I’m here with Myra and her son was arrested at home over eight years ago, and she’s never forgotten the site of having her son arrested and being taken away.
During that time she’s actually taken a positive twist to having a son in prison and using her legal background to help others. Myra’s going to share her story with us, what it was like when her son was arrested, and what she’s gone through and now is looking forward to her son’s release. She also talks about how she spent that time helping others so that they could have the help they need while they’re in prison and when they get out.
I was there when my son was arrested and taken away
(Edited for ease of reading)
I actually had to drive him to the hearing where he got sentenced for seven to fifteen years, so that drive was the hardest drive I ever had to take.
Myra, thank you for joining us today and if you can just start from the beginning when you found out that your son was arrested.
I was actually at the scene where my son was arrested. I do have a legal background, but I never thought that I would be involved in it firsthand. I saw my son get arrested, they walked him into the police vehicle, and took him into custody. I went through the process of trying to find him an attorney. That was apparently the first misstep that I had taken. Finding an attorney is the most difficult process. You do want to spend the time to find someone who is not only skilled, but will advocate for your loved one.
When could you visit him?
At that point it was a few days of processing before I could visit him. This was his first arrest and he was quite emotional. The charges that he was accessed with, apparently the officers deemed him guilty before charged and were mistreating him even from the very early onset of this process. They were apparently not feeding him, so when I got there he was almost in tears. I guess that was the first time it kind of hit me to begin my process of fighting back.
He was pretty young when he was arrested?
He was 18.
That’s still a child in some people’s eyes.
A child being charged with adult crimes.
We had heard the same thing from somebody else and that’s really heartbreaking. So when he was in there and you did get to see him after a couple of days, how long was he in there before he went to court or did they let him out on his own recognizance.
Not on his own recognizance, we did have to raise bail. We need to go backwards because this was tied into other charges this was his second arrest within a very short period of time; within 30 days. Because of the shortness I deemed it necessary to keep him in custody longer than necessary because I had thought that may have taught him a lesson. That was my mindset at that time, so after approximately 30 days I began the process of trying to find an attorney. Which at that time I didn’t have experience or networking of knowing who to look for to begin the process of representing my son.
How do you even find a bails bondsman? You said it was his first arrest, but then another incident happened, so this was actually his second arrest?
They were very close together, within weeks. At the time he was using alcohol quite extensively.
So when he was in prison for 30 days and you found a bails bondsman, I’m assuming he came out. When was his court hearing?
There was a time in between, but it wasn’t very long. I think it was within a week’s time that he was seen. It was at that point when I began finding an attorney.
So he goes to court with his attorney, receives his sentence and is taken into custody. Once he was given his sentence, how long did it take before you could see him and how did you find out what the process was to visit him?
Actually he was just charged at this time and the sentencing didn’t occur until several years later. Through the process of asking people what I needed to do to find bail bondsman and to find an attorney. Unfortunately, the information was secondhand and it wasn’t the best. We did find an attorney and we began the process of having him represented. It was several years down the line before we actually got him to be sentenced.
How does that work then? So he went to court and then he was released and then you said it took several years. Is that because his attorney was fighting and trying to get him released?
So yes, the type of crime that he was charged with required testing be done. We had an expert hired to test the evidence that the state had so we could refute the evidence. So apparently the attorney I had, unbeknownst to me, wasn’t experienced even though he was licensed by the bar. He wasn’t experienced in the area that my son was being charged with. We ended up getting scientific testing done, and because of the scientific testing which took over a year before it finally came back and at that time the testing was inaccurate. Which again, at the time, I didn’t know the full realm of the results of this, but that in turn led to my son and his attorney agreeing to plea-bargain the charges.
You must have been on pins and needles for that year. I can’t even imagine. There’s people walking around every day in the same situation that people don’t know about. So it’s something to be aware of; when somebody is arrested, it could take a year or years before they’re sentenced. I can’t put words to it. I just think that would be really tough. So, when he was finally taken into custody, did he turn himself in or was he taken from the court?
That was another emotional process; I actually had to drive him to the hearing where he got sentenced for seven to fifteen years, so that drive was the hardest drive I ever had to take. Again, it wasn’t until two years later that we found out that he didn’t even need to plea-bargain to the charges because of the attorney giving us some ill-advice. So those, too, has been very hard on me to realize and I had to drive him to the court hearing where he was sentenced and to find out later that the attorney that I thought was going to help us didn’t help us. It was a very trying time, yes.
I really appreciate you sharing that with us because that is really helpful to let other people know to get the right attorney. You just did the best that you could with what you know. To me, that’s really all we can all do when we come into a situations like this. It’s an unknown if you’ve never been through this. So you did the best you could and got on the help that you thought he needed so I do commend you for that. It’s a lot of information coming at you and you have to react quickly. I’m sure that once he was taken into custody that you wanted to see him as soon as possible. How did you find out when you could visit him and where to visit him?
I believe most of information I’d gotten was just through the Internet and through calling the prison and just finding out how the process was to be able to visit him. That’s all that I had available at the time.
And I know it’s tough but could you describe that first visit?
It was rather difficult; not being in that type of environment ever and going through the frisking process in an environment where you’re actually in prison a facility. It does hit you hard. It’s taken me several visits before I finally got somewhat accustomed to that situation.
Were you notified of what you could bring or did you learn that as you went each time?
You know, actually after I was able to determine how to apply, the prison did send a letter of the particulars of what I could bring, so they did send that information. They were informative about that process.
We discussed that he had gone to different prisons over the years. How close to home was the first prison?
The first facility was a 45-minute drive and I was able to visit probably every other week because it was a midweek visit which required me to take time off from work which again was hard to do.
And did you have to schedule a visit or was there anyway that you could ask for visits on the weekend?
No, because of the unit he was he was assigned there weren’t weekend visits, so it was always during the middle of the week. I would have to call a week in advance to schedule a time slot to assure that I did have a timeslot.
How long could you visit for and when you got there and was there a waiting period? Or did they just process you right away to go in?
The visits were three hours. There was a line even though I made an appointment because they have a certain amount of people in that three hour time slot so it does take, depending on the day. It also depends on what’s going on at the prison: they could take as short as an hour to get processed. There were times that I’ve been there where actual weddings were taking place, actual inmate counts were being taken, or guard training. Any of these activities can delay the process of getting checked in to see your loved one, and that’s taken off the three hours so they don’t give you that hour or so back.
Did you ever go and you weren’t allowed to go in?
Yes, there was a time where they accused me of not calling in for my timeslot, and I did have someone there with me so they were able to see my son. It was his attorney at the time so I had to sit in the car for the timeslot that it took for her to complete her business.
How long was he at a Facility before he was moved and how did you find out that he was moved?
He actually has gone back and forth between two facilities throughout his time; so I believe the first time he was there maybe a year or two? Usually, it’s the inmate who will call and let you know that they’ve been moved. The facility itself rarely, if ever, will tell you that your loved one has been moved. It’s usually a call you’ll get from you loved one in prison.
Did you ever have reason to call the facility or talk to anybody and if so who did you talk to?
Yes, I have had a few times I had to call the facility. Usually it was the caseworker that I asked for to see if they could provide any information. Throughout my son’s time, he has been in disciplinary actions for various wrongdoings that the facility has accused him of. Those wrongdoings force him to be in different types of segregation, so I did question that process throughout his time.
Did you find they were forthcoming in providing you with good information?
Not accurate information because of his age. He’s an adult, so even though I’m his mother they wouldn’t give me specifics, just broad information. So I did have to wait for his scheduled phone time to get the specifics.
Did you file a power of attorney or anything? Was there any paperwork that you ever filled out?
No, that was one thing that I just never got to do. I have a power of attorney but never have filed it with the prison themselves. That’s something that I wasn’t informed of and throughout this time just never found the need to complete the process.
Would you recommend that for anybody else?
I would recommend that as early as possible, is to have your loved one, especially if they’re over the age of adult, that you have them sign a power of attorney so that you do have easier communications with the prison system.
How often did you talk to him? Did you write? What type of communications did you guys have?
Communication isn’t something that you can pinpoint to regular time because phone time is assigned to the inmates. It depends on the units they are in, it depends if they are in a disciplinary areas, so it varies. For us it was as often as a week or every other week. It also depends on your loved one having money to call and there is a system for that. For us I had to actually use a credit card online to make sure there’s money for those phone calls.
One of the things that I always bring up in these interviews is that even though you’re talking to your loved one on the phone, there are people that could be listening, so always be thoughtful about what you’re talking about and what you’re saying. As far as mailing, did you send letters or cards?
Mostly letters; back and forth letters. There is now a system where you can actually email the inmate. Again, it’s costly but if there’s something that you need to get across to them especially if you’re actively involved in their case, which I will have been throughout the years. There were messages that I needed to get to him timely, so we were able to communicate that way. Keep in mind that these emails are reaching inmates. Inmates work in that facility (these are jobs that inmates work), so they actually take the messages off the printer and hand them to the inmate. So again this is an area that you want to be very careful of what information you’re broadcasting to your loved one.
That’s really good information. Over the years, I’m sure times have changed with what’s allowed from when he first went in. I don’t know if there was email back then. Have you seen a change in the system and things you can do now?
Yes, I have. The email just came about, I believe, just in the past year or two. In addition a system came out where you can actually send pictures to your loved ones via email. All that has just been within the last year or two. So there has been some development, other than just being able to communicate on the phone and in letters.
So when you go to visit, what are some the things you two talk about? Some of the places have games, some have commissaries and vending machines. The places that you went to, what were they like when you visited?
So there’s snack machines, but they’re very costly. Sandwiches can range from $1.50 to $3.00 so you can easily go through $30-$40 during the three-hour visit very quickly. You do want to make sure that you provide as much food as possible because the food choices are very slim and this is the time that your loved ones would appreciate just enjoying snack food/snack machine food. Mostly for me, we were discussing the case. My son has become very legal…
Yes. Obviously he has the time to study, and also by correspondence been able to obtain his paralegal certificate. So he has throughout the years he has become legal savvy. Also, as I have, he is assisting other inmates with their legal cases so he has become very legal adept. In fact, ironically teaching me.
So throughout our visits, we would sit and discuss his case for a majority of it. We did spend a few minutes with family affairs, and just eating. My son isn’t the type who likes the games, so he is more of a talking type person.
Myra, you said that your son got his law certificate while he was in prison; was he able to help others in there?
He was able to take correspondence courses and through a program that is available to inmates called “Blackstone”. They’re very easy to work with as far as financing, so he was able to obtain his legal assistant certificate through that and through his own personal drive. He has been helping other inmates out with their legal issues by using the law library and assisting with filing of papers. So this is a process that seems to be helpful. It is one that has to be tread lightly because there are rules and regulations about assisting other inmates with their legal affairs and it’s very tricky as far as having to get approval to help and such. So it’s not one that: “so now I have my legal degree I’m helping everyone jump in.” It’s very difficult to do this, you do have to go through the bureaucratic processes to make sure that you are able to work with other inmates handling their paperwork. There are rules and regulations about having paperwork, even legal paperwork, from other inmates. So as time has gone by, he has been helping several inmates with their legal cases inside, and some of which he has recommended to me. I can help on the outside with phone calls, and reaching attorneys and doing research. So we’ve been working hand-in-hand covering both bases; him on the inside and me being on the outside. It has helped tremendously with some inmates who don’t have the support system from their family or the know-how to even go through the system to allow them to litigate their cases.
I think it’s is a wonderful thing what you and your son are doing. Talk about making lemonade out of lemons and helping other people. Are there any cases that your son or you have worked on that you could talk about that had outcome that you can share?
Not per se; most of these cases are individualized and are just to assist with fighting particular issues that each inmate has. So as an issue comes about, the process is to file a grievance within the prison system. Once you’ve exhausted those processes and are still faced with the same problem, then you have to bring them out into the court system. So each issue can be as simple as just needing a special pair of shoes because you have a back problem. If you can’t resolve them in the prison system to convince the medical staff that it’s a necessity, then your next step is to bring it to the court level. So each one of these is individualized, I don’t see them to the end, we just assist in getting them through the prison process, and if need be, to the court systems, to have the court review or resolve those issues.
I think that’s very giving of you guys. Myra, you have your family, you have a full-time job, you visit your son when you can, and you’re also taking the time to help other people. That’s very giving and I’m sure they really appreciate it. Do people know who you are and ask for help when you go to visit?
I did have one time that someone came up to me and mentioned that I was working on an issue dealing with house arrest and having it apply to the sentence for the ultimate time. She then stated to me that her son also had been on house arrest and how, if I was successful, she would like to be able to join in that suit. So yes, I did have someone come up to me. Throughout time, I do get mail from people through this pipeline from people I don’t even know, through my sons help. I have greatly appreciated him. I’ve actually gotten drawings in the mail, appreciation; sometimes just cards and just the notes of appreciation from different inmates throughout the institutions.
So it shows you are making a difference?
Yes, most definitely. They do realize that someone outside does care, even if it’s just one or two of us. I tell my son that just imagine if this would just catch on, and it has. I do have someone that I have helped who also caught onto this and he himself wants to help other people particularly young offenders that he has seen come through throughout his time. My son has convinced him that this does help and so he has begun the process of helping others in the system. Mostly just youth that he has come through. So passing it forward, that’s good.
I know that right now your son is pretty far away and you don’t get to see him much, but it seems like he’s keeping pretty busy helping other people. Also, you mentioned to me earlier that even though he’s farther away, that this facility offers more for your son. I was wondering if you could provide some of the differences you saw between the two prisons?
This facility, even though it’s seven or eight hours away, is in a small town, so it has a small town community feeling. So you’re treated more on a one-to-one relationship than just as a number. So there’s a lot of community feeling going through this process. It doesn’t appear that you’re even going to a prison other than the frisking process that you have to go through, but other than that, it’s a very calming environment, ironically.
It must give you a little bit of peace of mind.
Yes, it does very much; it eases the process of visiting.
His sentence is almost up then? Is he going to be out soon?
I actually hope by the end of year or early January. He is trying to have his time that he earned throughout the years for jobs and education to be applied to the sentence. With that being applied, yes he should be here within a few months.
And do you know what the processes for his release or is that something that you’re still learning?
It is a process I’m still learning. But the gist of it is, from what I’m getting, is that you are released in the city/county that you were charged with. So even though he is in an entirely different county, the process is to actually be moved back to the county where you were charged with originally. So ideally he’s to be moved to the other facility but he may have, because my son is very legal savvy, a way that he is trying to be released in that county just because of the small town and ease of being released in a small town versus being released in a public bus transit system. Which if he were to be transferred that’s how their process would be: just to be dumped in the public transit system with your belongings.
In some of the other interviews we had discussed that some people have served out their sentence, and others will be on parole or probation once they get out. Would he have finished his sentence and be free when he gets out?
Yes, he has expired his sentence as he has been denied parole and been asked that he finish the entire sentence, so yes. He will be finished with his sentence and he will not have to be on parole. However, he would have to, within 48 hours, be signed in as a felon with a local Sheriff department. He does have to go through that process that he is a known felon. So even though he’s released and has no probation he does have to make the community aware that he is a recent felon.
Well, we’ll stay in touch and celebrate that day he’s released. That will be a good day.
Yes, I’m looking forward to that.
And just my last question that I ask everybody: our audience is made up of people who haven’t been through this process, or they’re going through it. Do you have any words of wisdom or advice in the years you’ve been going through this that could help somebody that might be new to this process?
Well, the first thing is to find the right attorney. I would say to spend as much time as possible; this not a light process. It requires a lot of research to find the right attorney. Not only with the right knowledge, but the right personality-that’s a must. And just going through your community for any local groups that have dealings with the prison system so you do know the ins and outs and don’t have any surprises. Use all resources that you can in a situation like this.
I really appreciate your time. I know you’re still going through this process and is not easy and I know it’s difficult to see her son as much as you’d like to. However, he should be out soon and I look forward to hearing about that day and hopefully report on the site that he’s out!
We will still be pursuing his case even though he’s out. So we haven’t finished yet even though he’s out. So we will continue the fight.
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