Today’s post marks the beginning of a new series on our blog. Lauren Johnson, a former participant in the Conspire Theatre classes at the Travis County Correctional Complex, will be telling her story and writing about issues related to incarceration, drug laws and personal reflection. We welcome her to the site and hope that you will as well – check back every Monday for a new post.
I am a 34 year old mother of 3 boys. I have been to prison three times. My story is unfortunately not unique. There are so many stories behind those bars and mine is just one of many.
I was arrested in 2002 and spent 6 months waiting to be released on the S.H.O.R.T. program, which is a drug court. Finally, upon my release I had stipulations to follow and I worked hard to do so while continuing to maintain my drug habit. I managed to stay out for 2 months before getting arrested on a new charge that was also drug related. My drug of choice was methamphetamine. Maintaining a habit like this takes time, planning, and is very chaotic. Priorities get out of line. One of the requirements of SHORT, like many programs is urinalysis. If you are a woman there are ways to pass it. I will spare you the details. Suffice to say that this also takes time and planning and I do understand that the only person being fooled or hurt by going through all of this trouble, was me.
One week before that arrest I had found out that I was pregnant. The father of the baby already had one child that he owed twelve thousand dollars in back child support for, he had a warrant for his arrest that he had been dodging for years and his fear of going to jail kept him stuck in a lifestyle that went nowhere. We attempted to discuss our options a few times over the course of that week but we could never make it more than a few words into the conversation because I would begin to weep, and he had no words or coping skills.
I did not want to have an abortion, but I also did not want to bring a child into that lifestyle and didn’t know what to do. So the arrest came and the choice was made for us. We were having a baby! I was 27 years old and was altogether terrified, mystified and excited. Looking back I am thankful that I was locked up and made to sit still and really experience the pregnancy. Once the idea set in with me that I was having this baby, my world changed. My mother instinct sprang forward and ideas about the life I wanted for my child filled me.As court dates approached I began to think that the world had changed along with my mindset. I didn’t fully grasp the fact that I was not the first pregnant woman to enter into the criminal justice system, but it only took a couple of months to realize that in the court’s eyes nothing was different just because I was having a child.
Thankfully, my uncle’s soon to be ex wife offered to help me and take my son until I came home. She sent me money occasionally, set her phone up so I could call her, wrote me, and came to visit me. That in itself was huge. If you also knew that the first time I ever compromised my integrity for drugs involved me stealing her credit card and putting her in a very bad financial position, you would be even more inspired at her compassion .
County time is harder to do than time in the actual prison where there are jobs to help the time pass. The days drag on, there isn’t much to do and living in one big room with 30 other women is difficult in itself. Add in the stress of outside life, the powerlessness of everyone in that room over it, and the hormones of a pregnant woman and it isn’t ideal by any means.
I spent my entire pregnancy in county by choice. The district attorney had gone as low as they were going to go with an offer of 4 years and I had come to terms with that but I had spoken to other women and heard their experience with going to the big girl prison pregnant. They would go to a medical unit and have the baby and if they were lucky they would get to spend an hour or two with the baby. If no one showed up within a specified time frame of a couple of days to pick up the baby then it would go to the State. I knew that if I put off my sentencing until after the baby was born that I would get to spend two to three days in the same room with my baby, and I wanted that opportunity.
Dylan was born on February 28th, 2004. I spent 2 days in the hospital holding him, putting him down only to go to the bathroom. I was lucky enough to have compassionate guards assigned to me for most of those two days and my aunt came and picked him up, and I went back to jail. That day was the worst day I think I have ever had in my life. Upon my return to the jail I was put in a medical holding cell by myself and I cried for 2 days straight. If I wasn’t asleep, I was sobbing. Finally they put me back in general population and I was able to process some of my thoughts and feelings and then able to talk and think about different things, but I still ached inside.
There is now a pilot program in TDCJ called Baby and Mother Bonding initiative, or BAMBI. It is a step in the right direction, however the space in the program is limited. In order to participate there are strict requirements that have to be met. If the sentence is longer than the guidelines permit, then the woman cannot participate and her only hope is that she has someone who can take the baby for her until she comes home. If not, the state will take the child and although the possibility exists that they may be reunited, there is a higher possibility that rights will be terminated. A small amount of information about the program may be found on the TDCJ website.
The choices that I have made in my life have not always been the best. I do choose to make the best out of my experiences and try to grow from them. I hope in sharing some of my story I can make a difference for someone else.
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