Lonely Road, Locked Away

A few months ago…and a few months before that…I told the story of a woman I loosely know who embezzled more than a million dollars from her employer.

That employer was the county government. She was in a lot of trouble.

This woman (let’s call her Judy) is dating the ex-husband of a friend of mine. Actually, he was my friend first; we worked together in the county’s IT department. Since I don’t believe in being friends with a married man unless I’m friends with his wife, I made sure I met Pam as soon as possible. It’s uncomfortable finding out a man you work with has been talking about you to his wife…and she’s not sure what to think about it.

Anyway, when they divorced, my loyalties leaned toward Pam. Her ex (we’ll call him Joe) began dating Judy, who looked remarkably like Pam. I mean, remarkably. Apparently, the similarities ended there.

I learned from Pam, who heard it from Joe, that Joe and Judy were convinced she’d get probation. After all, this was a first time offense, and she’d had cancer ten years ago. The prison wouldn’t want a 50-year-old woman with a history of cancer, right? I laughed out loud at that idea. Judy stole public funds for ten years, and the prison system could not possibly care less about your health.

She was sentenced last month. Today is her last day of freedom for nearly three years. She has concurrent sentences and this was a federal offense, and it adds up to her serving the whole time. I think she was lucky to get only 34 months. She could have been sentenced for up to 13 years.

I don’t know if it’s hit her yet, what she’s about to face and how long she’ll be there.

I have mixed feelings about all of this. What she did was terrible and foolish. Based on records published in the newspapers, she started out with a bang. It wasn’t a slow seduction into evil, for which I’d have more sympathy. It’s hard to know what to think.

Judy’s two daughters were out of her life long before all of this took place. They won’t let her see her grandchildren, and they’ve told her, actually, told other relatives, they won’t visit her in prison. Pam’s girls despise her, although for their father’s sake, they are courteous.

Speaking of Joe, he was planning to break up with Judy right about the time she was arrested. He stood beside her until now, but is ready to be free of the whole situation.

She simply doesn’t come across as someone who’s going to evoke a lot of sympathy.

Yet I don’t wish federal prison on anyone, particularly a 50-something woman with no background to prepare her for what’s ahead. People talk about “country club” prisons. That’s bullshit. There’s no such thing. Prison is a tough place to be, no matter what level it is.

Our jail and prison systems need an overhaul. Incarceration is meant to remove you from society, not punish you with subtle tortures until you learn you have no value. Remember, most of them will be back in society again, and need help to lead the lives they want to lead — and for everyone’s sake, should lead.

I wouldn’t have these mixed feelings if I believed Judy will be safe in prison. Being locked away is lonely and isolating, and that’s punishment enough. It’s a long day when so much is taken from you.

So my prayers are with her. Yes, she deserved to go to prison — but not one of the prisons in place in our country today.


Image Credit: ©cristina_conti – stock.adobe.com

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When the Bad Defines Us

adobestock_96444752-convertedI finally got in for my long-overdue eye exam on Monday, and was disappointed when I learned the office manager, Corinna*, no longer worked there. “Corinna hasn’t been here since October,” the new manager told me, with pursed lips.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said, “but happy to meet you.” The latter statement was a moment of graciousness. I really would have preferred to see Corinna. Several years ago, when I was broke and struggling to put food on my table, she called a local charitable organization and arranged to have them pay for my eye exam, three months of contact lenses and a new pair of glasses.

Since my previous pair was more than ten years old, and my prescription typically results in glasses that cost more than $300, the glasses alone were a huge gift. Throw in the exam and the contact lenses, and I was ecstatic.

I’ve been seeing this eye doctor for at least eight years now, and when I mentioned to him how sorry I was Corinna had left, he, too, grimaced a little, and said, “She was embezzling from me for seven or eight months. I had to fire her.”

He went on to tell me how his attorney relayed four or five more similar stories from other doctors in the area. In my doctor’s case, he chose not to prosecute, since Corinna agreed to pay him back in full, and he didn’t want her children to see her in jail. His wife was ready to throw her behind bars and lose the key, but the long-term relationship, while destroyed, meant something to him.

I learned about this shortly after hearing more details of another similar, but more troublesome, story about a woman who’s dating a friend of mine. I wrote about this once before, and I need to be clear that no charges have yet been filed. However, on the local news, they reported she had embezzled 1.1 million dollars of county funds over ten years.

AdobeStock_112894681 [Converted]Of course the question arises, how could this happen? Why didn’t they catch it? The bigger question in my mind is, what was she thinking? She had to understand she’d get caught someday. Her boyfriend’s ex-wife is a good friend of mine, and has told me this woman is in complete denial about what she’s done. She believes she’ll get probation, but not jail time.

This is being investigated by the FBI and IRS as a federal crime, and whether she wants to believe it or not, she is facing years of federal time, which makes me terribly sad, and angry at the same time.

I’ve heard of people who, when facing a financial problem, commit a crime just as a matter of course. That’s how they solve their money woes. For most of us, it’s time to get creative within the bounds of the law and whatever other moral boundaries exist for us.

More than a million dollars over ten years is a lot of money in my world, and I know it was in this woman’s circle as well. She didn’t need that money. She wanted something she wasn’t able to afford, and she sought to hurt others to do it.

I don’t wish prison time on her, but I do wish to see some remorse, some understanding of what she’s done to others in her community.

I don’t know what led her, or Corinna, to steal from their employer. I try to remain empathetic and compassionate. I still like Corinna; she was good to me.

Judge not lest ye be judged. But it’s hard not to judge a little.

*not her real name.

All images © geosap – Fotolia

Desire

The Least Among You

Suppose you met someone who told you she just got out of prison for terroristic threatening.

What would you think? This woman in front of you is well-groomed, dressed fashionably yet somewhat conservatively, certainly doesn’t have a prison-tough look or demeanor and timidly is talking about her seemingly impossible search for work.

Turns out, you’ll discover, she went to prison because she threatened her ex-husband with bodily harm while holding a knife, with the children in the next room. In fact, it was her oldest daughter who called the police. It wasn’t the first argument she’d had with her husband, although it had never gone this far before. The police had been called one other time, about a year earlier, when neighbors heard them arguing and were concerned. No arrests at that time, but there was a record of the call.

pink butterfly no bkgdNo drugs, no alcohol, no physical violence. She went to prison, did her time and while she was there got anger management training, a certificate in Microsoft software proficiency and another in office administrative skills. She’d had a good job before, had always been a good worker. Now she’s fighting to get work again as the first step in regaining custody of her children, who are living with her parents.

But terroristic threatening.

In today’s world, that’s a horrible thing to have on your record. It sounds like, well, you’re a terrorist, when in fact what you did, while criminal, wasn’t what we normally think of as terroristic. Legally, what I’m talking about here means you threatened someone with the intent to terrorize them, in other words, frighten them to the point they believe they’ll be harmed. It also means it’s a highly subjective crime to prosecute.

In the case above, she threatened her husband to the point her children believed he was at risk. While that wasn’t her intent, it was the predictable result, and she went to prison for it.

Being in prison, even jail, has a terrible stigma. There is reason for that; one has committed a crime. Let me explain, briefly, the difference between jail and prison: jail is where you go when you’re first arrested, before you’re convicted, and where people with shorter sentences will end up. It’s also where people who are going to prison will start out while they wait to be transported, and in some states that can be months. Prison is where people with sentences generally over one year serve their time.

Yes, these people have done something very wrong, and there is common sense in being wary when you encounter them. But more important than that, they are human beings who are struggling to make things right. For whatever reason, the woman I described above messed up to a point of breaking the law, and of course the underlying problem wasn’t something that started that night. This likely had been going on for some time. But who am I to judge her for the path that led her there?

To see prisoners and inmates as people first is critically important

in bringing about change in their lives. They have families, they love their children. While Whatever they’ve done in the past may cause you to argue they put themselves, drugs or some other thing before their children, and perhaps they did, now they want to figure out how to do the right thing. It’s a challenge for most, more than you can imagine.

monarch no kgdThere’s the young woman whose father was injecting her with heroin when she was eleven. What chance did she have? At the age of 21, she’d spent more of her adult life in jail than not. She had a three-year-old son, and she desperately wanted to do right. Today, at 25, she’s clean and sober, has an associates’ degree and a good job. All because people cared.

These stories aren’t the exception. More often than not, this is the type of history former prisoners have.

Most don’t want to go back to criminal behavior. I can’t say all of them have a heart of gold, but they have value. And yes, we should use discretion in the doors we open for those who have committed a crime in the past and not allow ourselves to be taken advantage of in any way. However, everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.

Many who ended up in jail or prison got themselves caught up in a cycle of bad behavior they didn’t know how to get of, or they weren’t fully aware how deep in trouble they were. They are far from hardened criminals. They are people who really screwed up, and have been held accountable for it.

Please know I am aware there are those violent offenders it is wisest to stay away from in all circumstances, and hopefully they remain in prison. And certainly we need to use caution around sexual offenders, although I suggest you find out the specifics of the crime. Not all sexual offenders are sexual predators. Urinating in public and consensual sex with a teenager, even if you’re underage yourself, can put you on the sexual offender list in some states.

I’m also aware, from my own experience, of the trauma and anger that comes from being the victim of a crime. These are all legitimate concerns.

red butterfly no bkgdYet we need to use wisdom appropriate to the individual situation, and can’t place all former prisoners in the same category. It’s easy to dismiss them completely rather than allow for the possibility of reform and rehabilitation, change and growth. You may not be the one to give someone the in-depth counseling they need to get back on their feet, but your smile and considerate behavior can give them the confidence to get through the day.

And if you doubt this is the right way to view others who have failed, remember this: it’s how Jesus treated the thieves and prostitutes, the criminals, around him, down to his dying moments.

Photo Credits: (Sky background) © Graphic Stock; (Butterflies) © ecco — Fotolia