I was released from the Federal Correction Institution, Tallahassee, one year ago. I was taken to the Greyhound bus station and given a ticket to head home to New York. For the first time in close to a year, I went unescorted to a store to buy a cup of coffee. I didn’t feel free. I felt anxious.
I have been in prison twice. The first time, I was 60 years old, and I was convicted on three felony counts of tax evasion and one count of mail fraud. I was released when my case was overturned as two of the tax charges were deemed legally insufficient based upon the evidence presented by the government. I then went to prison a second time at age 63 when one of the tax evasion charges was retried. Prior to both trials, I was offered plea bargains with no jail time, but I was innocent so I fought the charges.
Prior to my arrest, I worked for decades. I had a home, family, extended family, and friends. And while I was awaiting trial—a period that lasted 12 years—my father was my greatest supporter. He wanted me to be close to family so he offered me an apartment in New Jersey. He supported me financially by covering my health insurance, electric bills, phone, and car payments. But after I moved there, he passed away unexpectedly.
After my father died, I had my apartment but no money. I lost my attorney. I was hungry and would go to Sam’s Club to eat their samples for dinner. And, after I was convicted and went to prison, my apartment was rented out. I had lived there for more than 10 years while I awaited trial following my arrest.
After I lost my first trial, I was sent to a federal prison camp that was difficult for an older person. The prison camp was divided into an upper compound, which contained the housing units, health center, library, chapel, and recreation buildings; and a lower compound, which consisted of the dining hall, laundry, education center, and commissary. The return trip from the lower compound to the housing unit was over a mile and up a steep hill. I had balance problems—on rainy or snowy days I walked slowly because I feared falling. I had to stop every 10 feet or so to catch my breath. The weather—severe heat in the summer and arctic cold in the winter—the terrain, and the physically tough environment of the prison were hard for older women. The stress of surviving was added pressure.
The second time I lost at trial I was sent to a higher security prison in Florida. One physician’s assistant (PA) there was notorious for telling every woman he examined that aches and pains were due to fat. He told me the same thing he told the others, “You are fat. You need to walk on the track and drink water.” Once, one Latina woman went to him complaining of severe stomach pains. He gave her the fat speech and several weeks later she died when her gallbladder burst. When I heard this story, I wrote about it. I sent the story via e-mail for a friend to post on my website. Correctional officers read our e-mails and when they saw an officer was mentioned, I was arrested, handcuffed, and taken to solitary—the Segregated Housing Unit (SHU). The officers told me I was being punished for writing about an officer.