| This is the 169th story of Our Life Logs |
My life started in the early 1960s in a home on the wrong side of crazy. By six or seven years old, I had been taught how to lie about what was going on in our home, because what was really going on, thanks to my father, was abusive, violent, and against the law. I always wore the mask of a happy girl. I figured that if I smiled, no one would know my home was full of lies, alcohol, and physical abuse. I became a master manipulator at deceit, crafting a wonderland where everything was perfect. On the positive side, that child can either grow up and become an actress, trial attorney, or even a creative artist. On the negative, she can become a criminal. Not once, in the 18 years I spent on the battlefield of my home did I ever think I would grow up to be a criminal.
Yet, that is what I became not so long ago.
Life progressed with all its ups and downs, colorfulness, and sometimes darkness. By 2002, I had been married, divorced—twice (the first time, well, it just didn’t work out, and the second time, I was in the arms of an abusive and dangerous man), remarried, and was living in Texas. My husband had a steady job as an engineer and I decided to try working out of our home so I could enjoy the flexibility while raising our four kids (his two and my two) who at the time were 9, 9, 11, and 15 years old. I started my own business, helping other companies with grant development and bid proposals. I had always loved to write and had been doing this kind of work in the corporate arena for over 25 years. This gig seemed like a match made in business heaven.
My business did exceptionally well until 2011 when my income pretty much came to a screeching halt. I couldn’t tell exactly what had happened that year which made it suffer. Adding to the business uncertainty, we had one child in college and two more graduating from high school and beginning college that fall. In a desperate attempt to keep afloat, I got creative and struck up a deal with a couple of my professional contacts in Chicago. They lent me their big portfolio of clients, and all I had to do was give them 10% commission on each successful job. It was a win-win for all.
After I signed and firmed up 10 clients, they asked if I could also help them seek funding from investors. There, I told my first lie. I said yes. Yes, I could.
The prospect of being able to support my family overshadowed my moral compass. I ignored the little guy on my shoulder. I gave in. I told myself I could find a way to find investors, and when that didn’t work, I created a fantasy world where I did, in fact, have everything under control. To avoid confrontation with my clients and contacts, I created fake investors, each with fake emails, phone numbers, and even a backstory. I could almost believe the stories myself. After all, isn’t that what I was taught as a child? Didn’t I learn how to lie so well?
Before I could stop myself, I had piled up $77,000 of fraudulent money—payment received from my clients for the fake services that I had delivered. Of course, they didn’t know at first. It took all of four months for one of my clients to figure out what was really going on, and he contacted the FBI. The jig was up. 22 months in prison was the consequence of my lies.
Which brings us to the summer of 2013: my first day at Coleman Prison Camp in Florida.
Upon check-in, the guards made me strip down to nothing, just like they do in all the prison shows. If that’s not enough to make someone vow to never, ever violate the law again, then nothing will change them. To prison guards who perform this service, you are simply an inmate, and they will give you a brand-new inmate number and picture to go with your name to prove that point. So, no clothes. No identity.
To prepare myself for prison life, I watched a TV show called “Orange is the New Black” in the months before my sentence began. Unfortunately, nothing, nothing, and nothing can prepare you for the sights, horrid smells, and activity you see going on when you walk through the door of a prison living facility that is housing federal female inmates. So many women were sitting at tables and chairs in the common area that I couldn’t begin to count. There were women yelling, screaming, laughing, and crying.
Immediately, I was told I would have to write a request to see my case worker in order to be assigned a bed. How was I supposed to write without a pen, pencil, or paper? I think I stood there for 10 minutes with my mouth hanging open when suddenly, a guard yelled as loud as he could into my ear that it was “count time.” I had no idea what count time was or what I was supposed to do! I looked around and I noticed it was very quiet (which even then I could tell was unusual), and I realized I was the only inmate standing in the middle of the room. Everyone else had disappeared.
The same officer who yelled “count time” in my ear was now yelling that he was going to “write me up,” as I wasn’t in my room. When I told him that I didn’t have a room yet, he shouted, “‘Is that my problem or yours?!”
It seemed to be my problem. He told me he was going to write me up for back-talking him. I just stood there looking at him and crying. Actually, I never stopped crying for the next three weeks.
I was assigned to a bottom bunk in a room with three other grown women. It was maybe the size of most master-bedroom closets. But in that closet-sized room, I got three good roommates who started to fill in the gaps of information I didn’t really want—but needed—to survive my prison time.
I learned the smell of the common area drifted in from the microwaves, which were beyond disgusting on the inside, and most sat right outside the stall/shower bathrooms (two odors you should never put together are cooking food and bathroom smells). And I learned that the loudness never, ever went away, except after “last count” which was 11:00 p.m. If you ever missed a count (maybe you were in the bathroom throwing up, or crying, or both), you would be written up and sent to “real prison.” I figured this prison was real enough for me, so I had no intention of ever missing a count, and I never did. My roommates also filled me in on how to order supplies from commissary and pay for them on a strange, antiquated account system your family set up for you. They gave me toothbrushes, toothpaste, combs, real soap, and countless other things until I could get my own. They listened to me cry and relay my story as they cried and relayed theirs. They offered me comfort when I deserved none, hope when I had none, and faith that this too would pass when I was convinced that time was standing still.
That was my reality for 22 months.
After prison, I was released to a halfway house that helped ex-offenders go back into the world, receive counseling, and find jobs. There were classes on how to be hygienic in the outside world, AIDS and STD prevention, how to write a resume, how to dress, how to use the Internet, and so on. After eight weeks, I was able to finally go home. Although, home didn’t feel like home anymore. I found yet another environment I had to adjust to even though I was with the people I love more than life itself.
I came home still believing I was just a number. The first time I went to the grocery store and was able to pay without giving the cashier my “number,” I cried.
While 22 months stayed still for me, life moved on for my family and friends. One of my sons got married, two children graduated from college, another finished graduate school—and I missed it all. How in the world could I ever make up for those things? The truth is you can’t. Being sent to prison isn’t the punishment the legal system gives you. The real punishment is being frozen in time, locked in place, and never being able to make up for what was lost.
I had to tell each of my children the “real” story about my past. It didn’t help erase the hurt I caused, but we were able to start over. I asked for nothing and did not push myself into their lives again. I was just there for them when they called or visited. I let them talk even if what they were saying hurt my feelings. That phase lasted about a year. Believe me when I say it was a very long year.
It was easier with my husband. We had many talks when he visited me in prison, and we resolved a lot of his anger over what I had done to myself, him, and the family. We wrote, talked, wrote some more, talked some more. By the time I came home, we were both ready to begin again.
However, with some things lost, some new things were gained. I gained three friends with the women I shared a bedroom closet with as no one in the real world could ever truly know what it’s like in prison, unless they have been there. I have learned to always, always tell the truth, no matter how uncomfortable I may be. I found out that I did one thing incredibly right with my children. I taught them about unconditional love and how to always forgive even when it might not be deserved as it would help give themselves peace.
One of the most important things we all gained as a family even after all the pain I put everyone through is the knowledge that love can’t save anyone, but it can reach through prison walls to give one strength when they have none left. My family learned they could survive without me, but they would prefer to live with me around and I learned I could survive without them, but I couldn’t truly live.
Little by little, we are leading life together as a family, with all the good moments, bad moments, and great moments. My children are all adults, all have their respective lives, jobs, and significant others. I am now included in their inner circle once again, just like they are mine. They call me for advice which they usually don’t take (LOL), but that’s normal of any adult child with their parent. I call them when I want to meet them somewhere. We do family dinners. It doesn’t mean it’s perfect. As I learned in prison, there isn’t any such thing as a normal life. There is just life.
In the end, my crime wasn’t about why I took the money, it was about me learning to step into the light and shake the dust off all my skeletons. Now, I tell the truth about everything—even when I don’t want to. I now know where any lie can take me. That doesn’t mean that anyone out there in the world should care, nor does it justify what I did to innocent people. But maybe someone might hear my story and open the door to love someone else unconditionally.
This is the story of Samantha Seconds
Samantha lives in Houston, Texas with her husband where she works from home as a freelance technical writer. Growing up in an abusive household, Samantha learned that to get by, you have to lie and pretend things are okay. This mindset cost her everything when she was sentenced to 22 months in prison for piling up $77,000 in fraudulent money, but thanks to the support of her family and her prison experience, she decided to change her ways and tell the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it is. Samantha volunteers and advocates for those who are disenfranchised, abused, suffer from mental illness, drug or alcohol abuse, and/or have a criminal record. She knows she will never be able to do enough, but still plans to do all she can. Since Samantha has been home, she has been able to attend the birth of her first grandson, who is the light of her life. She has been planning and attending weddings, dinners, and BBQs with all her family.
You can read more about her experiences on her blog: https://secondsandinchesblog.wordpress.com/
This story first touched our hearts on September 11, 2018.