||August 30, 2005
Did you know more women are going to prison today more than ever? The growth in women in prison has grown by 800% within the last 20 years in the U.S. and 59% within California in 10 years and continues to excel. Maybe you've been behind the walls or someone you know? Or maybe you just want to learn more about women in prison? Regardless of the situation, TIME ON THE INSIDE, Behind the Walls In A Maximum Security Women's Prison From An Insider's View ” calls attention to “Why more women and youth are going to prison today more than ever”— "What really happens daily behind the walls" —“Why the Penal System promotes comfortability rather than rehabilitation”—“Why inmate deaths occur often”—“Why it’s important for society to care about prisoner's rights” — “Why compassion is so important”— "How does one stay from doing Time On The Inside and "How to restore your life if you have/haven't been behind the walls".
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Recently there has been much media coverage in relations to the California Penal System and the problems that have been in existence for many years. These problems have caused the jails and prisons to become a breeding ground for drugs, sex, violence, deaths and comfortability where a number of individuals have fallen victim too and have conformed too institutionalism as a means and way of life.
There has been a great deal of coverage on incarcerated men and the animalistic conditions they are faced with daily which gives society a belief that this is the way for anyone who becomes a part of this world; however there is another side to this system — women, as their world has an existence of its own that can leave a newcomer that is sentenced to a maximum security prison for a minor crime, feeling as though it isn't as bad as the penal system has made it out to be, which is a new threat in itself.
Women in Prison: A Growing Trend.
Waking up to the sounds of Marvin Gaye—it’s been a good restless night. 6:00 am the sun is rising—you can smell the fresh taste of coffee in the air—for a moment you lose yourself and forget the reality—then it all comes back as soon as you hear—“Good morning ladies, this is your first wake-up call”—It’s 0600 hours—why in the hell do they use military time? “Rise and Shine” thirty minutes till chow. Oh no, the dream is over. Damn—I’m really in Prison, The Penn, The Big house. Hell, who’d thought I’d be here.
It’s been over 10 years and I can still remember faintly the time I came to the Penn in 1993. I can remember the wonderful dreams, nightmares, fears, loneliness, sadness and depression just wanting to be at home starting my life over again. I often wondered why I took the wrong road—didn’t listen—why life dealt me this hand or did I just play the wrong cards? More than ten years and I remember it all as if it were the very first day I arrived. Yes, I remember the mornings of music and coffee as I awakened from another night of great dreaming, followed by tears. No more tears God, please. I just want to go home. Not a chance. It would be 2 1/2 years and I’ve been told time really goes by slow in here for some of us. As I awake, almost daily reflections of coming here continuously go through my mind.
Arriving at CCWF in Chowchilla, California—Madera County wasn’t easy. Being scared, nervous, not knowing what to expect, you can only do one thing and that’s pray. Pray that you get through this whole ordeal, that time will go by fast, that you’ll have no problems and when you get a moment to yourself, which is virtually never, cry a river because the sooner you do it the better. Get it all out of your system quickly. Why? Because you have to be strong, you have to hold on so no one will punk you, so you can peep game, because you’re in the system now—a place not to show you weakness, a place where before you leave you hope not to run into any problems or loose your identity—a place where you don’t fall victim to this world of it’s own, but chances of that are very slim. Why? Because someone just won’t like you. They don’t need a reason. This is the Penn, a place where you wakeup each day to thousands of women, more than what the prison was intended for.
Each day you see some of every kind of woman. Black, White, Latino, Asian, Indian and a few other ethnicities. There is no age discrimination, no separatism. You see our youth, fresh out of Youth Authority—YA, all the way to somebody’s grandma here in prison at seventy-five years old. Damn, what the hell is wrong with this society, have we all gone mad? What the hell is somebody old enough to be my grandmother doing in a place like this? She told me it was because she kept stealing food from the supermarket because she never had enough money or food to last her. When she was caught the last time she had two packages of steaks and the judge said since she was arrested a few times, he would send her to prison—and that’s what he did. Now yes she should have been reprimanded for her crimes; however couldn’t the system give her something lesser and find out her needs so she could stop stealing? I’m not talking about the system being bias to individuals in a certain class because if you do the crime, be prepared for some time but locking someone up is not always the answer. There are underlying conditions that must be addressed or that individual will come out as the same person that went in.
When you’re doing time on the inside, you aren’t separated. Everyone is put together whether they’re a newbie—fish, old-timer or lifer. That’s right, your bunkie could be someone that shot, stabbed or killed someone. They don’t care. Everyone is the same when you come through that gate except a dead man—in this case woman, walking, with the term “Make a hole” as this is a Death Row inmate and they’re in a world of their own. You’re considered a number; a criminal, an inmate who’s worthless and you’re treated like a piece of trash by some of the CO’s from the moment you step off the bus.
You have some of every crime and you’re exposed to many different types of women in the system. Some are beat down, worn out, angry, confrontational, tired, depressed, sick, timid, naive, scared and suicidal. There are also some that are extremely quiet—a time bomb waiting to explode, murderers, drug dealers, gang members, rapist, racist, prostitutes, thieves, white-collar criminals, lesbians, semi-lesbians which are wannabe’s, and of course the curious ones figuring since they’re in prison and have possibly wanted to indulge, what a perfect time and excuse to do so. Understand that there are many different personalities that you eat, sleep, shit, shower and work with daily. Women of different social and economic backgrounds of life from the lower to upper class, as society puts it but none of this matters because you’re in a whole new world, a new zone—the Twilight Zone as some would call it, a world in itself; however through it all you have to try and survive, try and keep the peace, try to stay alive. But you have to be strong, unless you want people to run over you or kick your ass. So prepare to stand your own ground, don’t back down to any situations that you know you’re going to have to prove yourself and most likely thy will occur, and handle your business because I’ve always said, “I may get my ass kicked, but I’m not going down without a good fight.” I’m not going to let anyone or tell myself I got a beat down without defending myself or die knowing that I didn’t try to survive.
So stand tall, stand firm and hopefully you’ll survive but damn, to alleviate all this, don’t come here and you won’t wind up dealing with all this bull-crap. For all of you who keep coming back into it, well you already know just what I mean.
Ladies, it’s important for you to get wise, strong and seek help so you can stay out and not have to wonder when the nightmare of being institutionalized will begin and end as you ride to the Penn.
Convict-turned-author is making up for her time on the inside
Donna Ann Smith, a white-collar felon, tells of life behind bars in "Time On The Inside: Behind the Walls In A Maximum Security Women's Prison."
By John Bogert
Donna Ann Smith Marshall is a beautifully turned-out, soft-eyed woman of 40. A happily married mother of four, she runs an upstart publishing company out of her Carson home and has just printed her very first book, one that she also happened to write.
None of this is terribly unusual in a town where every other person I hear from is an author. What's unusual is Donna Ann writing about her prison years in Time On The Inside: Behind The Walls In A Maximum Security Women's Prison.
Donna Ann is the real thing, a white-collar felon who used her natural intellect for all the wrong things. But first I had to get past the mom-next-door looks. No hard edges here, just a history, a wrong turn taken when she got pregnant at 15, leaving behind school and dreams of being a lawyer. "I decided to get ahead by not being honest," said Donna Ann, who got a federal job in L.A. by falsifying an application. This was 1986 and why shouldn't they believe a bright-eyed 19-year-old claiming to have a college degree? She did OK, too, working hard and kiting checks from one bad bank account to another because, she discovered, if you dress nicely and smile you can get away with far too much. "My teachers always told me that I was going to be somebody," she said. "Then the elements of darkness took me down another road. I tried to keep up with the other kids and if that meant stealing that's what I'd do." She was finally caught during a Carson mall spending spree. "In Sybil Brand for three months I was exposed to the whole degrading process, being locked in a small room with 75 women, with one toilet, limited paper and cavity searches. It was a jungle. Still, I wasn't angry at society for putting people like me in jail. I was mad because there was no rehab. This was a school for criminals. There was no help for the problems inside or out," said Donna Ann, touching on the theme that now guides her life.
Soon enough she was out, then back in, unreformed. Bailed out, she went underground until she was caught and sentenced in 1991 to 2˝ years in the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, the big house. Only here's where the story diverges. In her book she deals with the weirdness of prison sex and all that. But she also mentions something I've heard before, that women on the inside behave differently than men. "It was a tough place," said this now highly religious wife of an MTA worker. "But it was also a comfortable place. Women don't behave like animals. You put eight men in a room and somebody gets hurt. Do that with women and we mostly get along. There's a real comfort level on the inside, a kind of family. All the societal pressure is gone."
Then one day they hand you $200 gate money and it's back to the real family, to the bad neighborhoods and everything that put you inside in the first place.
"Women come out with no support and nowhere to find help. I was lucky, I had family and church. I also came out knowing that I had to find a job," said this woman who now counsels in jails and prisons. And she did, working her way up in a health care organization, then starting her one-woman publishing house, taking on the daunting process that got her new book onto Amazon.com and into Borders, Target and all the others. It is also available directly at www.fmapublishing.com.
The work itself is a fascinating account of a young woman's fall and redemption despite years spent in a ruinously expensive prison system that does, in her view, little to reform anyone.
"I wanted to write a message of hope," she said. "When I went in I was convinced that I wasn't like the others. I was white-collar and smart. But I was humbled. I learned that we are all human beings who need faith and compassion to survive. More than that, we are all obliged to help one another so we can say at the end of our days that we made a difference."
I'd say that she is doing just that.
On the inside
Unless you have actually experienced being behind bars, you do not truly know nor understand the daily interactions of prison life. This "Insider's View" of a Maximum Security Women's Prison delves into the life of author Donna Ann Smith-Marshall as she rehashes the almost beastly way she was treated on the inside. What should have been rehabilitation ended up being cruel-like punishment.
Being a hardworking professional, Mrs. Smith-Marshall managed to get herself in trouble and leave her young children virtually motherless while she paid for her crime. Undergoing a lengthy process, she was finally on the "inside." Being ridiculed with embarrassing searches of her body and verbally abused by emotionless guards, she realized that her life would never be the same. While watching others go through emotion after emotion, she soon could not keep hers in check and fell prey to the ideals and options of prison life.
Admittingly Mrs. Smith-Marshall understands that she must pay for her mistakes, she wants us as readers to understand and stand up for women dealing with life on the inside. Though I liked the concept of the book, it felt more like a biography and not the novel that I was looking for.
Reviewed by: LaDonna
OOSA Online Book Club "O.O.S.A." (World Wide Web, USA)
This is an Awesome Book and Speaker
If you cannot find compassion in your heart for Mrs. Smith after reading her story, you will not be able to have compassion on your child, your sister, or your mother, any of whom could easily be staring at the steps of a prison door. It takes just one slip-up. It's easy-not hard-to get there. The book points out that the penal system does not actively pursue rehabilitation. After reading "TIME ON THE INSIDE: Behind the Walls in a Maximum Security Women's Prison from an Insider's View," I cried. I became depressed for a quick moment, then I decided to do something constructive about it and bring it to the public's attention, and that is when I began to write. And so I did my part. Now it's up to the media to raise public awareness of this cancer that is slowly destroying families. This is a cry for help! Help, somebody-anybody-everybody-help! Prison may be closer to your house and your family than you think.
Dr. Rosie Milligan, counselor, lecturer, publisher and author Milligan Books
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Reader Reviews for "Time On The Inside"
|Reviewed by Agnes Levine
What a wonderful excerpt on a very good topic. There is always so much news about men in prison, it is very interesting to learn about a female prisoner. God Blessings to you for taking a negative situation and turning it into something great and positive as an inspiration.
I am looking forward to reading this book over the summer. Thank you for sharing and keep up the good work.