committing crimes. It did not take long to realize nobody in this prison was a bad person. Nearly all of them were in there for drug-related charges.
And why did they do drugs? They turned to drugs to escape the trauma and abuse they had suffered their entire lives. What kind of system is this? We are punishing people for being abused without giving them the tools they need.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, of all the people serving time in prison for drug offenses, 45-percent were black and 30-percent were white. Yet, the general population is 77-percent white and 13-percent black.
Now the logic, that we are brainwashed by the media would tell us that the reason for this inequality is that black people are committing more crimes and doing more drugs. But the factual studies discredit this racist rhetoric we have been fed our entire lives.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicates that a greater percentage of white people use alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, hallucinogens, nicotine, methamphetamine, heroin, and all opiates. Yet, blacks are arrested three times as often as whites and the sentences are always more severe.
In fact, the only drug that blacks use at a higher percentage than whites was crack cocaine with a slim margin of 5.0 percent to 3.4 percent, respectively. And, not coincidentally, that is the one drug that receives the higher sentence.
In the past, the ratio was 100:1 for the sentencing of crack/cocaine. This meant your sentence would be 100 times larger for possessing the same amount of crack than if you had the powder cocaine. The “Fair Sentencing Act” reduced this, albeit still not “fair,” as it is not reduced to 17:1.
The New Slavery:
However, they did offer people to get diplomas and certificates while incarcerated so they could adjust to the outside world. They granted us opportunities to work and “build skills”. While this seemed like a great opportunity at first, it was brought to my attention that it was an extended form of slavery.
One of my cell mates informed me that we were working for corporations who wanted cheap labor and they set up contracts with the prisons. She explained that America was built into a economic superpower by stealing the land of native Americans and using free labor from slaves stolen from Africa. The greatest exports were tobacco and cotton which were labor intensive and required great amounts of land. After the slaves were freed, the prisons started incarcerating African-Americans for petty crimes for long sentences and corporations would hire them out to work for free.
Slavery never ended, they just got smarter at hiding it from the public.
Here I was among a group of African-Americans that grew up in poverty, were abused, and lived traumatic lives. Then they were arrested for doing the same drugs that people in the suburbs do just as much, yet they were locked up for years and put to work for free to help the rich get richer.
When I was released, I went back to being the “privileged, white, stuck-up, greedy, ignorant bitch” as the day I came in. My father would easily be able to get me back into society as if nothing had happened. People were ready to give me opportunities.
And I said no.
I am a convicted felon, a killer. Why should I get to just jump back in as if I did not do this crime? I had to struggle to find places to live, places to work, financial aid for school just like all the other “felons” who only crime they committed was being born into poverty.
John’s family, once accepted me as their own, has disowned me as I took their only son from them. Which I did, I am sorry, but sorry does not bring back their child. As I look into my own daughter’s eyes, I am not sure if I could forgive someone who did that to her – so I get it and I do not blame them. They did not deserve this pain and anguish that I put them through.
My parents hardly speak with me since I was released from prison because I refuse to live their phony existence and I refuse to take the “get out of poverty” free card. They still do not want to hear about my experiences in prison and the lessons I learned about how the rest of the world lives.
I regained custody of my daughter and met a guy from the recovery community that has a son of his own. We are doing fine, working our way back up in society without the handouts we had been accustomed to based on the color of our skin.
We are more free now than ever before. It is highly liberating to be able to see through the lies of society, the lies of our teachers, parents, government, and culture to see the world as it truly is. There is an incredible feeling of inner peace to live without a mask, to be your true self, and enjoy every minute of the people you are with.
I already know the comments that will come from this article. I’ve already seen them all before – I am a criminal, I am a murderer, I am privileged, I am a bitch, I am a slut, I am a terrible person and do not deserve to live. I’ve heard it all. The one comment that I have never agreed with is that I should not have had my child so young – that I do not agree with you. But, go ahead and type it for the world to see, I’ve seen much worse.
Don’t get me wrong, there is not a single day that I wish I could go back in time and bring John back and have our little family again. But each time I try to resist, try to change the past, I start to build those mental prison walls. Freedom comes from accepting the past as it is unconditionally.
We grow up believing we live in a “free country” and proudly proclaim this is the “land of the free and home of the brave.” Yet, we never teach anyone to be free. In fact, we teach everyone to be slaves and go along with the masses – buy this, do that, talk to this person, don’t try that, conform, and be like everyone else.
It is comfortable with the masses and knowing what to expect, but it is not true freedom. Freedom comes from surrender and removing our masks.
So write your comments and judgments, but realize that is just you building your own mask. You have already seen behind my mask, let me seen what is behind yours.