The Lives of Women Behind Bars (Pt 4): The Daily Struggles


In the letters I’ve received from women incarcerated across the country a theme has emerged. When I think about it I should have seen it ahead of time because it’s no different from what us men go through. Yet I imagined that somehow incarceration is different for them, that perhaps it’s  happier.” Maybe,” I used to think, “that they don’t suffer from the same things that us men sometimes do. Maybe they don’t struggle with feelings of shame and failure or hope that someone at home will answer the phone. Maybe things are different.”

As a man, I’ve sometimes thought of how I have failed. If I had a family of my own these feelings would only magnify to include feelings of failure as a parent. I know this would be true, because I witness the longing and struggle guys around me go through as they try to remain a part of their children’s lives. In some ways I’m thankful not to have these problems, but in others I long for what could have been.

Today’s essay is by Tara Snyder, of whom is incarcerated at the Ohio Reformatory for Women. Her ability to put these truths to the written word grabbed me from the moment I read her essay. These are the things we prisoners experience and struggle with. They are universal, no matter your gender or where you are incarcerated.



Next of kin. Sign here, my case manager points, and I’ll notarize. At 34 years old I’ve never really put a lot of thought into what would happen when I die. But I suppose I never put a lot of thought about coming to prison for 4 years either “ until now.”

As days turn into weeks and weeks pass into months you realize just because your life stops upon coming to prison, no one else’s does.

You start thinking to yourself – So this is what it would be like if I were dead? Pictures are still taken; you’re just not in them anymore. The kids still have sporting practices; you’re just not there to cheer them on. Life simply goes on.

Would it have been easier on my family if the sheriff knocking at the door was there to tell them I had died in a car accident instead of being there to arrest me? Would I have saved them the shame and embarrassment from coming to prison? They could have paid funeral expenses over adding money to my books each month for commissary. Would it have been easier for them to move on?

We put so much into the value of other’s opinions. Stressing what others think of us. Worrying if we are living a life as good as the next person. We live in a society of keeping up with the Jones. Or the Kardashians if you’re under 30. How many likes will that perfect selfie get? A perfect striped and freshly cut yard. Smile on the outside and no one will know you are breaking on the inside. The thing is, we spend so much time investing into people who won’t ever be there for us when we fall. Those same people applauding you at the Chamber of Commerce Ribbon Cutting, saying congratulations on your new business. Those same people will be the ones sharing the local news release about your sentencing to prison. People love a show.

I went from 3,000 so-called friends on Facebook to being incarcerated with nearly 3,000 women. The only common thing I have between the two is that I only talk to maybe 6 of them from each. The rest are just people.

When I first came to prison I was introduced to the pen-pal system. Inmates send intros (letters about themselves) to other inmates in prison. Looking for someone, anyone, to write back. It didn’t take long to learn why they do it. Only other incarcerated people will know how it feels to be surrounded daily yet still feel so alone.

Writing letters has become obsolete. How many times did you feel accomplished when your Christmas cards made it to be postmarked by December 22nd? Pat yourself on the back that they even made it out of the package from Target this year and into the mail. It’s easier to send a text or hit like on a status update to feel you’re doing your share to let someone know you care.

All that goes out the window when you come to prison. Every week my grandmother writes me. She tells me how much she loves me. How the family is doing. She never leaves out how she’s not the greatest writer or an apology for her spelling. What she doesn’t know is how every day I wake up and rush to get dressed so I can eagerly check the freshly printed daily mail list. Eager to see if my name is highlighted — meaning I have mail. I laugh at myself as I stand with anticipation to see who remembered me today. I laugh because the excitement I feel is the same I used to get when I’d come home and see my latest Amazon Prime shipment smiling at me from my front doorstep. Mail is exciting. Even when my letters come to me opened and thoroughly searched for contraband. And, on the average 12 days later than the postmark. Grandma will never know how the tears roll down my cheek with each letter I read. How I wish I could take back all the times I was too busy living my own life to stop and visit her – just because. She won’t know how these letters are my most prized possession.

I stand on the phone wall impatiently waiting to use 1 of 5 phones for more than 30 minutes. Waiting to pay my .80 cents for my single 15 minute phone call. No answer. Your heart sinks. You think of how many times you avoided a call or the number of missed calls on your phone history because you were busy living life. Things are more important on the outside. They were for me too.

The girl in line behind me is eager to buy my phone time for a bag of fireballs or a honey bun. I’ll sell it to her so she can call home twice this hour. She calls her husband to tell him how much she misses him. Oddly enough, she won’t mention the girl who she was just kissing in the bathroom stall.

Tonight I’ll use my envelope I paid .61 cents for and I’ll write my kids. I’ll send them a 4-leaf clover I found on the yard. I’ll make the next move on our tic-tac-toe board. I’ll try to think of new ways to parent from prison.  Tonight, as I write I will be thankful. I’ll listen to the girl next to me cry herself to sleep as she has not had contact with her kids for 3 years due to losing them to the foster care system. Tonight, I’ll write my kids and be thankful they are too busy living life to write me back or answer the phone. Too busy, just like I taught them to be.

Tara Snyder #102660
1479 Collins Avenue
Marysville, Ohio 43040

Read more of Tara’s thoughts and writings by going to her blog at:

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