I stand frozen in the dark. I’m mesmerized and taken back by the beauty of the soft, white snow falling around me. I can feel the bitter cold through my state issued blue scrubs. The delicate snowflakes vanish against my bare hands just as quickly as they land. When was the last time I noticed the intricate detail of each snowflake so unique? Or felt the cold winter air rooting deep into my lungs? The correctional officer’s voice echoing out
curse words to hurry along snaps my attention back. It’s then that I see the lights radiating off the fencing adorned with barbed wire.
Indicted. Prior to landing myself here, I could never have put into words the impact that simple word holds. As a first time felon, you experience a whirlwind of emotions. What happens now? Who will take care of my children? How will I survive, bounce back, and recover?
Late night reruns of Law & Order SVU while folding laundry were the closest things I could have told you about the judicial system. I could not have told you the difference between a change of plea hearing in CPC court or the Misdemeanor ticket for a moving violation in Municipal Court…Until now.
Signing a plea deal for community control means nothing when the judge throws it out during your sentencing. You just wake up the next day finding yourself having to hide your children’s pictures from your new Bunkie, a child molester, for the next 45 months of your life.
Everyone stands at the commotion through the windows of the dining hall. Women marching single file with their hands on their heads. It is almost execution style as described in Elie Wiesel’s book, Night, during the horrors of Auschwitz although these girls are heading to the gym and not a gas chamber. Their lives still theirs for the keeping, but the dignity is long gone. Squat and cough. Show me the pink. Thorough searches for the most recent contraband, drugs.
I think to myself they should be raiding the showers when the inmates defecate in the stalls in search of whatever they managed to swallow during a recent visit. Nine months ago, I couldn’t have told you that a suboxone is a drug resembling a mint breath strip. Now I grimace at the sight of the girl next to me nodding out from heroin. How it was her addiction that led her to steal used needles out of the bio bin in the infirmary. Reality is, I could easily screw up my life worse in prison. In dorms of 200 women, sleeping in open rows of bunks, I know who would “cheek” their nightly meds. For the right price, I could learn to snort my next high.
The judicial system sees this not as a form of punishment, but a way to reform. I often think of writing my judge to tell him of the new skills and criminal thinking I’ve picked up from my fellow inmates. I’d ask him how his new Porsche is handling, courtesy of the percentage he receives from the state for each offender he sends to be incarcerated.
Instead, I’ll include in my judicial for early release how devastating it is to have high hopes for change upon coming to prison, only to find out that you belong to the small percentage of inmates not eligible. A productive member of society, a small business owner with an education lands me scores of zeros on my ORAS and TCU. In nonprison terms, I’m here for stealing $10,000. F5’s in theft and forgery. Bad enough for a prison sentence, but not bad enough to qualify for help. Instead, sleep all day, hang out in the yard. No utility bills. Roof over my head and guaranteed meals. I don’t even have to clean or do my own laundry. The perfect way to reform an offender back to society, according to the state.
The buzzer of the large walk-in oven the size of my closet back home, rings through the dense air of the kitchen. I’m now a cook for the state of Ohio. I went from spending $20 on my favorite bottle of Paul Mitchell shampoo to making $21.50 a month in state pay.
If you’re not eligible for programs or schooling, you get full time jobs around The Farm. I get the luxury of cooking today’s lunch. Meat sauce for Rotini. Fry 340 pounds of raw ground meat, followed by 278 lbs. of crushed tomatoes with a minimal variety of spices. In addition, chopping heads of cabbage by hand for 3,00 inmate’s dinner is another task all its own. As we stir the sauce we make jokes about Betty Spaghetti, a lady who cooked her husband’s mistress’s child and proceeded to feed it to him. She’s serving a life sentence, but eerily enough, she always compliments us on a job well done, especially our tomato based sauces.
Tomorrow we are having hot dogs. As I prep, I twist the lid of a jar and catch a strong scent of mustard. It instantly takes me back to a hot summer day. I can hear the crack of the wooden bat as the ball goes deep into center field. The crowd goes wild. I look down at my son taking in his favorite team. His smile burns deep into my mind. I notice the spot of mustard on his white jersey. My heart fills with grief wishing I could go back and not give care to the small things. But instead, just soak in the everyday freedoms.
Tonight, I’ll spend 80 cents for my 15 minute phone call home to my children. I won’t tell them how I cried in the shower while two girls moaned in the stall next to me. I’ll tell them how much I love them. I’ll tell them how the certificates I collect are like collecting Pokemon cards. Certificates of completion that are supposed to make me feel a type of satisfaction for using the most of my time while incarcerated. My family will never know the challenge I face while behind these prison walls. I have to stay strong for them. But, I must survive myself. One day I’ll be returning to the community I hurt and left in disbelief with my actions. Justice won’t do a thing to heal, only forgiveness will. One day I’m going to start my life over by checking the box on the application; I am Tara Snyder, a convicted felon and a product of the judicial system.
Tara Snyder (ORW)(OH)
**Tara Snyder was incarcerated at the Ohio Reformatory for Women (ORW) and is now home. She’s active in advocacy with the ACLU, is now a volunteer helping the women at ORW; is active with Rock City Church, and works long hours while also raising her beautiful children. She’s the author of the blog JudgmentOverJudgement.
Read more of her lettersfromchristopher.com posts by searching “Tara” using the search function at the top of he page.