Step-daughter in and out of prison
When somebody goes into prison, it affects the whole family.
(Minor edits for easier reading)
Today I’m here with Annabel who has a step-daughter that was in and out of the prison system for many years. Her step-daughter is now out of prison and had been on probation for five years. Now she’s doing really well, however it’s been a long journey for her and her family.
When I was talking to Annabel, she was telling me how it not only affected her husband, it also affected their whole family. That’s one of the things we like to bring out and share with people because nobody’s in it alone. When somebody goes into prison, it affects the whole family. Even if the family doesn’t visit or doesn’t talk about it, or however they decide to handle it, there’s still an affect.
We’re going to talk to Annabel today about how her step-daughter’s incarceration affected her, her thoughts on the prison system, and her step-daughter’s prison journey and how she has excelled and is doing so well.
Annabel thank you for being here with me today, I really appreciate it, and for sharing with everybody. I think the more people share the more we raise awareness and the more it helps people. Let’s start from the beginning when you found out that your step-daughter was arrested and going through the in and out of prison. Let’s just talk about that period and how you felt.
I’m glad to be here and sharing my story with you today. We found out about it through her sister who notified us. Then we were able to contact her and we wanted to start the process for visitation. I had never had any history of being arrested, I had never visited anyone in prison. I’ve been very fortunate and this was a new experience for me. I remember the first process, going back to the very beginning, was where I had to fill out an application.
I completed the application and mailed it in and we didn’t hear anything for several weeks. I was surprised at how long it took for them, and then I finally called to find out the status. They said they returned my application because I left my middle initial blank. I told them that I don’t have a middle initial and they told me I had to enter “NA”. There was never any call, it took me several weeks and then I finally got the application back. I had to restart the process. My husband received his approval. So I had to put that “NA” on the application and then mailed it back and then I did get the approval letter.
That was something that was my first signal that this was not going to be an easy process. There was no customer service there to help me. This was something we’d have to navigate ourselves. That was the first experience.
This first time she was arrested was she went to the Women’s prison. I don’t even remember the name of it, I didn’t really care about details. I did have to follow the rules for the dress code which included colors and what I could wear, no jeans, no blue, no sandals. I remember that I had to wear tennis shoes or closed-toe shoes. In the rules we also had to face a certain way, so the inmate had to face the person that was administering the visitation, so the inmate couldn’t have their back to them.
During my first experience, I recall a big open area where tables were set up and we were allowed in first and then the inmates came out one by one when they were called. The first time was really emotional for me. It had been a while, through the application process, so we hadn’t seen her in a while, and we were allowed one hug and that was it. No overdoing of the emotions. You weren’t allowed to show any heavy kissing or hugging or anything like that.
“We got our hug, and it was very emotional, I cried as soon as I saw her.”
I know it’s very emotional, especially the first time that you see them in their “uniform” and realizing where they are. You know where they are, but now it’s more real when you go in there.
And it’s very institutional… you’re right, seeing her in her clothes, and we had to help pay for the better clothes. It’s rather expensive for toiletries and clothes and her tv; she had a clear tv. A lot of rules that I had no idea about and actually it is very expensive to pay for some of the accessories and food that they want. I think even to get a microwave in there, we had to pay for that. We paid for the top ramen noodles so she could have food when she wanted to, or something other than what was being served.
As far as the visitation, there was a box with toys, because there were children there with their parents, of course. It was difficult to see that because she did have a son at the time. He couldn’t visit without his guardian, the other grandmother was the guardian and we needed her permission. So eventually we did do that, but our first visit they showed us a bin with some cards and games and they were very old and torn and ripped boxes and pieces missing. We were lucky to get a full deck of cards. We couldn’t bring anything in. If we wanted to bring in a deck of cards or games, we couldn’t do that; it wasn’t allowed.
Sometimes we’d sit and play cards. We’d bring up to $10 in quarters so we could get snacks out of the vending machine and that was a treat for my step-daughter. She always wanted to get some candy or some snacks and drinks that she couldn’t get inside.
There are so many rights that are taken away, but that’s the purpose of incarceration. It was chilling for me to see what a different environment it is to be in a place like this with so many of your rights taken away. It’s actually a good lesson to learn.
So the first visitation was difficult. I don’t want to say that I ever got used to it. Every other Saturday we would drive out and I hated that drive because I hated being there. I never tried to show that because I wanted to be supporting. I just loathed that drive and loathed those two hours that we would sit there in that environment and couldn’t wait for her to get out. I thought that she would never go back. Really thought that because she told us that she would never want to be back in prison, but unfortunately, she did have additional felonies and did have another sentence even after she got out. She was arrested again for another felony and went to another facility that had both men and women. The rules were similar on what we could wear.
“I’m just a visitor and I feel terribly imprisoned myself.”
I forgot to mention that at the first prison, the Women’s prison, I wore an aqua colored top, it wasn’t a blue-blue, it was more greenish, but they wouldn’t let me visit her because they considered it blue. They would not let me visit her and I saw many people turned away. There are no allowances; there are no exceptions. “No, you cannot enter today.” And some people drove from very far away to be there so it was very sad.
So the second prison that had both men and women was very different. We would wait in a waiting room and then they would allow us in, but they searched us before we could go in. There were the same rules, no blue, no open shoes, we could take $10 in quarters and this was a much bigger room. We had to go through two gates, and the gates would open very slowly and screech back, and I would walk into this one space and then that gate would close, “CLANK”, and you felt like you were in prison yourself. Then the next section there was another gate that I had to go through and would open very slowly, and it would just give me the chills to just stand there. I was thinking, “I’m just a visitor and I feel terribly imprisoned myself.” I had no rights whatever, and they didn’t have to be nice to me. They are not nice to you and most of the people are not friendly, they’re doing their job; they have a job to do there. It’s not that they may not be a friendly person on the outside, but for what they are doing they have to be very serious. They don’t smile, they don’t joke, there’s no fooling around, it’s a very serious matter just to visit.
So I finally get through and walked into the room, and again we had to face a certain way and the inmates had to face another way. There were also a lot more people here. Sometimes my step-daughter would know what someone was in for, but we’re not supposed to talk about it. There were some people there that we had seen in the news of their cases and it was just tragic, their story was tragic. What happened to the people they committed crimes against was tragic. It’s just tragedy all around you, but you go through this and you be supportive for your family and stay focused. You’re not supposed to look around. You’re not even supposed to look around!
So we’re in the room and this time the cards and games were a little bit better. We could normally get a full deck of cards. The vending machines were a little better, but I think it was tougher inside because there were more people.
In the first prison, the women’s prison, they actually had a work crew doing fire-fighting. They were able to go out on fire-fighting crews. But in this prison it was much more strict, there was no work center that I know of. I think there were some programs there, but nothing that would allow her to get out. There were more inmates with more serious crimes.
I’m not even sure if the women’s facility is still open or if it’s closed.
This is really hard for me, again, I wanted so hard to be supportive, but here she had already been in prison once and promised that she wasn’t going to do this again. Now I will say she did get her GED while she was in prison, so I was very grateful for that. She did make some effort, but this was a very difficult time for us. We would go every other Saturday, we would drive out there, and again, I just hated it. Once or twice I was turned away, maybe I had a watch on, or I had to go out to the car to put my watch in the car or I had to leave my jewelry in the car, you could not wear any jewelry whatsoever.
[Note from Editor: Most facilities state that they are not responsible for anything in your vehicle, so if you do put anything in your vehicle, make sure it is locked. In addition, they DO have the right to search your vehicle, so make sure that you have not left anything in your car that is not allowed on facility grounds that may be considered contraband.]
I was glad to put the whole experience behind me because, as you mentioned in the introduction, she’s doing much better now. She was finally released after being on probation for five years. Then she had another son and lived with us for about six months while she was on probation. Now she is working and doing very well.
That part of our life, especially the probation period, was very unnerving because she had repeated offenses in the past. I wanted to be supportive, but I also had to see her and know that she might fall back. With having her son, she cleaned up her drug problem, which was a real strong contributor to her crimes and the people she was with during that time she was using drugs.
She’s been clean for many years, she actually stopped smoking and is doing much better now. During the probation I was very nervous because I worried. My husband and I worked full time and I thought anything could happen. She could get pulled over for a traffic violation and they could think that if something was not kosher she could be hauled off to jail and here we could have this two-year old to take care of.
We were very cautious about what she was doing and where she was going, and we did help her at the same time. So you live a very balanced lifestyle, a little bit on the edge of what is going to happen tomorrow. When you’re on probation you really have most of your rights also taken away. Even though she was on the outside she had a lot of restrictions. We couldn’t have any alcohol in the house, the beer had to be outside in a locked container or any wine. So we had to change our lifestyle, as well, so it was very intrusive, but we were willing to make those sacrifices for her.
There were a lot of experiences that were almost frightening to me because I had not seen it and had not been around other people who had been in jail or in prison. I learned new terms and I learned a lot about the system, the good and the bad about the system. It changed my life and gave me a lot more empathy to the people that are in prison and how the families are affected by this because I lived through it and fortunately our story ends good. There are a lot of stories that don’t have such a good ending. I pray for that and I pray that I never have to go back. I never want to go back to visit anyone. I hope to G-d that I never have to go back. It left an impression on me. We don’t talk about it much. My husband doesn’t talk about it, he didn’t talk about his daughter at work when she was in prison. Sometimes at work people would talk about their daughter going to college, or my daughter is graduating, my son got a new job. He said he couldn’t talk about it because he didn’t want to talk about his daughter being in prison and being convicted of a felony. It was a difficult subject for him, although the more you talk to people the more you realize that there are a lot of people that are dealing with this situation.
My step-daughter is off of probation now and I think she’s on the road to a good life and making positive change. She’s very motivated now to do the right things and she’s made a lot of positive changes in her life.
I think a lot of her success and anybody’s success depends on the support that they have because it is a prison family, including the person that is in prison and the support on the outside. I think that having you and your husband there to support her provided the emotional support.
When we say support, yes, you were able to financially send her money when she was in prison, help support her when she got out of prison, and I think that’s important, but I think the emotional support is even more important for people to do that for their loved ones.
You also talked about balance, which I think is very important. That people on the outside sometimes don’t take care of themselves because it’s just so emotionally draining, especially going every week or every other week to prison, it can be depressing. So you have to deal with your own health and keep yourself healthy. Balance is very important and people on the outside need to take care of themselves. It’s good that you and your husband were able to support each other. Not being able to talk about it, that’s the hidden sentence that we’re working on erasing so people can talk about it.
“… everyone does have a story and sometimes we need to just take a moment and think about it and realize that this is not a perfect world and we need to help those more often than we need to judge them.”
Yeah, it not something that you really want to brag about, obviously, and the one thing I learned is that there’s a lot of reasons and factors that contributed to my step-daughter committing crimes. Her mother was murdered when she was about nine years old. Her mother was missing for two years and then they found her remains. This had a tremendous impact and there are a lot of people who have a story and there are reasons sometimes why they committed a crime and it’s wrong, and they need to pay the consequences for that. However, what you also have to realize is that these are people. A lot of these people have stories and there are reasons, so you have to be a little bit more understanding and look around and realize they are people too, and their families are suffering and this is why your efforts are so important. The family does really suffer because they are trying to support that person and they have a different perspective of why they are there. The outside world doesn’t always see that. They make a lot of assumptions about inmates and why people are committing these crimes. And yes it’s wrong, but everyone does have a story and sometimes we need to just take a moment and think about it and realize that this is not a perfect world and we need to help those more often than we need to judge them.
You said something before we started recording that I think was really interesting. That you hadn’t been exposed to this part of society before and it was like peeking behind the curtain. I thought that was a really good analogy that you were peeking behind the curtain, but now you are a part of this.
Right and once you open that curtain and step in you’ll never be the same person. So that’s true, I had never been arrested, nobody in my family had been arrested, at least that I know of. I had never visited anyone in jail, I hadn’t been to jail, I hadn’t been to the County Building except to get a marriage license. Other than that I had no exposure, I had no awareness, and it was a very new experience. I knew that I had to go through that door just like I knew that I had to go through that door physically for the first visitation. The whole process was something I knew I had to experience because I wanted to help my step-daughter, but I had to step into this with eyes wide open and comply with a lot. There were some things I didn’t agree with, and there were a lot of things that sometimes I’d like to change, and I haven’t done that. I think about your efforts, and that’s why I want to help with this effort, there’s a lot of potential for improvement in this whole process.
Yeah, once you open that curtain and peek in, it was like a whole different dimension, it’s almost like going under water, you see a whole new world. So here you go and peek behind that curtain and you’re in and there’s no going back, I mean it’s just changed my life. Maybe for the better? Maybe it wasn’t a good experience, but I think I’m a better person for it.
I really appreciate you sharing and I really liked the way you explained some of the things as far as somebody that hasn’t been through it because it is a process, it is something different, and the best thing to do is to be prepared.
One of the things that I always say is bring extra clothes when you go visit because one of the worst things, especially if you’re traveling far, is getting there and not being allowed to go in because you’re wearing the wrong color or the wrong shoes or whatever, so having that extra clothes really helps.
That’s a really good point. As I mentioned during one of my visits I wasn’t allowed in and I didn’t have any extra clothes with me, so I did wait in the car so that my husband could visit at least for a little while. We cut it short that day.
That’s a good tip and I wish I would’ve had more information and could’ve been more prepared. I think that would’ve been a little bit easier on me to be more prepared, to be more informed. I didn’t know there were any resources for this and I really didn’t know that I’d need any resources until I was starting the process. And the first thing that I mentioned earlier was that they returned my application because I left a middle initial blank. They couldn’t process the application because that one line was not completed. There’s another tip. Make sure you fill out the application correctly and completely, and if you’re not sure just write a note in there.
What advice that you can give to people that are going through it because yours was a long journey of 15 years going through the prison system and then going through probation and now you’re still supporting your family member emotionally. I’s your child that you want to do well, so as a parent you always have your child there to take care of, however going through this the past 15 years what helped you the most?
It’s a difficult question. Maybe what helped me the most was helping my step-daughter and my husband. So helping others sometimes helps yourself. So loving your loved one, whether it’s your child, your son, your brother, your uncle, your mother; loving them and encouraging them through the process. As I mentioned, she had some good intentions and committed a crime and it was very disappointing, but we never gave up and we continued to encourage her. Now we also did say there were consequences when she moved in with us, there were rules, but never give up. Continually encourage and love your loved one that’s going through this, and do reach out and find resources that can help you through it. I was very encouraged myself when I could see improvements being made in her. So encouraging her, encouraged myself, and helped me get through it. Just having someone that you love very much makes a difference, too.