FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Lupe

Pekin Federal Prison, Peoria.

“Two days an’ a wake-up, Ms. Kelly,” sings a prisoner as my out date approaches. In 90 days at Pekin Federal Prison Camp I’ve spun through a revolving door compared with realities experienced by most of the 2.1 million inmates currently housed in US prisons.

A friend sent me an inscription carved over the entrance of a Polish prison. “When you enter here,” it reads, “do not despair. When you leave here, do not rejoice.”

I shared this quote with my co-defendant, Cynthia Brinkman, whom the whole compound calls “My Nun.” (“Where’s my nun?” someone yells. “I need a prayer.” “She’s not your nun,” another argues. “She’s MY nun!”) Cynthia read the inscription, gave me a knowing look, and said, “You’re rejoicing.”

She’s right. I’m ready to leave, and perhaps I’ve had one foot out the door during much of my time here. But I’m also subdued by the realization that by any rational assessment I shouldn’t be the next one out the door–not when many mothers incarcerated with me haven’t seen their children in years. Lupe, for instance.

Yesterday, Lupe was thrilled because I gave her my “TV Day,” which meant uninterrupted access to three hours of Hispanic “soaps.” Later that same afternoon, Lupe came to see me while I was doing laundry. “Look, Kathy, I brought my gang to come and thank you.”

The “Gang” is the sweetest trio of young mothers imaginable. “Are you going to write about us before you go?” asked Lupe, as she and her friends helped me fold laundry. “C’mon, ask me questions.”

Q and A with Lupe brought nervous giggles, tears, and a rush of memories. “They don’t treat you like a person. You’re just a number to them,” she said, recalling her court date in Indianapolis three years ago, when a judge sentenced her to nine years in prison on drug charges. Her supporters had filled the courtroom. Among them was her grandfather, who had traveled all the way from Mexico for the trial. Many people had written letters asserting that Lupe was indeed a good girl, that she had never gotten in trouble before.

“The tough girls, they used to beat me up,” said Lupe, laughing, “because I didn’t do bad things.” It wasn’t until she met and later married her boyfriend that she became involved with drugs. “But the lawyers, the judge–they don’t care about your past life. My public defender didn’t try to help me. He never told me what was going on. I didn’t know what to say or do. And the judge made fun of all the people who came to the sentencing hearing. He said I’d need them more while I was in prison than while we sat in his court.”

Now, with her daughters, Alexandra, aged 5 1/2, and Lizette, 4, living in Mexico, Lupe does need help. She needs someone to bring them to Pekin for a visit. “I miss my daughters so much,” lamented Lupe, who hasn’t seen her girls since July 2001. “It’s driving me crazy.”

Each 15 minute phone call to Mexico costs $8.35. Lupe works hard to earn enough to manage a weekly call. Even though she is the main orderly for our unit, her wages, which have risen from 12 to 20 cents an hour during her confinement, are barely enough to cover this one brief conversation. “I call every Monday, at 1 p.m. Sometimes they forget to have my daughters there,” said Lupe, referring to her in-laws, who are now raising the girls.(Lupe’s husband is himself serving a 27 year sentence.) “I can understand; they’re getting bigger now, doing things. Still, it hurts. I live for that phone call.” The pain in her voice is all too evident. “The other thing that hurts bad–my younger daughter, she doesn’t want to talk to me. The older one says, ‘Mommy, Lizette doesn’t love you, but I do.’ And the older one says, ‘Mommy, I don’t want you to be in prison any more; I want you to come home.’ ”

Each day, Lupe walks between four and six miles on the oval track. “That’s where you can go to think a little more, and to cry,” she says. “I think about what I’ll do when I get out. Everything will be for my daughters. I can’t wait to take them to the Brookfield Zoo, and to the Mexican Day parade.”

“There are so many things I think about. What would it be like to fix their hair, to take them to the park, to make meals for them? I don’t even know my daughters’ favorite colors. I know Alexandra’s favorite song.” Tears spilled down Lupe’s cheeks.

“Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

“When I get out, I’ll think three times before I do anything. I’ll ask myself how it will affect my daughters, our future. Will it help them grow up strong? I want them to grow up strong, not weak, like me.”

I asked Lupe if she really believed she was weak. She flashed her brilliant smile, dark eyes still filled with tears. “No,” she said. “I’m strong.”

Cynthia and the others whom I left behind at Pekin FPC carefully monitor the daily news, looking for updates about legislation that would revive systems of parole for federal inmates (see http://site.fppr.us). Prisoners across the US are also keenly interested in a proposal being considered by the American Bar Association to abolish mandatory minimum sentencing.

“Kathy, tell me the truth,” said Lupe. “Do you think there’s a chance I could go home before my time is up?”

I’ve no idea, but I promised Lupe I would join efforts to reform a system that condemns first time offenders charged with nonviolent crimes to harsh mandatory minimum sentences. As it stands now, Lupe must wait 53 months before she’ll hear “two days an’ a wake-up.”

KATHY KELLY co-coordinates the Voices in the Wilderness campaign. She has completed a three month sentence for protesting at the US army military combat training school in Fort Benning, GA. To contact Lupe or Kathy, write kathy@vitw.org

 

More articles by:

KATHY KELLY co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence and has worked closely with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. She is the author of Other Lands Have Dreams published by CounterPunch / AK Press. She can be reached at: Kathy@vcnv.org 

Weekend Edition
August 17, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Daniel Wolff
The Aretha Dialogue
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump and the Rise of Patriotism 
Joseph Natoli
First Amendment Rights and the Court of Popular Opinion
Andrew Levine
Midterms 2018: What’s There to Hope For?
Robert Hunziker
Hothouse Earth
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Running Out of Fools
Ajamu Baraka
Opposing Bipartisan Warmongering is Defending Human Rights of the Poor and Working Class
Paul Street
Corporate Media: the Enemy of the People
David Macaray
Trump and the Sex Tape
CJ Hopkins
Where Have All the Nazis Gone?
Daniel Falcone
The Future of NATO: an Interview With Richard Falk
Cesar Chelala
The Historic Responsibility of the Catholic Church
Ron Jacobs
The Barbarism of US Immigration Policy
Kenneth Surin
In Shanghai
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
The Military Option Against Venezuela in the “Year of the Americas”
Nancy Kurshan
The Whole World Was Watching: Chicago ’68, Revisited
Robert Fantina
Yemeni and Palestinian Children
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Orcas and Other-Than-Human Grief
Shoshana Fine – Thomas Lindemann
Migrants Deaths: European Democracies and the Right to Not Protect?
Paul Edwards
Totally Irrusianal
Thomas Knapp
Murphy’s Law: Big Tech Must Serve as Censorship Subcontractors
Mark Ashwill
More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells
Ralph Nader
Going Fundamental Eludes Congressional Progressives
Hans-Armin Ohlmann
My Longest Day: How World War II Ended for My Family
Matthew Funke
The Nordic Countries Aren’t Socialist
Daniel Warner
Tiger Woods, Donald Trump and Crime and Punishment
Dave Lindorff
Mainstream Media Hypocrisy on Display
Jeff Cohen
Democrats Gather in Chicago: Elite Party or Party of the People?
Victor Grossman
Stand Up With New Hope in Germany?
Christopher Brauchli
A Family Affair
Jill Richardson
Profiting From Poison
Patrick Bobilin
Moving the Margins
Alison Barros
Dear White American
Celia Bottger
If Ireland Can Reject Fossil Fuels, Your Town Can Too
Ian Scott Horst
Less Voting, More Revolution
Peter Certo
Trump Snubbed McCain, Then the Media Snubbed the Rest of Us
Dan Ritzman
Drilling ANWR: One of Our Last Links to the Wild World is in Danger
Brandon Do
The World and Palestine, Palestine and the World
Chris Wright
An Updated and Improved Marxism
Daryan Rezazad
Iran and the Doomsday Machine
Patrick Bond
Africa’s Pioneering Marxist Political Economist, Samir Amin (1931-2018)
Louis Proyect
Memoir From the Underground
Binoy Kampmark
Meaningless Titles and Liveable Cities: Melbourne Loses to Vienna
Andrew Stewart
Blackkklansman: Spike Lee Delivers a Masterpiece
Elizabeth Lennard
Alan Chadwick in the Budding Grove: Story Summary for a Documentary Film
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail