We are now highlighting one woman a month to share her story because once you hear a person’s story it is hard to hate them up close. The trauma that was passed onto Janet and multiplied in her childhood is unimaginable. Racism, poverty, trauma and hopelessness are at play with so many of the women we meet. Janet has always stood out to me since I first me her 4 years ago. She is vibrant, funny, grateful and sparkly.
Here is her story:
We met Janet in our second out of state training in the midwest. She had been in prison since she was 16; she was now in her late thirties. She had a spark in her eyes and a squeak in her voice. She was funny, religious, polite and had a story like no other.
She describes her house getting raided by the cops when she was around 6 years old:
Okay, my mother is doing our hair, my hair and I’m sitting between her legs. I can see it like it happened yesterday. I’m sitting between her legs. They bust in through the front door, and if this is the kitchen, they bust in from the kitchen right, we’re like right there. And they have guns and they were telling her like “put it down” and they’re pointing them at us and get down. It was so crazy that we, everybody in the house, all the kids immediately started yelling, screaming.
And my mom did not have an idea what was going on because she worked all the time. She didn’t really know what my brothers, what my older siblings were doing, you know what I’m saying? She worked a lot. And anyway, we got down and they just started roughhousing us and my mom was trying to protect me because I was right there with her and she had the hot straightening comb and that’s how they did our hair back then, you know?
So, after that, they like arrest my mom and they picked her up because she’s like trying … so I get up and I run and I go and get the bottle rockets and stuff and I run, I slip outside the front door and you know, they’re attending to all the adults. So me and my other little brother, George, we start lighting them and as they’re bringing them out, we hold them and just them go as soon as they start coming. And it was going l and they thought someone was shooting, so they are like panicking now, you know what I’m saying? They, it’s gotten really serious. So they thought someone had drawn a weapon. Oh, they jerked us up so fast after they had figured it out.
When she was 13 her boyfriend beat her so badly her brother got involved:
“Oh put me in the hospital. I looked like an elephant. He gave me a concussion. Everything… I was in a, didn’t wake up for four days and they couldn’t. I did not wake up. And then when I did, my brother, my mother actually called my brother from Colorado and said your sister is not going to make it. They said she is not going to make it.
And the day that he came I was still out. I didn’t see him, but they said he looked at me and said, ‘Mom, I’m killing him. I’m killing that man. I’m killing him.’ And my mom said, ‘No don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it. She’s going to be okay.” And the only person in my room when I woke up was my mom. And I rolled over and the first thing I said was, “Uhh…” And I touched my face and asked to see… it was horrible. Bandaged, it was the worst thing I had ever seen.
After leaving the hospital her brother murdered her boyfriend:
He did a 7-14 stint and has been out, been out for years. Caught several other charges and everything else yeah. He’s out to this day.…Because of the background and everything. And they had knew that the police would have arrested him. I was a minor, so it was statutory rape cases and my mom had called the cops several times because she had to rescue me from his house, from motel rooms… cause like, he could make me do anything. I was always running from home to be with him and I don’t know why… I was a little puppet.
3 years later Janet committed her own crime by shooting and killing a woman in an alley that came to fight her.
Once in prison J came to terms with her life sentence:
There’s this lady her name was Lauren and I went to her office one day and I asked her a question:
“What does life mean in this prison? Does it mean that after I serve 30 years, I can get parole?” And she actually looked me in my face and said, ‘No, you will die here and if your family or no one claims your body, we will place you in a box, a wooden box, and you will be buried.” And I was like, like, lifeless after that and I just… I’m going to cry.
But I went to my room and just slumped down into the closet and I cried for like hours. And then after that, it was like a little hell razor came out. It was over. I was selling drugs. I would sneak a man. I would do anything, you know what I mean? It was like nothing mattered. It was like I was always under investigation for something whether it was selling narcotics, selling drugs, selling jewelry, contrabands – everything! It was horrible.
Janet Describes solitary for 2 years:
Lucy: So what were those two years… what were those days like? You didn’t see daylight?
Janet: Well, we go to go out, we each go out for an hour a day unless the weather is bad, if you just walk in a hallway. So and the hallway was from the end of this… about well yeah, from this door to that door.
The light back there stays on like all the time. You know what I am saying? And so when I first got back there, it was really hard. Like I, but I really didn’t care, so I would just like lay back there and like I wouldn’t talk to nobody. I’d read books, I’d read the Bible. And during that two years stint is where I found uh, made the realization, “What do you want Janet? Do you want to keep staying back here?”
I mean it was embarrassing honestly because a lot of things that led up, and um the Warden there, the Warden at that time was “X” and he was like the first genuine father figure that I had, that I know. And he put up with so much from me. Like for real, it’s like chance after chance … I would run to him and tell him like when I would be in trouble and he’d be like, “Allow them to do what they’re going to do. I will look into it.”
And I promise you, he, I never was done for. He made sure of it, you know what I’m saying? So when I actually, when he was like, ‘I have given you chance after chance after chance’ — that was his last straw, like he had … he said ‘If you do one more thing, one more thing, you will be confined in segregation for a term, an unending term, for a time that I don’t know. And I did that one thing he locked me up for for real.
After a series of violent relationships with women in prison — During solitary Janet describes praying for a husband:
“All at once I got three offers. And I had started dating the guard here and I loved him…He proposed to me on Christmas Eve…Beautiful princess cut ring that the state took.”
Lucy: A month apart?
Janet: Not even a month apart.
Lucy: How did you meet the man you ended up marrying?
Janet: My husband? I was in visiting meeting my mom, well visiting my mom and he was visiting his then wife.
Lucy: Who was an inmate?
Janet: “Who was an inmate. And I helped her out so much with her time. First time being here and she was being bullied by another inmate and I had a good rapport with that inmate. And I would speak to her like, “Come on don’t do that to her … I mean, the lady is scared, this is her first time regardless of what she’s in here for. She’s scared, don’t treat her like that. Would you like to be treated like that? Come on, Like look, if you need this, I’ll get it for you. You don’t have to do that to her. You know what I’m saying?”
Yeah so the lady like loved me and was like, “Oh my God you’re my savior” and like she just really looked up to me and we weren’t like best friends or nothing but I would help her out. And when I was coming through the door, she was like, “Oh my God, Janet you’re finally here. I want you to meet my husband. I’ve been telling him so much about you.”
So I quickly shook hands with him and said “It’s very nice to meet you — you have a wonderful wife — I wish you guys the best” I gotta go, you know, like I was really happy to see my mom…
Stay tuned for our Memoir to hear more about all of our women!