| This is the 201st story of Our Life Logs |
I was born in Washington D.C. in 1945, right after WWII. I didn’t grow up with a mother, father, or even a family. As a little girl, I used to wonder about my father. I imagined him as a brave soldier who, upon returning from fighting in WWII, met my mother and fell in love at first sight. It wasn’t until I was six or seven years old and in my third or fourth foster family that I understood what really happened.
My mother had worked as a prostitute. There were whispers every time she came and visited me at my foster family’s home or when she left me at a new one. The whispers meant I would never be rescued by my father. She simply didn’t know who my father was. After accepting this harsh fact, I reassured myself that at least my mother loved me, even if she couldn’t take care of me. She always came to me wherever I was staying. Until the Christmas she didn’t.
I was eight-years old and I remember having on my very favorite red dress that my mother had bought me the previous Christmas. It didn’t fit anymore, but I made it work. I would be beautiful for her return. But as I sat on the front porch top step at my foster family’s home, the Christmas lights came on up and down the street and I started to feel really cold. I never did find out what happened to her the Christmas Eve of 1953.
After that Christmas Eve, I don’t remember believing in anything good in life. Instead, I knew a whole lot of the bad things children should never know or experience, and I could recite them song-and-verse to anyone if they would have asked. No one ever did, so I kept all the horrors that occurred to me late at night by men with names I cannot remember.
By the time I was 18, I knew two things. My red hair and blue eyes attracted men, and two, I intended to persuade one of those men to take me away from Washington DC. I started my quest for love in a bar in Georgetown, Virginia. I don’t know if I found love, but I did find my ticket out of poverty. I met a man in the bar that night who took me home with him and married me a week later.
We stayed married for ten years and had two beautiful children. First, I had a daughter I named Angel. Two years later, I had a boy I named Gabriel. I loved them with all my heart, but I had no idea how to be a mother. I studied women in the park or at the stores with their children, and tried to do what they did. But this was never comfortable because my words and actions only made me into a stranger.
My husband Gil used to hit me from time to time (nothing I wasn’t used to), but as he started drinking more, the fights became more frequent. One night it got so bad, I waited until he fell asleep and walked out the door. I left my beautiful Angel and brave Gabriel behind as I had no money. I swore to myself I would be back. I would find a way.
But I knew I was lying to myself. I had no idea if I would ever see them again.
In another city, in another bar, I met an attorney who filed my divorce said he’d married me once it was finalized with the condition I could never bring another man’s child into his home. I agreed because I thought time and love would change his mind. The only thing that changed over time was that his hits got harder and the rapes became more painful. I left him one weekend when he was away at a work conference, but this time, I took furniture and clothes with me.
I drove straight to Georgetown, to the house I left five years ago, only to find it empty and leaning to one side like a sapling bent over from a hard wind. I had no phone number for Gil and I couldn’t find him in the phone book. I had no family to ask for help so I walked away, feeling shattered and twisted like an old lady, 33 years old and nothing to show for it.
Like so many other horrors in my life, I pushed down the feelings and drove away from Georgetown on I-95, determined to get my life in shape so I could find my children. But again, I knew I was lying to myself.
In 1978, I divorced my second husband, and once more met a man. I vaguely remember him for his big brown eyes which hid a temper that did more damage to me in six months than my previous two marriages combined. Once we divorced, I swore to myself I would never marry again—and this time I wasn’t lying to myself. I meant it and I never did. But my alternate reality wasn’t a big step up for me. In fact, it was decidedly just one step away from hell itself.
After my third divorce, I had nothing. No money, no education, and no man to pay my bills. I got a job washing dishes and waiting tables for a small diner in Lubbock, Texas and plotted how to get enough money so I could make a life for myself and find my children.
Since I was determined to never marry or even look at another man, I figured the bank would be a good place to start. I mean, that’s where the money was. I could make some withdrawals from them with a fake gun, a note, and a wig. I don’t have a clue why I felt like this was my only option, but I promise you it was, and after I saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on TV one night at the diner, I thought it looked easy enough.
It took me a month to work up the courage to rob my first bank, but I netted $2100 and had no overhead other than my car’s gasoline. I drove to another town in Texas and started my crime spree which took me through two states and eleven banks in about a year. It was fun and nerve-wracking at the same time. I just pretended to be in a play on stage, or some famous actress playing a role on Broadway. I never thought of it as real because I didn’t have a real gun, I didn’t have any intention to hurt anyone, and I needed the money more than the bank did.
I was caught mid-1979 when a police officer pulled me over for a busted tail light. Once he saw my wooden gun and wig in my back seat, he became puffed up with pride. He had caught the “blue-eyed, female bank robber” who was being followed by news crews. I felt relief that I wouldn’t have to worry about money for a little while.
Well, the judge ended up giving me more than a little while: 45 years.
I realized a long time ago that without a family, I never had a shape. I was formless, ethereal. In my mind, I always compared it to watching water lose itself in sand. Sand only holds a shape water gives it—until the water is no more. Then the sand reverts to a handful bleak grains.
In 1981, the second year I was in prison, some people on the outside who had heard about my long sentencing got me in touch with my children. These wonderful people with no agenda other than to help. They gave me a drop of water to hold my shape until I was able to write my children to let them know I was so sorry for everything and that I loved them.
But, a letter stating I’m sorry doesn’t really make up for disappearing from a child’s life and they barely remembered me at all. Both had been told by Gil that I died. My son wrote back once, but my daughter sent me letters and pictures every three to four months. These envelopes were filled with lives I’d never met, with grandchildren I never knew. Yet, they gave me comfort and maybe a little hope. Every letter brought a drop of water which sustained me until the next one came.
In 2015, I found out I was dying of pancreatic cancer. In 2017, FMC Carswell let me go home on what is called “compassionate release” as most dying ex-offenders do not commit new crimes. Angel, my beautiful daughter, let me come and live with her after I left the halfway house in Houston, Texas. For a week, I lived in a world of comfort knowing a backyard that had grass I could walk on in bare feet and a tree with a hammock. She had a refrigerator with food I could cook for her. Angel was divorced, her kids grown, and I prayed she would let me meet them before I died. I started to believe I was forgiven for the life I wasted, the hurts I caused, and the pain I inflicted.
I was not. On a sunny day in June of 2017, Angel drove me back to the halfway house and told me to get out of the car. She had already called and told them I really was too much trouble and she didn’t have the patience or time to put up with my medical needs. I was shapeless once again.
I didn’t blame Angel then and I don’t blame her now. My story was told to a church from another resident at the halfway house. In the church, I found new friends who took me in, gave me a home, and fed me well. They drove me to doctor appointments when I wasn’t ready to take the bus. They gave me clothes before I knew what size I was. I was so afraid to believe that someone, maybe one of them in the small group which took turns helping me when I had to be admitted to a hospital or get chemo, would learn to love me.
Then, in the Christmas of 2017, one of them read my heart. I had longed for something that was mine—just mine—so I could practice my newly discovered ability to have and give love. She gave me a puppy, whom I named Hope.
It’s true, in my childhood I never had a family. As a young woman, I never knew love with a man and selfishly thought only of myself instead of the two beautiful souls God gave me to love. As a woman, I drank too much, took drugs, and lost my soul to emptiness with money stolen from banks. Yet, in dying, I knew life. In cancer, I found love. The friends I have met hold my hand when I need it most and give me shape.
I only have a few weeks left to live in this world, but when I join the next world, I will have a soul filled with love ready to take the next step into forever.
This is the story of Susan Miller
Susan grew up in foster care with the hope of one day returning to her family. When that didn’t happen, she spiraled into a life without direction. After three abusive marriages and not a cent to her name, Susan decided to rob a bank, get her kids back, and start over. But after serving 45 years in prison, Sue found that love does not have to come from blood-relation, just from those who are willing to give. Susan loves to cook anything and everything all day long. She is a voracious reader, her favorite book being Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Susan adores the color red. After wearing khaki for most of her life she now dawns herself with red shoes, red shirts, red sweaters, red scarves, you name it! Lastly, Susan spends a lot of her time volunteering at her church’s food pantry, where she not only hands out food, but listens to the stories of those she serves.
This story first touched our hearts on October 19, 2018.