Interview with Rose
Carolyn Watson: Would you tell us a little about your experiences before you went to prison and what led up to it?
“Rose”: I was in a marriage for 30 years where I really didn’t wake up one morning without feeling fear. My marriage started out with a couple of years with physical abuse, and that was enough to train me like a rat, and I was like a trained rat that spent the rest of those thirty years trying to keep him from being mad. There was a new rule every day, and I never knew what that new rule was going to be. And I would find out and then it would be more fear, added on to fear, added on to fear. I did have two lovely daughters from the marriage, and when the older daughter became about twelve, I was noticing that he was beginning to treat her pretty much the same way he was treating me. The spirit of control and domination. And that really affected me in a very adverse way, and in my frustration and fear and just total lack of knowing what to do… He had told me that if I tried to get a divorce he would take the girls; I would never see them again, and he would throw me out in the street. I didn’t really have any self-esteem at that point or this whole thing wouldn’t have happened in the first place. I came up with the idea to get rid of him, and fortunately, thank God, I was caught prior to and I was sent to prison for a sentence of 10 years, that was a plea bargain. I could’ve gotten a whole lot more than that, but I got a ten year sentence, and I did about… 5 years and 8 days if you want to count all the time.
C.W.: So, Rose, you spoke about two daughters. What was that like, parenting from prison?
R: Well, the first year that I was down there… (crying) That didn’t take long, did it? The first year I was down there, they came down to see me every weekend, every holiday. They came down Thanksgiving Day, Friday the day after Thanksgiving, Saturday, and Sunday, they came down. My older daughter was able to drive back then, and she drove them down in the car that I had had. They came down Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and every other weekend. They were there to see me and that was wonderful, absolutely wonderful. And I would never forget the loyalty. And so for that first year I was still able to be somewhat involved in their lives.
And that is probably one of the worst things about going to prison, because you are no longer a caretaker. You go from being a daily caretaker doing everything for them, taking them to school, buying their books, and just keeping track of their homework, and just being with them constantly. And then all of a sudden you’re not doing that anymore, and that’s probably the worst thing about it, you know. And even if you have all these visits and stuff, you’re still not physically being their caretaker, and that’s horrible. It’s horrible. I went through a lot of pain trying to work my way through that, and telling myself, “You just can’t do it now, you’ll do it later. It’ll come back.” And, um… so, then after the first year and a few months, my older daughter, you know by that time she was 17, and she was having her own life. And that’s what I wanted them to have.
I wanted them to have their own lives and not be in prison with me, so to speak, you know. Because the first year that’s kind of the way it was. Even though they weren’t physically there, they, themselves were still not functioning as kids would under normal circumstances. And so they did stop coming, they came less and less and less. And for a while my younger daughter was driven down by a good friend of mine, and so she was coming maybe once a month. And my older daughter, I didn’t see her, for probably… it was a long time, maybe a year, maybe more than that. I’m not really sure, I know it was a long time, and I had to work my way through that, that was very difficult too. Matter of fact, one visit, I knew it was going to be the last one, and I don’t know why I knew that, but I did.
And I went back to our unit, and I went to the back—that we had screened-in porches—and I sat on our screened-in porch. And nobody else was out there, and I just went—I cried. All of a sudden, I wasn’t even expecting it to happen, and I just cried for ten minutes. And I hate to cry ‘cuz you get a runny nose. And I hate that so… Anyway… then one of my friends came out to the porch, and we started talking and stuff. And I got it out of my system, and that was the end of it—that was like a cleansing cry. And from that point on, I was ok with it. Mail call, oh my goodness, mail call was wonderful, it was like about 3:30 every day and everybody would be lined up there waiting for their name to be called. Getting letters from the kids was just wonderful. I got so many letters. I still have them. I still have the whole bag full of letters that I got from my daughters while I was away. Since I’ve been out, I’ve realized what they had to go through, and it was not pleasant for them at all. And they’ve both grown into very wonderful people, and I’m very grateful for that, and they’ve done it by themselves. They’ve done it by themselves because I wasn’t there for a very important time of their lives.
C.W.: You know, we have a tendency as mothers to think… They didn’t do it by themselves, Rose. You know, you plant that seed and it might not grow to fruition in seven years, or five years. But the seed is planted. So you need to know that they didn’t do it by themselves, that you set up the preparation for them to be who they are. You had a lot to do with that, and I want to give you some credit because you don’t take credit. You planted that seed. So tell me about your experience in prison with other women. They were supportive?
R: I didn’t have too much trouble. I think because, probably because I’m older. Younger women in prison don’t have a very easy time of it. I don’t know if I should talk about this, but homosexuality runs rampant. It’s probably 95%. I was one of the very few people, and it was my age. The younger women are put upon immediately by the older ones or the more experienced ones. The recidivists that have been in and out, in and out, in and out. They used them to get their zu-zus and wham-whams.
C.W.: And what is zu-zu and wham-wham?
R: What we call the commissary stuff. These people that were recidivists and in there for a long time and their families had pretty much deserted them through disgust and just gave up on them, whatever, and stopped sending them stuff. So these other people, they used the younger women that are coming in inexperienced—mostly first time people. And they get them involved in these affairs. And the women, here I come with the self-esteem again, but they don’t have self-esteem to keep themselves from doing these things. And they think, “Okay, everyone else is doing it. It’s the trend, it’s popular.” You’re only popular in prison, truly popular, if you have a friend… I can’t remember what we used to call them… wife, that they use to call them wives. Once you had a wife, then you felt, the younger women people that were inexperienced and coming in, they thought that they were going to be protected. And then the older ones were getting their treats, and nothing much is done about that. There was, uh, Logan was a coeducational prison, so was Dixon.
And if you happened to be with a man, if you got with a man—which was very possible to do. Even though they think that it wasn’t. Fortunately, now there is no more of that coeducational prison. They’ve changed that. That was one of the silliest things that I’ve ever heard of. But, I mean, they tried to keep them separate. But, I mean, people would get pregnant. And they would get, what they call a year across the board, which would be a year extra time, a year in seg. And I can’t remember what the other year is, but I mean it was a whole lot of extra time that the man and woman would get. But homosexual activity, if you were caught, you might get 30 days seg. Maybe segregation. That’s when you get stuck by in the confined area, and you don’t get as many, you know, or any privileges, whatever. That would be a 30 day thing, so to me that’s kind of making it happen more and more and more. It’s kind of like…
C.W.: Promoting homosexuality.
R: Yeah, exactly. And it keeps—I guess the way they look at it, it keeps everyone busy and quiet. So let’s just let ‘em continue on with it. Anyway, I went off on that, but, I didn’t have to deal with any of that because I was older. Also, I had a wonderful blessing of working in the beauty shop as a clerk. So everybody loved me, they always wanted—they called me “mama.” They called me “mama,” and my last name. They wanted to be my friend because they wanted to get their appointment. And, of course, they tried to get me to take things and all that. Which I would never do that. You know, I said, “If you ask Kristin,”—the lady in charge—“if you ask her, she’ll probably give it to you, but don’t come to me and ask me, because I won’t take anything. That’s not the way I work it. We’ll get you in as soon as we can.” But I would never be bought to give them their appointments earlier. But they still were very nice to me because they knew they needed to be. So I had my own little power thing going on there, totally unintentionally.
C.W.: And the guards.
R: I had no problems with them. I talked to them, and they did eventually, not too long after I was there, they started calling me Mrs. Whatever. They didn’t just call me by my last name. Because most of the residents are called by their last name, period, that’s it. But they started calling me Mrs. my last name. And for some reason, I gained their respect. And which was really cool. I used to talk to a lot of them, I still have fond memories of a lot of them, the ones that were on the units that I was on a lot. And I got to know them, and we would talk. I had no problem—I personally had no problem with them. But I did see a lot of discrimination, was rampant in the prison I was in.
Salome Chasnoff: Can you talk a little bit about that?
R: Sure. I was a white, older women, I was treated with respect. Matter of fact, I never got a ticket, which was very unusual—to spend as much time I spent there without getting a ticket. But I always tried to do what I was supposed to do, it was kind of my goal when I first got there, not to get a ticket. Silly thing. But, I would see them treating others of color entirely differently most of the time. And it didn’t matter what kind of the person they were, they were still treated differently. There was talk that there was some KKK members in the prison, in the prison staff. There was just an inequity there.
S.C.:Could you talk about specific instances of abuse and discrimination in the prison?
R: Well, it’s been a while now. I’ve been out for a while, and you do forget a lot of that stuff.
C.W.: So we were talking about the discrimination that goes on in prison between women of color and Caucasian. What would you say, how’s it played out?
R: It’s not. Alright, I think I can only look at it from my point of view, as I said, I was always treated with respect. One of the stories that just amused me the most of any story was, as far as I’m concerned, I went into the CO’s office, one day and one of the guys was in there. One of the male CO’s was in there talking to one of the male CO’s on duty in our unit. And he said the word “fuck.” And I had walked in right when he said that, and he said, “(deep breath) Oh, I’m so sorry Mrs._____, I’m so sorry, oh my goodness! I’m so sorry I said that.” And I just looked at him like, I’ve heard the word before, it’s ok, it’s alright. But, I mean, he overreacted to saying that in front of me. But when they’re talking to other people it’s just like they’re just yelling at them and swearing at them. I really never heard them call anybody by the N word to their face, but I would overhear conversations where it was used. And honestly and truly, I can’t have think of any experiences. And I’m really sorry about that. But it was just, you could see it and you could feel it, it was there. It was just there.
R: Yes, subtle.
C.W.: So, we need to work on the experience of that the women have with their children or… what needs to be worked on?
R: When I was there, they still had the overnight camping for all degrees of offenses. My crime is a violent one, so therefore I would have been excluded from this, too. But my kids got older and I got released and all that. But there’s women down there who have very long terms, and I hear they no longer have the camping. Well, right before I left, before I left, the year before, the summer before I left they had taken away camping from violent offenses. Not only had they taken the overnight camping for violent offenses, they had also taken away the volunteerism that went on from the residents at the campground for those weekends. And there’s one particular woman who I think about almost daily. She has a life sentence, she’s done 20 - probably 23 years now, of that sentence. And she volunteered faithfully every weekend for the camping all summer long.
She cooked for them, she made barbeque sauce for them on the unit. She’d bring it to there. She was just—it was a wonderful thing for her to do. But because she had a violent offense, she was not longer allowed to volunteer there. And the only people that were allowed to overnight camp were people that had minor nonviolent offenses who were gonna get out in the next few months anyway. So here we have all these people that have totally lost touch with their children, because they’ve been gone so long, and their children have grown up while they were in there. And now they have children. They were no longer allowed to camp, and now I hear, I guess the camping has been dissolved altogether.
C.W.: So they’re double-punishing is what you’re saying, the judge sentences you to 65 years, and then when you’re in prison you’re punished again?
R: Only because of your offense, not your behavior. The woman who I’m talking about had perfect behavior, she worked hard, she had a good attitude, she did everything right. Actually she shouldn’t even still be there. She got natural life, and she shouldn’t even be there, I’m sure she has been rehabilitated for a long long time. And she is just one example, but I’m sure there’s others. There’s others. Your privileges should not be according to your sentence, to your crime, or your sentence. They should be accorded to your behavior—period. That’s it. If you misbehave, you get privileges taken away. The offense should have nothing to do with it, and I’m really adamant about that. And it did not affect me personally, so there’s absolutely no reason why it should affect me personally this way. I feel that’s probably the strongest feeling I have from that whole experience, regarding the way prisons should be run. Why in the world, if a woman is behaving and is doing what she’s supposed to do, why in the world would you because of what she did 20 years before or ten years before, why would you take away privileges because of something she did years ago? That’s not the way it works in the real world, you know. We don’t have to pay over and over and over again for the mistakes that we made in our regular life. Why would you have to do that in prison? It doesn’t make any sense to me.
S.C.: Talking about the real world, how long were you away? And how did the world change when you came back?
R: My actual prison sentence was 44 months, the time that I spent in prison was 44 months. Prior to that, I spent 112 days in Cook County Jail, 9 1/2 months on the electronic monitoring while I was out on bond. Because my daughter and I were seeing each other unsupervised. Because we were supposed to see each other supervised, because of the offense. Alright, so it had nothing to do with any kind of mothering ability or not, it had to do with the court, the lawyers, and all of that, it was totally a legal thing. We were suppose to be supervised, she caught me crying one day because she said she wanted to be with me. And I said, “You know what, this is ridiculous. I’ll meet you up the road.” So we met and from that point on we were seeing each other unsupervised. My ex-husband hired a private detective to have her followed, so he had evidence that I had been seeing her unsupervised. And for that, they put me on electronic monitoring. So I spent 9 1/2 months of my little over a year bond, which was $750,000.00, which is a little steep.
Now, I noticed they’re really going up high, now they are up into the millions, but whatever, mine was really high for back then. So I spent 9 1/2 months on the monitor, so, and then, 44 months in prison, so I count the whole thing as 5 years and 8 days from the beginning, the arrest to the actually getting out. And then 2 years parole. So it was actually 7 years and 8 days, but in prison it was actually 44 months. As far as the ways things had changed when I came home, and I missed Chicago so bad, anything they had about Chicago I would watch the news constantly, anything. “Wild Chicago” channel 11 a lot because you could see Chicago. When I got here, and I saw all the new buildings, and all the gentrification that had going on in the city, I was absolutely floored. I couldn’t believe the first time I took the brown line downtown and I saw all those new town houses or whatever they are all along there. That used to be an Oscar Meyer hot dog factory. And then getting home at all was wonderful. And here 3 years, 3 1/2 years down the road, I still walk around here just looking and thinking, “Oh my God I’m free. I’m free. I’m free.”
C.W.: Do you have flashbacks? Do you think about prison and the experience?
R: Not as much as I used to. Now I just think of trying to do something about it. My experiences in prison were actually so much better than most. I look at prison as what has made me the person I am today, ‘cuz I learned a lot and had a lot of time. You pretty much have to self-rehabilitate. So if you choose to do that, you’re going to come out a better person. I spent a lot of time self-rehabilitating.
C.W.: Did you meet a lot of great people?
R: I sure did, you being one of them actually, yeah I did, I really did. A lot of them… several of them are out now and I would like to get together with them. Logistically, it’s kind of hard. And then we’re all so busy. But yeah, I met a whole lot of very, very wonderful worthwhile women and actually the support of women around each other, if it doesn’t become an affair, is really, really one of the things that gets everybody through. There’s really no help there, there’s no help there, none. Heaven forbid you get sick. While I was down there, two or three women died in their rooms. And it was hard to get the CO’s to even come, the roommate would be sitting there yelling and screaming and nobody would be coming. And the person’s dead in bed. You know, that happened like two or three times.
C.W.: They were locked in the room?
R: Uh huh, Yeah. I think most of them were around the maximum, like 15 in the segregation units I think that’s where they happened.
S.C.: You talked in the beginning about the self-esteem being an issue. R: Yeah, that’s where I gained my self-esteem. Once you go through something like that, well, I mean. My 30 year marriage, okay, that was the beginning of the whole thing. And then going to the Cook County jail, now that was a real treat. The rats are sitting there stuck in the glue trap while you are sitting there to eat.
C.W.: That’s worse than prison now, would you say?
R: Oh yeah. Yeah, I’m sure it’s probably worse now. Oh yes, a lot of ladies take their sentences as fast as they can just to get out of Cook County jail. A lot of people take plea bargains just to get out of Cook County jail so they can go to prison. It’s a… yeah… so self-esteem… so the more you go through… Alright, first I did Cook County jail. I got out on bond two months later. I was put onto ED electronic monitoring. And it was kind of like at that point I thought, “Okay, I don’t think anything else much can happen to me.” And from that I got really strong. Really really strong. And then by the time I was sentenced and went to prison, I almost looked at it, “Okay this is an experience. I’m gonna have an experience a lot of other people have never ever had.” That’s kind of the way I looked at it. And I got there and it was better in some respects and worst in some respects. I had no idea that it was gonna be so confined. I don’t know why I didn’t know that, but you know, I had no idea that you needed a pass to walk down the road.
You couldn’t—I mean, I knew you couldn’t really go out of the unit. But I thought maybe you could—the first nine months I was there, I was on the maximum unit. You were locked in your room. You were either in the day room or locked in your room. It was just a little bit more confined than I would have thought. And I really was, you know, you hear jokes about homosexuality, but that really floored me. You know, how rampant that was and also the fact that you can’t trust a lot of people. Because when you first get there, people are after you for whatever they can get. There really isn’t—you have to really work hard to develop decent friendships. You have to really pick and choose people. You can’t just be nice to everybody. Because, you know, you get quiet. I spent a lot of my time playing solitaire. I knew 14 different games of solitaire. And once I was sent to what they call the south end, which is the minimum unit. They had cameras on the unit I was on because a few years prior to that they had a prostitution ring going on in there. So they put… it was in the news and everything.
They put cameras—the placement of the cameras was funny, though. They put ‘em in the day rooms, they put ‘em by the front door, and in the basement. Because, I guess, a lot of prostitution going on in the basement. But they didn’t have cameras anywhere else. They didn’t have them on the porch. They didn’t have them in the COs office. They didn’t have them in the kitchen. Which is funny, the placement of the cameras. But anyway, I would sit there. I had my little routine, and on Saturday mornings I would sit and play solitaire for hours on end until the afternoon count, the count, the 1:30 count. Whatever time was that. So they have a camera of me playing solitaire for literally hour and hours ‘cuz the camera was like, right there. So I spent a lot of time doing that and the summer time I would sit on the screen porch as soon as they would open it I would sit there.
C.W.: What was hard for you when you came out.
R: Um… little things. Strange little things that everybody takes for granted. When I first had to actually pay for something. It was really a task because I hadn’t handled money for so long. And I really and truly almost didn’t know how to do it. It was the strangest thing I can’t even hardly explain the feeling. But I would give them whatever the money was, and then they would give me the change. And I took forever, took forever to buy something and this went on for a quite a while. It didn’t just automatically go away, it took me quite a while to get used to actually—and I’m still slower than I use to be.
C.W.: Transacting business.
R: Exactly. Money, you know, just taking my change and putting it somewhere, I am still slower than I used to be.
C.W.: What about going places?
R: The first place that I went, I paroled to a good friend of mine’s house. She was very, very nice to let me come there, ‘cause most people would not be interested in helping like that. But, she let me into her house. She was the same one who brought my younger daughter down to see me once a month.
C.W.: Talk about the friends.
R: Oh, I don’t have any. I lost all but one.
C.W.: The so-called friends.
R: I had—when I was… my case was newsworthy and we were in the news a lot. And I had a lot of support of people, but the minute I took my sentence, I had one friend left. And she is still my friend and everybody else just left.
C.W.: So people judge.
R: Um… I think some of the people that were helping me, were helping me, believe it or not, for the notoriety. For being in the news. Particularly this one women it was really kind of funny. She commented to me one day that she had watched the news. Now, I would never watch the news on my stuff, I didn’t want to see it. And she asked me if I had seen the news that night. And I said, No, I hadn’t. And she said, “Well, you were in it, but they hardly showed me at all.” I just thought, “Oh my—you really lost it.”
C.W.: So she was trying to promote her career.
R: Herself, period. She was just enjoying it. She was so bored in her life, that I guess she was enjoying mine even though it was kind of rough at the time. And then another couple of people were totally dishonest.
C.W.: The domestic violence people.
R: I had some of those that were.
C.W.: Advocates. Domestic violence advocates.
R: Yeah, they somehow got hooked up with me. But the whole thing is, as soon as I took my sentence, I took a plea bargain, as soon as I took my sentence they scattered like roaches. There was no more people to help—not anybody. Because I guess they took the plea bargain as an admission of guilt. Well, I never said I wasn’t guilty. That’s the funny thing, I did do it.
C.W.: I did it because I was under pressure.
R: Exactly. Right and um… actually some COs used to always—the COs I used to talk to, they used to always say, “You don’t belong here.” And I would say, “Yes, I do belong here because I did what I am here for.” And this is what, actually one of the judges actually finally brought it home to me, that no matter what the circumstances, if you went to trial, you would be found guilty. Because you did what you did, are being charged with. Right, very simple, it doesn’t matter what caused it. I did what I did. I take full responsibility for it and that was a hard thing to, actually. Remorse. Oh, I thought to myself, “What in the world was I thinking?” I thought that for a couple of years. I was able to forgive everything and to get over with everything much faster than it took me to get over feeling really, really awful about what I had done. And then eventually I was able to get over that feeling.
Oh yeah, I was gonna tell you about the when I—alright, so I paroled to my friend’s house and the first day—my first full day on the way home, we stopped at the parole board because I wanted to make sure I got my parole visit in right away. And then we went—we got McDonalds, oh that was wonderful. We actually had McDonalds after all that time, and then we went to her house. And actually driving home, I asked her if she would take me to take Lakeshore drive so that I could see the lake, because I missed it so much. And so, the next day I got up and I took the bus for the first time. And I… they had come up with these bus cards, well okay I thought, “This is funny.”
So I just kind of pretended that I had just gotten in town from whatever. Which I had, but I asked the bus driver. He was very nice, and he told me exactly how I could to work it get on the bus. He told me how to do it. I get downtown and it was like wonderful. I mean, I was just so excited. I couldn’t stop smiling. I had a lot of homeless people, and a lot of beggars coming and asking me for money ‘cause I had a totally open face. And boy, I gave away a lot of dollars those first few weeks, until I realized that a lot of the people weren’t in need. They were just scamming. But I smiled constantly. Just happy to be alive and free and back at Chicago. And I really, at that point I had no idea where I was going to live, what I was going to do for a living. But I was just so happy to be free.
C.W.: What about your parole experience?
R: It was actually alright.
C.W.: We had a lot news that the parole experiences are really bad.
R: Well, there again that could be again a racial issue. And I’m afraid it probably is. When I was first out on parole, we would go to the office and report, and a couple of the people were cordial, but most of the time I would walk in the office and they would grunt. They wouldn’t speak. They would grunt. You know, you’d fill out your little sheet and some of ‘em wouldn’t say anything at all. You’d fill out the sheet and you would stand in there. And you’re saying, “Ok, I’ll see you next month.” And they would say,“Oh yeah.” You know, whatever. I had grunters, you said something to them and they would say “ugh, ugh, ugh.” But then there was a few of them—a couple of them and they were fine. But then they changed over to the new system in July—it was July 1st of 2000/2001. I know that I was really scared when they first changed, because I thought,
“Good Lord, they’re going to get this wrong, they’re going to violate me because they’re not going to get the numbers right in the computer because it’s done over the phone.” So, I called there’s this 800 number you call twice a month and just give your name and your number and they ask a couple questions, and that’s it. And then the parole agent is suppose to make what they call a face-to-face whatever your level is. I was like the least level so therefore he only had to see me once in six months. And by that time - He came to see me like in - right after Christmas here and then my parole was over in March. So I only really saw my parole agent one time under that new system, but I really did prefer that new system to the old system. It turned out it works, it really does, and the last time I called in, I actually called in the day after my parole was discharged. I said, “You, know this is my number and I’m discharged. Do you have me down as discharged?” and whoever answered the phone said yes. I really want to thank you guys, because everything single time I called the 800 number I had somebody who was nice. They were all nice.
C.W.: I used to write their names down.
R: So did I. I have a list.
C.W.: The dates and time I used to call them.
R: Oh my Gosh, I can’t believe you did that, I did the same thing.
C.W.: What I got from you is that if we have to face up to our demons to make them go away.
R: It’s all about attitude, you can really, truly go through almost anything if you have the proper attitude, and that proper attitude comes from God, period. If you have God in your life you can do anything. And this whole experience has shown me that I spent almost any time I could when I was allowed to go I was in that little chapel at Dwight.
C.W.: You remember when I first met you. You was like, “Um, I’m not really liking that church stuff,” just come on and go, and it’s true.
R: Right I learned about the bible, I went to bible study classes, matter of fact at my work I have a picture of the Dwight chapel sitting right by my desk. I got a hold of a picture it’s by my desk.
C.W.: It got you through.
R: It did, and that was the last thing that I saw when I left there, ‘cuz when you go around C2 you come around the sidewalk and you walk that way. And you look and that—it was the last thing I saw. And that place to me is Holy Ground.
They can not discourage volunteerism in the prisons, they just can’t and they’re kind of trying too make it very difficult, and they can’t do that. They can’t do that to the ladies because chapel is—it gets you through, it gives you joy, it gives you life after prison, it gives you life after prison. It does. Because it makes you grow spiritually if you can spend time in that chapel. In any chapel you need to have that, you have to have it. Anything is possible if you have that spirit of God in you. And the only way you can get that is to spend time with him alone, that’s what I was talking about the rehabilitation.
R: Anyway, I came out much stronger and a much better person, and I like me today.