Every prisoner in this eight-person cell is homesick. A devoted grandmother misses her grandsons. She misses her best friend who was closer to her than a sister. She misses her dad, who is her best friend. Her 20-year sentence is not the result of a life of crime, but a moment’s choice.
Now she sits on her bunk and waits for emails that rarely come and pictures or videos that come even less. The family that never went a day without talking to her now goes a week without reaching out. Her dad and older family never learned to use Jpay email, the electronic messaging system for incarcerated people to connect with people outside. Her other family members love her, but are just “busy.” This grandmother lies alone, aching for the feel of her grandkids in her arms, re-watching videos to hear the sounds of the family now so removed from her.
A 49-year-old lady in the room has been in prison since she was 19 years old. She never killed anyone, but she is sentenced to life without parole under the felony murder rule. She was in prison before Starbucks and Amazon, before cell phones and Microsoft Office and all the other inventions of the past 30 years. While in prison, she has lost her mom, dad, and brother—all of her immediate family. She rarely hears from any extended family and does not know which of them are alive. She desperately misses her best friend, paroled from here four years ago. Her friends email her, but sometimes they are busy or Jpay is slow and there are no messages. She has a chaplain that has stuck by her for 30 years but is now too old—and the trip too long—for her to visit more than a few times a year.
Many would claim this prisoner has nothing left in the world, but she is homesick. She is homesick for freedom, friends, and experiences. She never got to be normal or even get a driver’s license. She aches for that day she can wake up at any time, go through unlocked doors, have a pet, call a friend and be able to hug that friend. She aches for the day when she can care for others. She is homesick for a life.
Before prison, I had what I thought was a good life. I had bought my own home and truck and was making my payments. I had a family that I talked to every day. I was pregnant with a baby and was enrolled in paralegal school. Life held promise. My family could rely on me when they needed me. I would jump on a plane and fly east to be with them.
This is my first time in any legal trouble. I am sentenced to life without parole. I did not kill anyone. Someone close to me took a life. I did not help authorities, but my sin and real crime is I did not help the family of the victim. I have been through victim’s perspective classes and know the consequences of my actions on so many people. I am sorry, but the thing is, I still want to be home with my family who are far away. A strange woman I don’t trust is raising my daughter. I am really, really homesick.
I used to be a central part of a family. Now, there are days I wonder if I even cross their mind. When I don’t hear from anyone for days, I have to wonder about where I fit in my family, circle, friends, and community. Are there things they are trying not to tell me? To explain to family and friends just how much emails, letters, and phone calls would mean to me, I would have to tell them how it feels to be in this tiny room with nothing but my memories. That is not a reality I would like them to go through.
Last night I got an email confirming my mom has Alzheimer’s. My niece had serious complications during childbirth, my nephew is graduating from boot camp, and my big sister and brother-in-law are retiring and moving to a farm. Last month I almost lost both my parents to COVID-19. I could not hop a plane or even hop on a phone. I feel useless and helpless with my family going through so much.
I have a few people who write to me but life out there gets busy. I try to understand and most days I do. Certain days though, I am so homesick I ache. The occasional “Thank you” I get and my family that supports and cheers me on keeps me moving forward.
I search for a purpose by fighting to improve conditions, even though I get such a headache, more financial debt for court fees, and backlash for fighting the system. That purpose is nothing compared to the purpose I lost in being a daughter, sister, friend, and mother.
Homesickness is not something you can prepare for or avoid. We are real human beings with lives we were pulled from or denied. Every woman in this room has her story about what she misses.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.