Interview with Joann Franklin
Carolyn Watson: And you are?
JoAnn Franklin: JoAnn Franklin better known as Penny.
C.W.: Hi Penny. We’re here to talk about your experiences. Starting with your childhood. Would you tell me a little about your childhood?
J.F.: Well, growing up with my mother and my grandmother, I was back and forth. At each one. So like, my mother had difficulties with us. She would lose us at a time. Then my grandmother would pick us. I would mostly remember staying with my grandmother. I guess because there were good times. And then staying with my mother she always had hard times. So coming up in a situation like that, you know, and right today I call my grandmother mama. And my mother is still mama, you know. So coming up like that, you know, I guess it kinda build me up to prepare me for the world today. Even though I had a little detour or what not, going to the prison system, you know lead me up to - I finished school.
C.W.: Hold on you goin kind of fast for me. Let me back track a little bit. Tell me about growing up. You were the oldest of how many children?
J.F.: Growing up for the longest time it was about just four of us. And then, what… I guess somewhere between there my mother started becoming pregnant again. And we had three more. So there’s really seven of us. I am the oldest. They all looked upon me to do - carry on certain things, to take charge you know, because my mother is an alcoholic. She still drinks today. Which hurts me. Um - my sister and them were not - they have children or what not, one got eight children - my baby sister’s got eight children. When she’s not able to properly take care of -
C.W.: Why is that?
J.F.: I think she’s having them too fast, you know. And she’s not givin her time - self to breath. There stair step kids, you know. The oldest is nine. The youngest about three months.
C.W.: Does she have any substance abuse problems?
J.F.: She don’t have substance abuse problems.
C.W.: She doesn’t. So she’s just psychologically having problems with all these children.
J.F.: All these children. And it’s - don’t seem like she’s grabbing hold to exactly what she’s doing. She just wanna have children. I believe, well she’s not admitting. But you can see that she just wanna have children.
C.W.: So is she lookin for love?
J.F.: I’m kinda thinking that she looking for it in the wrong places. Looking for it in the wrong way. I don’t know how to - I don’t wanna judge her - I’m trying to talk to her, you know this and that. Tryin to see how she sees things. But you can not get to her. It’s like - I was with her when she had this last baby and the baby was born breach. And, I told her, I said, “Carrietta, make sure you sign the papers to have your tubes tied.” “He didn’t bring the papers.” What you mean?
C.W.: We’re kinda getting off track. You went to prison. At what age did you go to prison?
J.F.: I was thirty-two years old.
C.W.: Had you ever been in trouble with the law prior to that?
J.F.: Um… most of my problems would probably be domestic violence. Where as I didn’t think…. was - each time whether or not that I would call the police about me getting to a fight with another guy in these different relationships that I was in. The police would always arrest me. That’s why when you asked me before was it domestic violence or what not, I didn’t know exactly how to define that because it seemed like each and every time I would get arrested instead of them getting arrested. And I had my brother call the police one time, but he wouldn’t call because he seen two of the guys because they end up appears to be hurt and I didn’t. Said that if he would of called the police I would have been arrested.
C.W.:Yeah, I remember having this discussion with you, when I did this questionnaire and I asked you were you a victim of domestic violence and you told me no.
J.F.: ‘Cuz I couldn’t I didn’t know how to define domestic violence. By them arresting me all the time, I - They never got arrested, I don’t care - You know, I threw hot water on people, burn em severely. Uh.. I probably took a bottle and bust their heads. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t gonna let you hurt me.
C.W.: Well let me ask you this. Did you drink or use drugs?
J.F.: Very much so. Very much so. I took my first marijuana hit at age 12. I started smoking at 12. When I first bought my pack of cigarettes it was like - cigarettes cost about 35 cents. So up until then. I say, I had went through school, graduated from high school. I was around a lot of drug users. Shootin this and that and what not. I end up shootin drugs for them. You know giving them shots. I wasn’t doin it. Just givin them shots, and what not givin the shot. I graduate from a nurse to a doctor from a doctor to an expert and umm… later on, that’s about when I was about 21, I started getting - drinking alcohol. I went from drinking a little bit of alcohol with the rest fill up with pop and then it started vice versa where now there’s more alcohol less pop to no pop at all. Then I was uh - got hooked on herion. Just tootin or what not. I got hooked up with this guy who was a dealer.
Find out that I help him break his habit same time I caught a habit. When I realized I was catching a habit. I let it go and let him go too. Then that was just for a little while. I was soon to go back to into doin her’on, but not to get hooked. And then I was also introduced to cocaine. Where as I learned how to do speedballs and everything else. I started getting involved with pills: T’s and blues… valiums. I liked the down high or what not. Nothing to make me speed something down to keep me. So I was fine, you know doin this for a good while. Then all of a sudden I got into a relationship. I moved out of my old neighborhood which I was over 20 years. I started moving to other neighborhoods. I got hooked up with one guy. And they were some like territorial guys because they wanted to move out their neighborhood, they wanted to leave the neighborhood. They had a thing about staying in one neighborhood. You couldn’t go over here to this next block or to this. or not. Which I wasn’t used to. Now it’s like that for five years. The guy died. He fell out the window. And I got hooked on cocaine. Smokin. I started runnin smoke houses. I didn’t have to buy cocaine because most of the drug dealers came to my house and gave me drugs to test. That I would be they main person to tell they customers where to go to to buy drugs. Therefore I didn’t have to -
C.W: Spend money
J.F.: Um hmm.
C.W.: So you were a drug user and I wanna ask did the drinkin stick with you more then the drugs? Because I’m trying to come up to what you went to prison for. What was that?
J.F.: I went to prison for drugs. Using drugs. I blame it on drugs because the alcohol - it was less alcohol. Alcohol wasn’t nothin but sometimes if you didn’t have the drugs you could just drink the alcohol just to cool your nerves down. You know the shakes or whatever. That’s all the alcohol was good for. Which wasn’t nothing but a dollar wine you know something like that. That was fine you know, but then when this guy died, I immediately went to cocaine. I found myself- I was shootin. I was shootin. I wasn’t no heavy shooter. I only did it just to nit pick at the shooters. Because they wouldn’t give me nothing so I could cook and smoke on my own, so in order for me to get some I had to shoot em. But the minute I saw myself coming up. I would stop immediately. I guess you’d call me a chicken, a chicken shooter. After the guy had died I was strongly into just smoking. I would just smoke it. One time I found myself. I had just stopped paying my bills. You know electric bills, gas bill, my lights had went out. I was using electricity from the hallway for the house. I’m sitting up there in the dark on my sun porch, or what not, getting light from, which you call it, from the streetlight, shooting drugs, telling the lord, “Please help me. I do not want to go this road.” It was about a couple years later; I ended up in prison.
C.W: And what did you do? What precipitated you going to prison?
J.F.: Me and this other guy that I had gotten involved - we was about to get married. Um… we were getting high, I do believe, I can’t remember everything too clearly. We were getting high. Something had happened, I think he got mad. He messed up the drugs or something and threw it on the floor. Now whatever it was I was about to get some more, I had the money to go get some more. I had a very bad temper- I mean super bad temper. You just couldn’t say anything to me and you could not just put your hands on me and expect everything to be okay. It didn’t work that way with me. Drinking or this and that. Would ‘specially tic me off or what not. So when he threw the drugs on the floor and I was about to get some more, he grabbed me. I said, “Let me go.” He didn’t let me go. We’re in the kitchen and that’s the most dangerous spot for a women to get into a fight. I’m right there in my kitchen and the first thing I grab is a knife. And I just stabbed him. I aimed as his chest, but I just hit his throat and that was it. I think I blanked out or what not and I don’t know what happened, but that’s how I ended up in prison.
C.W.: Charged with?
J.F.: Murder. First degree murder.
J.F.: 20 years they gave me. To do my sentence was 20 years.
C.W.: Repeat age, what you were charged with and what you were charged with.
J.F.: I was at the age of 32 when I was arrested for murder in the first degree. I went there and alcohol was the trigger, the drugs was the trigger problem that took me there. Uh…murdered my fiance. Uh… they gave me 20 years life sentence which I only did 10. Um… and in prison -
C.W.: Hold on. Now it’s obvious to me and I’m just a lay person, that you had a problem. A substance abuse problem, a domestic violence problem. If you’re fighting. That’s accidental murder. It’s that different. You know, did they counsel you? Or were you just guilty and went to prison?
J.F.: When I went to prison I read the laws and I made them look up the laws about this. Even though they knew, the state’s attorney, the defending attorney, whatever, the public defender, that’s who they are. They knew that the fight arrived from the argument they knew it was a fight. But still, they - it wasn’t self defense to them to a certain degree it wasn’t not. It wasn’t just plain murder to them. And they knew they actually knew that we had a fight. They knew that we both were high. They took blood samples and found out how much alcohol and how much drugs was in our systems. This they knew, this they admit. It’s in my sentence. My statements of facts or what not. They’ve got all that. But I still was charged with first degree, capital M, murder. And so the law it don’t really work for you. You know.
C.W.: For women?
J.F.: For women.
C.W.: Is it biased for women, black women? In your experiences in seeing women come in and out of the prison?
J.F.: During that time my incarcerated years. I found out there’s no - they’re very strongly going after women it doesn’t - it didn’t matter, you know they wanted the women ‘cuz the men I think was getting a little leverage or what not. They were uh… they had gained knowledge about the law or what not. The men had, but the women had not. So therefor they could railroad any women into any damn shift of anywhere. And expect the women to do this or do that or what not regardless of what was supposed to be right or a women’s right to do anything. They ignored all things until some women, very few women knew exactly what to do or what was right. And those they kept away from the population.
C.W.: So the IDOC. Let’s say I came in knowledgeable they would segregate me.
J.F.: Oh yeah, you wouldn’t stay in general population long at all. As a matter of fact, you would be shipped to another - if you was - if you was found to be in the law office and law library and you was came up with something that would help the women and was telling the women this - you would be shipped. Probably during the midnight hour. You would be gone.
C.W.: So lets go through your prison experience. So you’re 32. This is your first incarceration?
C.W.: You’re into Dwight?
J.F.: I was into Dwight. It was just scary to me. When I got there, you know It was a bunch of lesbians down there and it’s like the COs they were for it, you know.
C.W.: What’s a C.O.?
J.F.: A correctional officer. In they green suits. They were for women lovers. Loving each other or what not.
C.W.: They encouraged it?
J.F.: Yes they did. They really did. They would sit back and joke. They would see one women these suppose to be affairs or what not going on and one would get mad at the other and they would actually see this person slap or beat this other person and they would stand back and watch and talk about it. It wasn’t no big thing to them. They would allow these women to sit on top of each other, kiss each other, you know this or that. When I seen that I said, “This is not for me.” I didn’t think I could make it. I honestly said to myself I can’t do no ten years like this. I had to find a church. And it seemed like it took me about two or three weeks to find a church. I found a catholic church first or what not before I found a protestant church.
C.W.: So, coming in that was your…
J.F.: They ask you first when you come in or what not to the inmates or what not, “Are you gay? Are you a lesbian?” You know. It’s like oh my goodness.
C.W.: So when you came, that was in ninety what?
J.F.: Into Dwight, that was in 1990.
C.W.: 1990. So the lesbian, homosexual relationships, that was a big thing?
J.F.: Yeah, that was it. That was the main thing.
C.W.: So that sent you to church?
C.W.: Not the murder.
J.F.: Not the murder. I couldn’t do no ten years… you know I believe very strongly even though I was in a church that you become what you hang around with. So hang around with all that and what not. Ain’t no way a woman was going to put her hand on me like a man is supposed to do.
C.W.: So that was the problem back in nineties. Tell us about your experiences in prison and transformation.
J.F.: During the Dwight, Igot saved I learned how to read bible, I studied very hard, got in school. I started to re-focusing on what I wanted my life to be. Prior to thinking all this when I had a friend I was very close to, her name is a Tee she is one of females I was hang around. We always talked about “getting high, getting high”, and she said “Penny, when you come home, I got that big godfather for you. I’ll let you know this and that. when I got to say, I had to call her and say you know all those godfather hits you had saved for me. I’m going to have to leave that alone. I think you are going to have to come to this side if you want us to be together. I was just strictly for the Lord. From then I was just street I got transfer from Dwight in May of 1991, I got transfer to Dixon which was whole lot better, but the lesbian stuff was still there, I think it was even more so in Dixon cause they were easily accessible, you know.
C.W.: I don’t know. Tell me how it is so accessible.
J.F.: It was like, in the Dwight, you had guards standing over you, and you couldn’t go in each other’s room. Dixon it is free floor you can do anything, you could go inside of room and somebody close, in Dixon you are able to go in and out. And in Dwight you had no privilege like that. In Dixon you were able to go in and out the doors you wanted too, outside the yard and come back in when you got ready too. It was freedom in there to me it was just little Chicago. I called it little Chicago because you could come out, you could knock on this window you could get reefer, you could knock on the next window you could get cocaine, and you could knock on the next window and get some heroin.
C.W.: And this is in prison?
J.F.: Oh yeah and you could get, I’ll show you how much it’s like to Chicago for me that they broke into the commissary, I said this ain’t nothing but a little Chicago, they actually broke into the commissary stealing the TVs. You know the zu zu’s and wa wa’s.
C.W.: What zu zu and wa wa?
J.F.: zu zu and wa wa is what we call candy and potato chips, and all this stuff that’s eatable, something to snack on.
C.W.: So you’re in prison and you do a year at Dwight, and you done get shipped to Dixon, which is a prison that is really a lot of freedom.
J.F.: Was a whole lot of freedom.
C.W.: So are correctional officers are they messing with the females more on a man/woman sexual thing?
J.F.: Not in Dixon, for the fact that the women there had a relationship with the men across the fence, and therefore the officer was kind of skeptical, this is my opinion, on messing with the women over there because of the guys that were there. They didn’t take no stuff from the officers. Where as in Dwight, you had the officers messing with the females, but they didn’t have nobody to challenge them. And I think they were messing with the ones in MHU most of the time. In Dixon if an officer called a woman a whore, he had that guy over the fence to answer to. And the guys over the fence didn’t care what you did to them, so they were very respectable when it came to the women over there. They had to be, because the guys over there was very challenging for them. The only thing that was probably hurtful to the women was the female officers. When the females came into to Dixon the men stop giving them attention, and they were giving it to the women of there kind.
J.F.: Inmate/inmate that’s right. So it kind of shift and the female officer didn’t like that.
C.W.: Did you have a relationship in prison?
J.F.: Yes I did. I had two or three of them.
C.W.: And these are men that you met?
J.F.: I met in prison as a matter of fact, a couple of weeks after I got there I met a guy Jeff Mohr, they allowed me to participate in graduation. Because I was supposed to graduate in Dwight, where as I was shipped before and they asked me to be in the graduation there in Dixon. And I met these guys the Gospel Messengers about six of them. They are very spiritual guys. I met this guy named Jeff he was one of the Gospel Messengers and we had a relationship.
C.W.: He was an inmate?
J.F.: Yes, he was.
C.W.: And he was also in the Gospel Messengers?
J.F.: Yes, he was a Gospel Messenger.
C.W.: So did you have any positive experiences in prison as far as going to school and working?
J.F.: Very very much so. The guys, they encouraged the women to go to school, to learn about the law, as a matter of fact they would help some of the women as far as they cases were concern, that was at that time they could do this the men were the law librarians, and they could help the women. I stayed in school where I graduated with two degrees.
C.W.: And they are, from where?
J.F.: I graduated from Louis University my A.A.S. and my A.A. degree, I got both of them and majored in secretary and sciences. Also I picked up a trade, which I already knew how to sew, I saw the industry and I stayed so long I think about seven years in industry, I learned how to better my skills in sewing, I picked up a few skills there. Also went to a bunch of the little side classes they had, they had classes like substance abuse, drug/alcohol abuse, I participated in practically every program there was, even programs the subculture committee. I tried my best to stay busy I stayed in school, even though they tried to kick me out I still stayed in school.
C.W.: So you came in terms with your substance abuse, you dealt with that?
J.F.: Yes, that was one of my greatest desires to God, was to remove all alcohol, drug abuse, all drug, anything that I had desired before prior to coming to prison. I wanted that removed including the men, the sex and everything. I had a strong desire for sex, I would have sex three or four times in a day. I wanted God to remove all of this, I wanted to be with just one man when I got out of prison. And I thank God that he’s true to his word, cause everything that I asked him to remove from me and to keep me he has done that.
C.W.: Can you talk about the relationships you formed in prison, I understand that you have a ministry with your husband, did that start while you were in prison?
J.F.: No, that’s strange, me and my husband which his name is Danny Franklin but we call him Bones, we had no relationship in the prison system, we was just friends, each one of the guys that I dealt with was his roommates. Well, two of them were his roommates. When he got out in ‘97, he started this ministry which we in now “Reaching Back Prison Ministry.” Where as we try to help the inmate that are coming out to help them find jobs. We cannot find jobs on our own, we help them find a job where their criminal history would not be a problem to them, to be there for support for them, we also have a writing ministry where I write to everyone we left in there, the ones that want to receive a letter a write to them.
C.W.: What’s the average amount of letters sent?
J.F.: 50 - 75.
C.W.: And I understand you have a phone ministry.
J.F.: A phone ministry too, where as I would accept their calls if there not too many, I do my best to be here and to assist, me and my husband have moved here it’s like I have a very busy schedule and I’m not here when the calls come in, because I think now at Dixon lock up is at 9:15pm. And I don’t make it home till 9:30pm or 9:00pm.
C.W.: So prior to this you had a phone ministry, tell us about that, you were receiving?
J.F.: I was receiving all the calls from inmates that had problems and wanted me to do anything for them , I would do what I could for them, talk to their family members and get in contact with them. And encourage them to get on the bus. We also have a bus ministry where we take the family members out there to see them. Encourage their family to see them, and that’s what we’re about keeping the families together. Cause it’s very hard, once you’re in prison your family seems to back away. The family is the key connection for the people that are in the inside.
Salome Chasnoff: I wanted to ask you according to statistics like men get a whole lot of visitations than women do, where the men can get the visiting filled, some women get one, two, or none a year. Can you talk about that?
J.F.: Well, we had some women that never got any visits from their families. The reasons can be various, I don’t know what they has been done to their family, or somebody has been in prison too many times. This is their reason and what they say they have done so much dirt to their family that their families don’t want nothing to do with them. Then you have those that have been into prison too many times, recidivism is very high, and I was there for ten years, and I seen one girl did ten years and go back and forth. One girl has been there ten times since I’ve been there. And each time they come they expect, I don’t know what they expect, I don’t know what the main attraction in prison is, and it get worser and worser, you make it worser. I mean why you keep coming back if you know it’s worst. My main goal was to get out and stay out.
C.W.: You didn’t answer/understand her question. Do the men receive more visits than the women?
J.F.: I don’t believe so, in Dixon it was a lot more men there then the women. In Dwight the women got visits a whole lot. So you compare the women in Dixon and what not there’s really no comparison because there was we only had a little small corner where as they had the whole population.
C.W.: You have to explain how many were in ours?
J.F.: We had four units like they got.
C.W.: Four units housing 200 women.
J.F.: We were 390 we grew to 390 where as the whole population was 20 with 2000. So you got just close to 400 women, and about 1600 men there, and so therefore it wouldn’t look like the women got a lot of visits, but they did get their visits. It was just a lot of men you couldn’t really put no statistics on them.
C.W.: Let’s talk about your family, you have children?
J.F.: I have two, a son that’s 28 and a daughter that’s 20.
C.W.: So when you went to prison they were how old?
J.F.: My son was 15 and my daughter was 7,it hurted me to leave my daughter, my son I had rooted him even though he didn’t stick to it, he thought that he was home free, when he turned 18 he ended up in prison himself. So he did I think 3 1/2 years I think it was. The day he said he was going to stop going to school was the day he went to prison, cause he thought he was grown.
C.W.: How was your parenting from prison with your children?
J.F.: It was hard cause my daughter got shifted from her father’s house to my brother’s house, from my brother’s house to my grandmother who raised me, no it was another grandmother on her daddy’s side was trying to raise her too. And I think what happened there, when she went over there she sent my daughter back to my grandmother saying that this child don’t like this and that, and the way she look at me. And what she was saying to my grandmother, my daughter only did that if you were talking about her momma. So she was saying something about me and my daughter didn’t like that, and my daughter was trying to keep her respect by keeping her mouth shut. So she did right by sending her to my grandmother, but it was sad to leave cause I missed her important years, her teenage years, her turning 13, her coming on her menstruation, for me to talk to her, talk to boys. She’s got into a lot of things that she hush hush about, that don’t nobody know what was going through her mind. I feel that during these years all these gang bangers these girl gang bangers and guys they were forcing her to do things and she wasn’t saying nothing about it. By me being a child of molestation myself I’d seen the signs when I got out. When I tried to talk to her I’d seen it, she didn’t have to say anything. I know from what I went through when I was a little girl. I was molested when I was in first or second grade by my auntie’s boyfriend. And I’m seeing this when she is about 12 or 13 years old, my grandmother start telling me how she leave and don’t come back, no this and that, I don’t know, and that’s how I seen it.
C.W.: So it’s a cycle, we were molested, our children are molested.
J.F.: But I’m saying my child molested, it could’ve been avoided some kind of way. I could’ve been there to talk to her. Even though she said things happened and she just gave it to them. No, it was a force, any time you got two or three more people it’s a force. That’s a force. I didn’t have no two or three people on me but it was an elder person, an adult. That’s a force, somehow I feel that if I could’ve been there I could’ve talk to her told her she didn’t have to do such things. Cause growing up when I was growing up somebody warned us about person being a gang banger in my family. My mother would come out there ain’t no gang members in our family, ain’t nobody going to be a gang member, you ain’t gotta do this and you ain’t gotta do that, and that’s same thing I would’ve told my daughter. You ain’t got to, ain’t nobody going to make you.
C.W.: While you were incarcerated did you see female gangs?
J.F.: I heard about them, yeah I did, yeah I did, cause I called them the old 40 year old gang.
C.W.: What’s the old 40?
J.F.: It was these women were 40 years old, almost 40 years old, had a few of them that were over forty trying to tell these young women what to do and what not. That they were a gang, all of you all need to sit your old selves down- the over the hill gang. That’s what they were over the hill.
C.W.: So it’s not a gang problem basically.
J.F.: No, yeah it was because if you said something to one you had to fight five or six of them. Because I had gotten into a situation where is I found myself surrounded by them and someone outside the door said to watch for the police and the C.O. to call the offense, they was going to watch to see that the police don’t come in. Because I had a mouth to say what I wanted to say, and weren’t nobody going to stop me. It was like I was in a room and this girl named Doll she was the big thing and she let everybody come in holler out the window. When she left ain’t no more of that going on, no none of you all are coming in here. Where’s Penny? I’m right here you’re not hollering out the window.
C.W.: Oh so what you’re saying is that your window was adjacent to the men and they would holler across and your roommate was in a gang?
J.F.: Then yes, the ones that were there but before, my roommate wasn’t in a gang what it was was that the guy was coming there to see this Doll person, and she would allow them to use the window, but when she left the gang still wanted to come, and I said no. They was all big and you know how small I am, but you ain’t going to run over my house, I had to be here some years. Regardless if you don’t want to say that’s your home, it’s your home temporarily. It’s your home and you not going to come into my house and do what you want to do, point blank.
C.W.: So you took a stand?
J.F.: Oh yeah.
C.W.: So you’re saying the gangs are visible and functional?
J.F.: They tend to even rape, they pick on the meat, so they say, they rape which I don’t understand how they allow that to happen. For you to make a person to go down on you or something I could never understand that, cause me to make me go down, you wouldn’t have no clitoris, you’ll be gone I guarantee you.
C.W.: So you saying you would use violence?
J.F.: Hey, they used violence.
C.W.: Would you repeat that about comparing how the women are treated and how the men are treated?
J.F.: It’s just the just the men, they’re units were much cleaner and they got whatever they wanted done. They got did whatever they want they got did and what not. As far as their health, as far as their cleaning, their sanitary, and everything they got done what not. The women complain, complain, and complain and we could not get nothing done. If they didn’t have doctors there and decent for the women we had to go all the way to the Dwight. If the woman - if a female got sick or got hurt and the man did too at the same time they go to the same hospital what not, they would wait on the man first because it was a man’s prison. The women would have to wait until all the men were treated before the women got treated, and that’s the way the system works out there in Dixon. Everything was for the men, we were um… we could not walk on the sidewalks because the sidewalks was for the men, we had to walk on the dirt road in the street what not. We couldn’t… what was that? We had to sit in certain places or what not in the auditorium or what not and everything that we did in Dixon revolved around the men what not.
They had first choice they got the best of everything. It’s like, especially when it came to feeding and what not; they very scarcely gave the women hardly anything to eat. I felt like I was starving when I got to Dixon. Where as I couldn’t eat their food for one what not because it was terrible and I wasn’t use to it. And I asked one of the females how could she eat that food? It was a psyche she had to psyche her mind in order to eat. I learned how to eat and do the same thing, and then I found out while we were eating in the men’s chow hall and what not that a lot of them had relationships and they did not like eating in front of their men, so I was right there beside them, “You not going to eat this? You not going to eat that?” (Laughter) I got full like that ‘cuz they were scared to eat in front of their - I didn’t have no man, child, and if I did I wasn’t gonna be ashamed to eat. Everybody know I love to eat.
S. C.: So it was kind of like segregated?
J.F.: Oh yeah, we were segregated.
S.C.: They were segregated the men and the women and the men were the top dog and ...
J.F.: They were, they were, and they let us know that each time we wanted something done, what not you know, they did not have the fact to know that the men got what they wanted and the women couldn’t. The money was allotted to the men and wasn’t allotted for the women. What’s that? the exercise - the gym and stuff we had to go early before the men - it’s like we had to get up at five o’clock in the morning to eat before the men. Where as they would eat at seven o’clock, we had to eat at five. Be out by six or what not or you didn’t eat. We had to eat dinner at four o’ clock, four o’ clock it was - four-thirty, four-thirty it was, four-thirty. The men ate at five o’ clock or six o’clock. We eating lunch here at eleven o’ clock. Here they eating lunch at twelve. You know we’d be hungry and then it be seven or eight o’clock. We hungry. And then they get mad ‘cuz we wants to cook our food the way we know how to cook. ‘Cuz they don’t know how to cook. They didn’t know how to cook.
S.C.: What about what about what she talked about in the letter? Like when you used the toilet, the shower?
J.F.: That’s in Lincoln. They had no doors no shower curtains, what not. And it’s like, the mirror it faces the toilet seat. So when you sit down on the toilet you could see yourself and this and that. They had no doors up the officers are able to come in. They don’t knock where as they supposed to, if you a male officer you supposed to announce, “I am a male officer” before you enter the room. They don’t do this they do not follow rules. It’s like they don’t have no rules to follow. And mind you that Lincoln is also another male penitentiary. They took the women from Dixon a men penitentiary and put them in another men penitentiary. So they still it’s not adequate - fit for the women, you know. They do not see about the needs - the women have more personal needs then the men do. Where as they need special attention. Where as the men don’t or what not.
Then they start giving you a certain amount of sanitary napkins and when you use that or what not you don’t get no more. It’s pathetic the way they doing women. They’re not -Their concern is not the women, it’s the men. It’s the men concern. Where as, I guess because the men has stirred up so much trouble and can cause them a lot of damage more than the women can. So, therefore they pay- their heat is the men and not the women. Now, if they were back in Dixon, not Dixon I mean Dwight, they have these facilities, but Dwight has gotten so strict, it’s pathetic. They was already strict uh y’all done come out in a certain time but now you come out a certain time, you’re only allowed a certain time in the yard. I believe 15 or 20 minutes, and if it’s cold, no two hours or an hour, because if it’s cold you still got to stay out there. You can’t come in, and when you come out you gotta walk just one way. Dwight has this thing where you walk one way around a circle. Just one way. You don’t walk backwards and you don’t walk sideways you walk just one way.
C.W.: You’ve had several roommates over the years tell me what you have learned about women and roommates and being with them?
J.F.: The different attitudes that you have to put up with, like exorcist. You have to learn- you have to be real humble in a lot of cases a lot of patience is called for. You had women that wants to stay up all night, you got some women that wants to take off their clothes and walk around naked, and I never saw the purpose of this. You got - it’s these type of women that cause the C.O. to act the way they want to act or what not, torture, because you’re just throwing yourself like you’re no good. And they gonna treat you like you no good but the is mistake is they not only just don’t treating you like you’re no good they make the mistake of treating everybody like they’re no good, which is wrong. You have to correct the officers because I had to tell - I had told a few officers how to talk to me and how to knock on the door. I don’t care who you are you knock on the door a certain way or what not. I made a bad mistake when I told an officer he comes knockin on the door, “BAM, BAM, BAM!” ” Don’t me knocking on my door like you a police,” you know and he is the police you know (laughs). But he actually got me angry or what not because I was always doing something I wasn’t suppose to be doing and he was knocking like he was, well he is the police, he ain’t got no business knocking like that or what not that’s a women’s door.
S.C.: Did he take revenge?
J.F.: No, no, no I had ahh… well if you know, the officer got enough time to observe you or what not. They knew how to treat you. It’s how you act according to their rules. How you respond to them. Is the way they treated you or what not. So, I was humble in so many ways, was nice, and they found out that I wasn’t one in trouble or this and that and what not. And they knew I wasn’t no troublemaker. I did try to keep busy. And I would help what I could. Even the inmates, you know, I encouraged them, I did my best to encourage them, to help them to get in school. It was this thing where as they wanted - we had this thing where we would carry letters or what not… kites or what not to the other side. And they always wanted to write and get their mail to the men. If you write so much and what not, get in school so that you can be in college with that man.
You don’t have to worry about somebody carrying your mail all the time for you, you know no this and that, “They won’t teach me.” It ain’t the matter of the teacher teaching you. Your teacher’s there to help you. You have to learn on your own they are instructor’s to help you and guide along. But they could not get this and it was hard for them, they didn’t have the patience you know, and by them not having the patience it made you not want to have patience with them, cause they weren’t trying to help themselves you know. They would help themselves up to a certain point. Well, I think if you were six - well if you were average on your grade point average was 6.0 and below you couldn’t going to get paid, they made it law you couldn’t get paid over fifteen dollars. I don’t care if you were working a high job, you couldn’t get paid.
J.F.: The mirrors is facing the commodes.
C.W.: See, they didn’t have that when we was there.
J.F.: You forget it we left Dixon, they’re in Lincoln.
C.W.: Right, right. I understand
J.F.: So, they been having that there.
C.W.: And we had doors too.
J.F.: Right, but they don’t have doors. As a matter of fact, they don’t have shower curtains up there to the stalls and what not, it’s open. So it’s a lot different from where - they had wrote about Lincoln talking and how filthy it was and what not and the roaches.
C.W.: Right, right I heard about that.
J.F.: So, it’s a lot worser that Dixon, even though Dixon was bad.
C.W.: And I understand the way they got this set up, you might not see another person that’s in another cottage at all. That they never all get together, like we use to get together.
J.F.: Right, like when I went there, it’s like they was all in the beauty shop, you could actually see them.
C.W.: I remember coming in your room and you had your contrast and the color turned down on your television can you tell me about that?
J.F.: I had learned on your TV does your eyes, you know you’re sitting too close and the rays from the TV can hurt your eyes, especially in the dark. So me turning the darkness and messing with the contrast to lower so where you could still see the TV, you could have just so much light where it don’t bother nobody. You could take all that brightness off, just turn you contrast on and you would still see the picture it will not bother the next person. And you won’t see they glare. I learned this before I had my first child, to always adjust your TV to darkness.
C.W.: This was before you went to prison.
J.F.: Oh yeah, so I knew what to do not to disturb because you could have where as Dixon had started getting crowded they putting eight to ten people to a room. You had some inconsiderate people that would turn the TV up loud. Where as they gave us the rule to have ear plugs. They didn’t want to use there - you don’t like to go to the police and telling on them. You had some or what not, that would like to turn on- we had little night lamps what not, something like that or what not, and they would turn their night lamp on but they would turn it up so that it would bother everybody. Where as you can turn it to so that only you need to see the light, but you have, mind you, inconsiderate people.
These are the different attitudes that you have to put up with, their behavior, because something’s going on inside them. Not you. No matter how you try nice to be you cannot overcome them unless they want to be. You went through a lot of things or what not, so being in a two man cell was a whole lot better being in a room with eight, nine women, even four women. Because everybody has a different time of getting up, by they assignments, they had different times to come in. You really had no peace in an eight man cell, ten man cell, because the schedules. The things the people do, and then you got some that don’t have no assignments. In Dixon your assignment you a house girl - Your assignment calls for about fifteen minutes and they do for the whole day.
C.W.: So, what impacted you the most, as we finish up, what impacted you the most while you were incarcerated, that you brought out with you into your life today?
J.F.: What I’m doing today is reaching back into the prison ministry in hopes of keeping them from being recidivism. To keep them from returning back to prison that I could be a help to help them find something out here to keep them from going back into prison regardless or not you do not have to go back to prison if you don’t want to. There are things out here to keep them from getting back into drugs. Get school - get in school if you didn’t get it there. Get it out here. Sometimes, even though all the education you that you had in there, you could have your BA, your bachelor degree, anything. You still have to go to school out here. Do it, just do it.
C.W.: I want to close on, you and your husband, the ministry that you all have, you have a Gala every year in September.
J.F.: Oh yes every second Saturday in September we have a feast and festival where all the inmates all across the state of Illinois, of course some of the people that have left the prison system that moving to other states we do keep in touch with them to come back and share what you got with others. Maybe you could be a help with others, maybe you are in a position that you can hire another ex-offender or guide them somewhere, somewhere maybe in their cry may need your help. And this is our networking together, coming together; maybe you need some help. If you need some come and be there. September the 14th is our day this year the second Saturday of each and every September; this is our fifth year.
C.W.: And it’s located at?
J.F.: 8152 South Saginaw usually at 12o’clock or 1 o’clock in the afternoon we start.
C.W.: And you have big numbers.
J.F.: Oh yes because it is so great. It’s so great. This year is the first year that the coming from the pulpit would be from the women’s side. So, it’s like Ejay she’s an evangelist but she also was incarcerated with be our main speaker, and you just got to hear her cause she’s great. I invite you all to be there.
C.W.: Ejay is a former prisoner?
J.F.: Yeah she is.
J.F.: It’s nice to have those that visit us in prison. Those volunteers who came to visit. We like to keep them - keep in contact with them. Even though there are rules or what not that you say, you can not have no contact with her, but we got a God a God of Mercy and what not that says, “Come let us be together, let’s strengthen.” Like my husband said I am… We must do this with one each other with each other, just help one another.