by Dorothy Maraglino
Homesick in Prison
Every prisoner in this room is suffering from intense homesickness. Contact is essential for us to feel there is a life to go home to. Like these women, I have a family that I used to be a central part of. Now, there are days I wonder if I even cross their mind. Yes, that must seem dramatic, but in here feelings are not always rational. 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 are, 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. It boils down to I am really really homesick and feel judged for feeling this way. I am a prisoner and should be living in a state of remorse and feeling I am getting what I deserved. I have been through victim’s perspective classes and know the consequences of my actions on so many people. The thing is that at the end of the day I am sorry, BUT I still want to be home with my family. Each of us feel homesick and here is a glimpse.
We have a grandmother who misses her grandsons for whom she was devoted. She misses her best friend who was closer than a sister. She misses her dad who was like her best friend. A chance detour to meet with a friend led her to prison. Her 20 year sentence is not the result of a life of crime but the result of a moment’s choice and a missing witness that could prove it was an accident. Now she sits on her bunk and waits for emails that rarely come and pictures or videos that come even less. Her family that never went a day without talking to her can now go a week without reaching out. Her dad and older family have never learned to use jpay email. Her other family loves her but is just “busy”. This grandmother lays feeling alone and aches for the feel of her grandkids in her arms. She rewatches videos to hear the sound of her family that is so removed from her.
A 49 year old lady in the room has been in prison since she was 19 years. She never killed anyone but due to the felony murder rule, she is sentenced to Life Without Parole. She was in prison before cell phones were common, before Microsoft office was distributed, before Starbucks, Amazon, and all other modern life inventions that came in the last 30 years. She has lost her mom, dad, and brother since being in prison. That was all of her immediate family. She rarely ever hears from any extended family. She does not even know which or any of them are alive. She does have a best friend that paroled from here 4 years ago that she misses desperately. She has a chaplain that has stuck by her for 30 years who is aging. Her chaplain is too old and the trip too long for her to visit more than a few times a year before Covid. This prisoner, many would claim that she has nothing in the world, is still really homesick. She is homesick for freedom, friends, and experiences. She never got to be normal or even get a driver’s license and wants a life and to live. Her friends email her but sometimes there are days that due to them being busy or jpay being slow, there are no messages. She aches for that day when 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 those in her life. She is homesick for a life.
For myself, this is my first time in any legal trouble, but I am also sentenced to Life Without Parole although I did not kill anyone. 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 to begin 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. I did not pay attention to what was going on around me and 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. So I sit here in prison while my family is far away and a strange woman I don’t trust raises my daughter. Last night I got an email confirming my mom has Alzheimer’s, my niece had serious complications during childbirth, my nephew is going to be graduating bootcamp, 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. I could not hop on a plane or even hop on a phone. The distance and separation was all consuming. I have a few people who write 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. I feel useless and helpless with my family going through so much. In here, I search for a purpose of fighting to improve conditions and get such a headache, more financial debt for court fees, and backlash for fighting the system. The occasional “Thank You” that I get and my family’s who support and cheer me on, keeps me trying. That purpose is nothing compared to the purpose I lost of being a daughter, sister, friend, and mother. I am homesick for my family and my life.
Each of the other 5 women in this room have their own stories and what they miss. Homesickness is not something you can prepare for or avoid. We are real human beings with lives that we were pulled from or denied. Prison is a hostile and dangerous place. Prison defies humanity and adapting is the only way to survive. The question is only how much you are willing to sacrifice to adapt. Those who had a life that was not filled with crime struggle the most because prison is not considered possible. We just want to find a way to survive and pray for that miracle that is a parole date. On paper, it may be hopeless but hope is all we have and we must use it to balance the homesickness that we carry daily.
Dorothy Maraglino is a powerful writer who draws from her personal experience with incarceration to produce stories that she hopes will resonate with others and inspire change. This is the second part of a guest blog series by Dorothy. The first post can be viewed here. The third and fourth installments are forthcoming.