Interview with Diana Delgado
Joanne Archibald: Why don’t we start by talking a little bit about your background, starting with your childhood.
Diana Delgado: I grew up, was raised by my mother until the age of 12. She was… When I turned 12 she was killed by a drunk driver and I was forced to go live with my father who I didn’t have a relationship while growing up. My mother raised me solely by herself and that was because she divorced him when I was 3 because he used to abuse her. So, when they separated and we moved away and he didn’t have no knowledge of where we were at because she had to hide from him for awhile. And then, when she passed away I was sent to go live with him, who I didn’t have a relationship with. He didn’t understand me, I didn’t understand him - nor did anybody in the family understand how to help me deal with losing my mother. So it was supposed to be like if you don’t talk about it, it’ll go away. But it never went away for me. It just got worse and worse ‘cause I didn’t know how to internalize not having her no more. Because she was always there. She was my mother, she was my father, she was my best friend. She was everything and when I lost her it was like my whole world.
I moved from the suburbs to the city and moved to a neighborhood where there was gangbangers. It was a really, really bad neighborhood. And, I guess… I don’t want to say I was fascinated by it. I think it was more of a curiosity. Because the life styles were so different and the neighborhoods were so different that I became really rebellious because nobody seen or heard my pain or helped me deal with it. So I figured if I couldn’t get what I needed from my family - I started looking elsewhere, but in the wrong places. So I started hanging around with the gang that was affiliated in the area that my father lived. I got really really bad. I ran away when I was 13 and it was a back and forth thing. I would be gone for a couple of months, they would find me. I’d have to come home for a week and I’d leave again. They threw me around to family member to family member but none of them family members ever took the time to sit down and still once again help me deal with losing my mother.
I was supposed to just I guess know how to do it on my own and I didn’t. And I was angry with them because I felt like umm… they just wanted me to forget her. I couldn’t forget her, even tho they were doing real good at forgetting her because nobody talked about her. It was like she never existed to them, and it really upset me, it hurt me, it made me angry, because I couldn’t talk about her. When I brought her name up it was an issue, you know, why are you talking about her? And I had problems with that. So I got more involved with the gang members because I thought like, they understood me. They didn’t but I thought they did at the time. I got pregnant the first time I had a relationship. I got pregnant at 15. I gave birth to my first son at 15 and he passed away 2 months later of crib death. And I felt like the world had it in for me because I had lost my mother too a couple years before that and then here I had a baby and I felt like, “okay”... I felt like the baby was gonna be - my first son was going to be able to fill that void, what was missing from my not having that relationship with my mother no more. And then when he died, it was like my whole world just crumbled even worse. Because I felt like God had it in for me. I couldn’t understand why he would take the two most people that meant the most to me in this whole world. And just take ‘em from me. And for me to understand what was going on. And, then my whole family blamed me for the death of the baby. I didn’t do something right. I was 15 years old. I didn’t know how to be a mother.
J.A.: What about the baby’s father?
D.D.: Oh, he denied the baby. So I was by myself. I didn’t have no support from my family through the pregnancy. My family would just ridicule me, tell me all I was going to amount to was a public aid mother, and that’s how I was gonna raise my child.
When my baby died, I was already not living at home. I was living with…she had to be about 21. I was sharing an apt with her. And it was her and I that were home. Like I said, I didn’t have no knowledge of being a mother. That was my first child. I didn’t have nobody to even give me tips on it. Because my family was so dead set against it that I had no type of support from them at all. Nothing. Everything that I learned and did with the baby I did just by myself, just instinct. When he passed away, my roommate had called my family to tell them to meet me at the hospital. I had to go in the ambulance with him. And when they got there, they just, it was my fault. I was dumb. Look what I did. You know totally blamed me for him dying and I believed it. I was so young; I believed it ‘cause I didn’t know what crib death was. I didn’t understand none of that. Nobody took the time out to explain that neither so I walked around for a long time thinking that maybe if I would have burped him different, if I would have fed him different, if I would have laid him down different, I could have prevented him from dying. So that was more pain added on to with my mother because I believed that I was the cause of my son’s death.
And my father was so cruel. He said some really horrible mean things to me when the baby died. After that, I can remember leaving the hospital after the priest came and told me that my baby was dead, cuz I had thought he was okay. They had separated us for like maybe an hour, they took the baby into an examining room and they had me in another room. And I figured you know, okay they’re taking a long, he’s gotta be okay. And when I seen the priest walking towards me, I pretty much knew. I mean, I was young and didn’t experience stuff like that, but I knew that a priest is not gonna come and tell me that my baby’s okay. I fainted. And when I came to, they did everything that they could. Did I wanted him baptized and I went through all of that with no family support. I can remember one of my friends coming to the hospital and she was with there through the whole thing. She was pregnant herself so it was like really hard on her to be there because she was expecting.
And after that I can - I left the hospital, and that was when I first introduced myself to drinkin’ and druggin’. I got so drunk and so high just so I couldn’t - I didn’t want to feel it. I didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t want to deal with it and that was my escape - from me, from everything that was going on around me. And then I met my kids’ father, my older son’s father. I met him not that long afterwards and that was the biggest mistake of my life. I met him… he’s a couple of years older than me. He was a… he had a position in the gang that he was in. He had a lot of pull, a lot of clout, so I thought at the time. I was fascinated by him being able to tell other people what to do and they did it. And he was a drug dealer. He had money, he had the nice car, he had the jewelry. So I was like, “Okay, this is my escape.” from the family who was blaming me already for my son’s death…this is my way out. This is my ticket to get away from my family.
I didn’t know that 2 months later he was gonna start beating me up. I got pregnant right away and I was really scared about having another baby - I didn’t want no more kids after I lost my son. But from him beating me up so bad, I miscarried my first couple pregnancies with him before I finally gave birth to our first son, which is 13. I have 3 children from him, 13, 11, and 8. The first pregnancy…the beatings weren’t that bad. He slapped me, pulled my hair, pushed me, and I thought it was because he loved me at the time, because I seen my father do it to my mother, and even though she left him, I still never understood that it was wrong for a man to put his hand on a woman because me and my mother never talked about it. We just left and we lived our lives and we were happy, but she never told me you’re not supposed to let a man do this to you, it’s not acceptable. So for a long time I thought it was normal. I thought it was okay. I thought it was just something that happened to a lot of people. I didn’t think that there was anything wrong with it, and I stood with him for a long time and the slaps turned into punches and the punches turned into me being passed out from him choking me, from him choking me to him shooting at me.
From him… I mean, putting me in the hospital numerous times, numerous times. And I would try and leave him but he always scared me to come back because he would threaten my family. And even the relationship that I had with my family was so messed up I never wanted nothing to happen to them. And because of… I’m getting emotional now. He was an asshole. He used to tell me that he’d come and shoot my sister, my brother, he would shoot the whole house up if I didn’t come back. That the only way he would let them live is if I came back with him. So I would always go back. ‘Cause I didn’t want my family to have to deal with the stuff… I felt that I put myself into that situation, I got into this relationship so I needed to protect my family no matter what it took. If I had to stay with him and put up with the beatings, I did.
And then I got pregnant again. I didn’t want no more kids after I had the first. I was always trying to find an escape, a way out, but I just didn’t know how to get out. I knew wherever I went he would find me. There was nowhere to hide because he knew so many people. And, I mean… I tried hiding. I went to family members, I went to friends, and he always found me, always, and would make me come back. And I would go back. And the beatings always got worse, worse and worse. But both my sons, I’m surprised that they’re here, they’re alive, because the beatings I took - he would hit me like I was a man. Then, I was saving up money. I had this big drawn out plan I was leaving. I was going to another state. I was moving to Texas. And I got pregnant with my daughter. And I felt like, okay, I can’t go now ‘cuz I’m pregnant. I need to be able to save more money.
So I was pregnant and I was taking money from him. He was selling drugs this whole time and I kept stealing money from him, putting the money away. This was my plan, have enough money to go, move to another state and make a life for me and my kids. Saving money. Saving money. And we’re fighting the whole time, he’s beating me up, and I’m accepting it because I know I just gotta hold on a little bit longer. We’re gonna get away. February 7, 1994. He left to go take care of some of his business. Somebody owed us - owed him a lot of money. And he went to look for the guy and he found the guy. The guy had a brand new car, a pocketful of money, and he owed him a lot of money. So he told the guy, you know, you - beat him up, took the money and told him, you know, when you give me the rest of the money that you owe me, I’ll give you back your car. But, until tell I’m keeping your car and you’re gonna pay me. Well, after that happened, the man went to the police station and made a report. So the police came - well they didn’t come to us, I guess they caught him on the street because I was at home when all this happened. I never left the house.
I was a 7 months pregnant with my daughter. And I was at home. He had left at about 11 o’clock. About 3 o’clock in the morning they came, banging and kicking in my door, and I opened the door and the police told me that I needed to come down to the police station for questioning. They ransacked my house, took me and my 2 boys to the police station, and I’d never been in trouble before so I really didn’t know nothing about the system or how the system worked. They told me if I signed a statement - now mind you, I was 7 months pregnant, I was spotting, they had my 2 children in an enclosed room with the door shut, by themselves, at about 4 o’clock in the morning, and I could hear them crying for me. And they told me if I signed the statement that they would let me call somebody to pick my kids up. If not, they were gonna call DCFS and they were gonna take my kids from me.
So I did what, at the time, what I thought was the best thing for my kids. I signed the statement so I could call someone to pick my children up. So I signed the statement, which, I signed my life away when I signed that statement. ‘Cuz that statement was saying that I was an accomplice I was with my kid’s father when he did what he did with the car and the money, and I was never there. I had never left the house. But I signed the statement because I wanted my kids to be safe. I wanted them to get out of that police station and I didn’t want them to go with strangers, I wanted them to be able to go with a family member. And they forced me, basically, to sign that statement.
Then I went to the county jail 7 months pregnant. And when I got to the county, I can remember being scared but at the same time like a relief because I knew he was going to jail but I didn’t think I was. Oh my god, God answered my prayers. I didn’t have to leave and he’s finally not gonna be able to hurt me no more. But it didn’t happen like that. When we got to the jail, we had to go to court. And in the court, they found probable cause to hold me. I didn’t have a bond at first. I was a high-risk pregnancy. I had toxemia when I was pregnant so I needed like, constant medical attention. So when we got to cook county jail, I was like, “Okay.” I was scared ‘cuz I thought I was going to be the only one pregnant. I didn’t know that there was that many women in jail period. I just - It never crossed my mind that there was that many women in jail.
And when I went through the process of coming in, I could just remember being really really scared, not knowing what was going to happen to me, not knowing if my kids were okay or if they were understanding the separation ‘cuz I had never been separated from them, nothing, they were always with me. And when they took me upstairs and I seen all - they had a unit for pregnant women - I was just so overwhelmed with emotion because I didn’t think anybody with a heart could lock somebody up pregnant. That was just my perception then. When we went to court, they gave us a long continuance. I knew that I had to be there and I was gonna have to have the baby there. I knew that there was no way I was gonna make it out to have the baby because they gave - my court date was after the baby was due, and I didn’t know how to deal with that. I was like, literally losing my mind. I cried every day all day. I was making myself so sick, my blood pressure was so high, and I couldn’t even see the doctor.
I was there for 2 weeks before I went to see anybody. I had to get on the phone and call family members. They had to threaten them with lawyers. I mean, I was really really sick. And all of this is new to me. I don’t know what’s what. I can remember the first time I had to go to the Fantus clinic which is at cook county hospital - and any time you left the jail you had to be shackled and handcuffed and but I didn’t - never knew how the procedure was. Well, when they shackled and handcuffed me I could barely walk as it was. I was devastated. I felt like, I didn’t kill nobody, I didn’t even do anything wrong except have an asshole for a boyfriend. But I was paying for his mistakes. And to be shackled and handcuffed like I was, after all the abuse he already put me through, I felt like he was doing it to me, he was doing it to me all over again, and I allowed him to do it to me all over again, ‘cuz I kept telling myself, okay, you should have left. If you would’ve left, you wouldn’t be here.
But there was nowhere to go, to leave. And I beat myself up about that. I felt like, okay you did this, it’s your fault, once again. You could have changed this. And I can - walking back and forth to go to the clinic - I was so humiliated, because you have to walk through regular people, and for them to see you shackled and handcuffed, you know, people looking at you, pulling their kids away. I could never hurt nobody, but that’s how I was treated. I was treated like, don’t let your kids near her. They would move completely away like I was an evil person and I wasn’t. The only mistake I made was in who I picked to be the father of my kids. And I had to go through that for like 2 weeks, I went back and forth, shackled and handcuffed, until finally, I finally went into labor. And when I went into labor, I was terrified ‘cuz I had been through it 3 times already but I’ve always had my whole family. They would come to the hospital, no matter how bad our relationship was. I think after my first son, like when I had the one that passed away. When I had my thirteen-year-old, my sister was a little older, my cousins like - then they started becoming a part of my life.
So I wasn’t by myself through none of my childbirths. And when I had to have my daughter, I couldn’t have nobody with me. I couldn’t even call my family and tell them that I was having a baby because they consider that an escape risk if they know that you’re at the hospital they could come and try to break you out. So you can’t tell nobody when you’re having a baby. And for you to have stranger sitting next to you. And I was shackled and handcuffed for 19 hours through the labor pains. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t sit up. I couldn’t - I just had to lay there and deal with the pain and deal with having an officer next to me telling me to be quiet.
J.A.: Can you describe the shackling to the bed?
D.D.: When they shackled me I had 2 handcuffs. One was on my wrist and the other one was attached to the bed. And then I had another shackle and my legs - my ankles were so swollen, I don’t even know how they got it closed around my ankle and then attached to the bed too. So my leg and my arm were attached to the bed so there was no way for me to move and to try and deal with the labor pains. And the metal, ‘cuz when you’re swollen, it would just cut into your skin. I had bruises after the fact that stood on me for 3 weeks. I mean, purple bruises from my ankle and my wrist from them having them shackles and handcuffs on me. Even when I had to get an epideral, they didn’t take the shackles and the handcuffs off. I just had to bend over and just pray that I could stay in that position while they were putting that needle in my back through the whole procedure. Not once did he try and loosen them. And the doctor asked him, you know, “Can’t you take them off of her? She can’t go nowhere. She can’t walk. She’s not goin’ nowhere.” It’s procedure and policy. Can’t do it.
J.A.: And then what happened after you gave birth?
D.D.: I had a lot of complications when I gave birth to her. I guess maybe from the trauma of being shackled and handcuffed and being incarcerated - I had… I started hemorrhaging on the table before I had her. I broke some blood vessels in my uterus and they had to rush me and do a - they had to burn ‘em really really fast before I had her otherwise I would of hemorrhaged to death. And because of that I was more fortunate that some of the other females. I got to stay in the hospital for five days with my daughter because of that. They had to make sure I was healing and I wasn’t gonna start hemorrhaging once they let me - released me. So, I got to stay with her for 5 days, I got to bath her, I got to feed her, well I got to breast feed her. I got a chance to spend some time with her and the other women don’t get that. You are in there 24 hours and you’re tooken back to the jail.
And I can, like it was yesterday. I can remember the last day - the day before the last day when the social worker came into the room and told me who was I going to sign the baby over to. I had struggled with that decision for a long time because I had never been separated from the kids. And, I was really not sure who I wanted to take her, because I was sure nobody was gonna love her and take care of her like I would. So, I finally decided to let her grandmother come get her. The day she was coming I had to get her dressed, and put her clothes on, put all her stuff together, not knowing when I was going to hold her again. ‘Cuz the cook county jail was a glass visit, you didn’t have contact visits and I knew that I was losing my daughter because no matter who was going to raise her it wasn’t me and I wasn’t going to have that connection with her like I had with my sons because I wasn’t there - I wasn’t gonna be there for the most important part of her life. And I knew that I would never get that back, It was gonna be gone forever. And when took her, they told me, “Okay, now it’s time to go back to the jail.” They didn’t give you nobody to talk to, nobody to help you process that either.
You just had to deal with it the best way you knew how. And I can remember driving back to the jail, just crying and crying ‘cuz I knew that she was going to be okay, but that nobody would take care of her like I would, nobody would love her like I would. And when I got back to the jail, I can remember not talking to nobody, I didn’t want to eat. I didn’t care. Nothing mattered. I didn’t care. I just went into a shell; I was so depressed because my whole life, all the losses that I’ve suffered I never knew how to deal with none of them. So it was like just one going right on top of the other and I was like a bomb ready to explode. I didn’t know whether I was coming or going.
J.A.: Then how long did you stay in the jail before your case got resolved?
D.D.: Two years. I sat two years in the county jail fighting my case. I was going to trial, I had a lawyer. I was taking a jury trial ‘cuz I really believed in my heart, that I would beat the case ‘cuz I was innocent. I was not there. I didn’t have nothing to do with it. I kept getting continuances and continuances, state wasn’t ready, there was always something wrong where I kept getting continuances, and they used to give me long continuance, 2-month continuances. One time I can remember I got a 3-month continuance. And there was nothing I could do. Just telling myself to, “Hold on, don’t give up, hold on.” The second day I was picking out the rest of my jury - the day before that I had picked out a few of my jurors. The second day that I went I was picking out the jurors, and we were almost done - we needed to pick out two more jurors - the state’s attorney went to my lawyer and said, “Look, if she plea bargains with us right now, we’ll give her 8 years.”
And the judge had already told me, If I decide to take a jury trial, that if you're found guilty, I’m not gonna give you nothing less then a double digit sentence. So, when the state’s attorney talked to my lawyer, the state’s attorney says, “If she pleads guilty today we’ll give her 8 years, she had two years in already, so she’ll go down there and do 2 years, she’ll be home in 2 years. My family was in the courtroom; my kids were in the courtroom. They were also giving him a deal. And I felt, and I still sometimes today don’t understand this . . . they were offering both of us 8, but in the beginning they were offered him, like, 18 years. They were offering him a lot of time. I felt like, okay, maybe if I just take this 8 years - I felt like it was up to me for my kids to still be able have their father in their life no matter how messed up he was because I knew how it was to grow up and not have both parent and I felt like, okay, maybe I should just take this time and then I was scared that if I did, that slight chance that I got found guilty that I would be gone way longer and I was trying to weight it out: what was best for me, what was best for the kids.
How could I - what was going to get me home the quickest. And I ended up plea bargaining and taking the 8 years and he got 8 years and he got the 8 years because I plea bargained because if I wouldn’t of plea bargained, he would have gotten more time. And I question myself about that all the time. After everything that he put me through I still had compassion in my heart for him, something he never had for me. And I think after I took the time, I became real angry again because I felt like he was still controlling me. Through the prison system he was controlling me. And I was giving in to him again, but through the prison system because I took this time, and I took it for him. And, I couldn’t understand why he still had this control on me. After I got sentenced, I felt like I was stripped everything.
Because I knew it was going to be another 2 years before I came home. My daughter was gonna be 4, my kids, my boys were gonna be much bigger. They knew who mommy was, but I missed kindergartens, first words, first steps, stuff that can never be replaced. And I hated him for that because I felt like he did it to me. And he just… like when was it going to end? When I got into the system, I went to I.D.O.C. - the whole time I was with him I could never go to school, I could never have a job, I could never do anything to better myself - so, when I got into the system, I was like - I already had determined to do something positive, make - do something that’s going to benefit me for going through this. I got my G.E.D. I went to college, I really excelled in my education, but that’s it.
I didn’t deal with Diana; I didn’t deal with none of the issues, from 12 on up. I didn’t deal with nothing. I felt like I became stronger, because he would write me - we had correspondence and he would write me and he would threaten me in the letters. He would tell me, “If I can’t have you, nobodies gonna have you. Don’t think you’re gonna get out and be with somebody else.” And in the beginning I was still, like when I first got down there I was letting him have that control again and I can remember, like a year before I was getting ready to come home, I was like, “no more.” And I would write him back and tell him, you know - the last letter I wrote to him I told him, “You’re not, you’re threats don’t scare me nomore, if you’re going to do it, then do it.” And I totally severed ties with him the last year. I wouldn’t correspond with him. When I would talk to his mother, I just didn’t have nothing to do with him. But then, 2 months before I came home I knew I had to make peace with him or make him think that everything was alright because my kids lived with his mother. And he was already threatening to have her leave with them. So, I started being really, really nice. I started making him think that we were going to be together when we got out because I knew that that was the only way I was going to get my kids back. So, I went along with him and everything that he was saying and we were getting ready to come home and we were like two months short, I started writing him and saying, “yeah everything’s going to be okay. We’re going to fix what’s broke. We’re gonna try to do it again.”
And I knew my heart and in my mind I knew that I was not going to be with him, I was just telling him what he wanted to hear so I could get my babies out of there safely. And that’s exactly what I did. We both paroled home August 1, 1997. I got there first and I tried to get out of there before he pulled up, but right when I was coming down the stairs, he was getting out the taxi. And I was scared, I felt like the walls were closing in on me because I still feared him and I thought that I didn’t no more, but when I seen him - I was scared and my oldest son felt the fear, because he was like, “It’s okay Mommy, he’s not going to do nothing to you.” And that made me furious because my kids went through all this abuse with me.
My oldest son was - he seen everything. He remembers everything and I was so angry when he said that to me and as soon as he got out the car we talked and I told him we were going to the store and I, when he went into the house, I grabbed my kids, and I ran and didn’t look back. When I got to my aunt’s house—he knew where my aunt lived—he tried to call with that dumb stuff over there and my aunt told him, “She’s through with you. She’s really through with you this time and you are not going to come over here and bother her. You are going to let her live her life.” It didn’t happen like that. He stalked me for he first year. I literally had to hit him with my car. I had him arrested and I couldn’t understand - we’re on parole and the parole officer wouldn’t help me. Would not help me.
He got away with hitting me a few more times and I arrested him every time he did it. Finally, it got to the point where I was tired of having to - I moved twice - I was tired of having to look over my shoulder everywhere I went wondering if he’s gonna pop up and fight with me. And one particular night he called me and told me he was going to kill me and I said, “Come do it. I’m sitting on the porch waiting for you. Come do it already, get it over with, ‘cuz I can’t live my life like this anymore.” And I sat on my porch and I waited for him and he came and I called his bluff. I told him I was not gonna run no more, I was not gonna hide. He was not going - not gonna have that control over me no more. And from that day forward I meant it and he knew that I meant it - he knew that it was over. He knew that he couldn’t control me no more. Then after that, I met another idiot, but I thought he was Mr. Right. He didn’t hit me! So I thought, “Oh. I finally found somebody who was really going to love me.” ‘Cuz he didn’t hit me, he didn’t swear at me, he didn’t call me names, but he cheated on me.
But I though that was okay. I thought that as long as I wasn’t being physically abused, mentally abused—but it was mental abuse, but I didn’t look at it like that then - I thought that he really loved me. I thought that this was going to be the one that I’m going to spend the rest of my life with. And I got pregnant again from him. And I could remember I put my all into this relationship and when the relationship started going bad - I’ve always tried to find the fault in me when things don’t go right. Like, what did I do, what did I say wrong, what could I have done different. I guess maybe to make him love me more, or to treat me different. And for a long time I blamed myself that relationships… I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t keep a relationship. Why was I having such a hard time?
I could remember I was… again - I don’t know what it is with the seven months thing. I was seven months pregnant and I found out that he was cheating on me and I got so depressed… I didn’t - I couldn’t understand why ‘cuz I was a good woman. I had a job. I took care of the house. I took care of the kids. I was understanding. I mean, I treated him . . . I was good to him. I couldn’t understand why again here I was in a messed up relationship. So, I was like trying to dissect myself: What are you doing wrong? What am I saying wrong? Are you looking wrong? And I couldn’t understand. So after I had the baby, a month later, we broke up and I just lost it. I didn’t care whether I was gonna live or die. I got really, really wild. I was drinking damn near everyday. I got involved with the wrong crowd, but it was okay ‘cuz I wasn’t dealing with me.
I was too drunk. Too drunk to care. And I don’t even want to say that I didn’t care. I was drunk. And it helped me… it numbed everything. I didn’t have to deal with DeeDee’s issues. I didn’t have to deal with the ex-boyfriend, my kids’ father… I didn’t have to deal with any of that. As long as I was drunk and using, I was okay. Until I came down the next day and then it was worse. And I would start right back up, it was a cycle. It was escalating and getting worse day by day. I lost my job. I uh… not irresponsible, I was just falling back on everything, I couldn’t afford none of the bills because when my boyfriend was living with me we paid half and when he left he told me he wasn’t helping me with nothing. So I had four kids to take care of, all these bills and I didn’t know what to do. And I made another foolish mistake; I let some friends talk me into committing another crime. It wasn’t a bad crime, it was a crime, it was for checks. I was like “Okay, this is my way to get on top of things, this is my way to make sure that my kids are still going to have a roof over their heads and I can pay these bills until I can get my life together,” because I knew that I was falling apart already.
I just… until this day I don’t understand because my family got so mad when I got locked up, but I told them, I says, “All the signs were there, I was crying out for help.” But didn’t nobody take the time to say, “You need to talk? Is something going on that I can help you with?” Nobody ever took the time to help me with that and that’s been like that my whole life. I’ve always been the one they’ve put their problems on me, I’m supposed to be strong person all the time. But didn’t nobody asked me if I was okay, or if I needed something. And I guess by me being the person that I was, I was too proud to ask for help. I didn’t want them to know that I had this destructive life. I didn’t want them to know everything that was going on in my life, so I hid, I put this fa?ade that everything was okay and it wasn’t. When I caught my second case and I woke up in Cook County jail again… I was empty. I was disgusted that put myself back into a situation like that. I was ashamed because I knew that - how my kids were going to be affected by it again and I knew that I was through. That first morning when I woke that I was willing to do whatever it took to change my life because I knew I couldn’t come back again.
I knew that it was over, that it was do something about your life now or else. So, I threw myself into all the programs, I started talking about me, I didn’t care what other people thought about me anymore. If you needed to talk about me to make yourself feel better or if you wanted to judge me, I didn’t care. I wasn’t ashamed nomore. I needed to get out all that hurt, all those issues. And I did, little by little and it took me along time to forgive and let go and it’s a process, I still struggle with it everyday. It’s . . . I’m nowhere near healed, I got long ways to go, but I can say that the penitentiary is not built to rehabilitate anybody. It’s there to tear you down. It’s a mind thing - it’s… there is a saying that ‘you are either going to do the time or you are going to let the time do you.’ And I did the time on focussing on myself and what needed to be changed, what needed to be addressed, but not with the help of the system. It was the help with other women who experienced similar situations.
We helped each other to grow and to get through and to move on. And I can say that the relationships that I established with women in there, who went through things that I went through, I wouldn’t trade them for nothing in the world. ‘Cuz they helped me to get where I’m at and to get through the things needed to get through because I felt I was the only one. I felt so alone for such a long time and it made a big difference to be able to talk and just people to understand and not judge you for your past or to criticize your past.
J.A.: Can you talk a little bit about describing exactly what it was like while you were inside. How was it that you lived? Did you have your own room, all of that kind of stuff…?
D.D: Everybody used to call me a crybaby because I cried everyday. Especially when I would get letters from my kids or I would call them or the days that I would call them nobody would answer the phone. In Lincoln, it’s a room with 20 women. There’s bunk beds, the room is so tiny and you got these little boxes underneath your beds that you keep everything in there that you own. It’s… That place broke me down. To be in a room with 20 women - that wasn’t my issue. My issue was the way that you’re talked to and the way that you ‘re treated in a place like that. They’re supposed to be there to rehabilitate you, but they make it worse because they treat you like you’re not human. They treat you like you’re a dog. The things that the officers are allowed to do, you know, to be in the dormitories, you know, when we’re changing, that it so humiliating and that’s something that I will never forget for the rest of my life is having to… me to be naked and be exposed to a stranger. I don’t think I’ll ever forget - I know that I’ll never forget that. The way it made me feel, nasty, because he was able to stand there and watch and there was nothing I could about it. There was nothing that I could say. I just had to deal with it.
Salome Chasnoff: Could you describe the physical space for somebody who’s never been inside?
D.D.: The living quarters are so tiny that two people - you brush against each other because there is no room. Two people can’t be standing at the same time. Ones gotta be in the bed or ones gotta be… one can be in the bed ones gotta be standing up - yous cannot both be standing up at the same time in you’re living space. It is so confined and so tiny. It’ll drive you crazy. There is no escape, just to think by yourself. There’s no where for you to just gather your thoughts. You sleep together. You shower together. You use the bathroom together. There is no place for you to escape, to collect your thoughts or if you need a few minutes by yourself, there is none of that.
S.C.: What were the sounds like?
D.D.: Keys. Keys. And radios. Officers calling in different codes. I can remember I couldn’t sleep at night, I guess maybe because I just wanted to hear normal sounds: noises from my kids. And you would hear the officers come talk and just rude things that they would say. Keys. When I hear keys I think of prison. ‘Cuz the way that they used to jangle. We didn’t have doors so we didn’t have to deal with that, but the keys stick in my mind.
S.C.: What about Cook County? What is the physical space like there for somebody that’s never been inside? What are the sounds like, the smells?
D.D.: Cook County jail smells. It’ll turn your stomach. They’re so nasty. All of their sanitized stuff is so watered down that I don’t think that place knows what a cleaning is. And there, the clinking of the doors… every time they would pop the doors because you have these big metal doors with a peephole, chuck hole thing, that you can look out of and every time they used to hit the button to unlock the doors or lock it, my heart would just jump. It would scare me because it just, it sounds like a POP. And I would get upset everytime because I would jump every time it happened and even after all the time I never got used to it, it never became something normal. Every time that pop button was made - the noise was made, it would scare me and the living - those rooms are so tiny. I mean, I don’t know the square measurements of it, but they are so tiny they are… like a normal sized bathroom, maybe a little bit - little bit bigger with a double bunk bed, a sink and a toilet. Most of the time it’s 3 women to one of them room. They’re tiny. It’s horrible. It’s horrible.
S.C.: You mentioned that the cleaning fluids were watered down, could you describe it?
D.D.: It smelled like filth. It smelled like… years and years of just dirt and urine and you name it. It smelled like they just… it never smelled clean. It had a stench. It just never went away.
S.C.: What were the visible signs of the unsanitary conditions?
D.D.: Oh, mice, rats, roaches. Umm… what are those bugs called from people not being clean? Women would have them… scabies, scabies really, really bad. I can remember them having to quarantine the whole tier that I was on. We had to do the scabies medicine. They has to give us new mattresses because they don’t check the women when they come in and it’s so hard to get the medical attention when you are in there. You could walk around with a condition for a while before you are seen. Something like that is serious because it spreads. They think everybody is just looking for attention… to go to the doctor, they want attention - there’s nothing wrong with you. They don’t believe you, they think because we’re inmates we don’t get sick, we’re liars. Or, better yet, who cares?
J.A.: Do you want to talk about your relationships with your kids now? And is it different with your daughter because you had her inside than it is with the boys?
D.D.: Let me start with my relationship with my daughter. It’s real rough. She… I’m not mommy, I’m… she knows I’m mommy, but I’m not mommy to her, grandma’s mommy to her. Grandma’s her security. Grandma’s her everything because she raised her. I don’t have the connection that her grandmother has with her. And it’s like… When we’re together I feel the loss. I feel something missing. And I’m sure with her it’s got to be so confusing for her. To umm… we connect to a certain extent. She’ll come with me, but she won’t stay with me. I’m pretty much a weekend mom for her. And I think maybe… as much as it hurts me to say, I know that she loves her grandmother more than she loves me and that’s something I do struggle with everyday because what can I do? I wasn’t there for her when she needed me; I wasn’t there to be her security when she was a baby. I wasn’t there to heat up her bottles when she was hungry when she was small.
I wasn’t there when she was teething, to rock her when she was in pain. I wasn’t there to teach her how to walk. I wasn’t even… I wasn’t there to hear her first words. I have none of that with her. And her grandmother has all of that. And they have a special connection. And I don’t think… I’ll never be able to come… I would never try to come in between that. I just want her to love me. I want her to trust me. I want her to know that I’m her mother. It’s hard. And my boys, oh I love my boys so much, they are so good. We go through some downs, but I love them because they’ve really given me a chance. We go to counseling and the counseling’s helped a lot and it’s getting better, but we got a long ways to go because they’ve suffered so much, but they’re good boys and I know they love me and they know that I love them. I just… it’s so important for me to be in this counseling with them and to keep talking to them because I don’t want them to ever end up like me. I don’t want them to suppress everything and to end up in the situations that I ended up in.
They know it - I talk to them so much. Sometimes I think I talk too much. But they need to know that they’re not alone. I don’t want them to never feel how I felt when I lost my mother and I know that they’ve felt it already when I was gone. And I’m trying to just make it right with them and show them that a person can make mistakes, but they can turn their life around. And as long as you can recognize your mistakes, you can do something about it. I don’t lie to my kids about anything. I’m so honest with them. And it’s real important, too. I don’t keep anything from them. We have a very open relationship. It’s a rollercoaster, sometimes they can be stubborn, but then they are so loving too and they’re so understanding and they’re so supportive of me. I just got through sayin’ this…
They have their own bedrooms in their grandmother’s house, but they don’t want that. We share a bedroom and they’re so content with crowded living arrangements we have, just being able to be with me. And I wouldn’t care if we didn’t have nothing material, material stuff don’t mean nothing to me just as long as I can love them and we can be together. They’re my strength. They’re my life. They’re my world, everything I do today, the decisions that I make… I sit back and think about the decisions because I know it’s not about me, it’s about my kids. And what I want them… what I want to instill in them and what I want them to grow up with. I have to be a good mother to them. It’s so important to me. It’s everything to me.
J.A.: How about your relationship with their father?
D.D.: He still stalks me. I just had problems with him a couple months ago. I had to go call the police. I went through a lot of… he’s so angry because I’m doing so good and I’m doing it by myself and I don’t want ask him for nothing and he has no control in my life, it makes him angry. He tries whenever he can to get in there, but I won’t let him. I refuse. I will never again let him or any other man ever have that type of effect on my life or control. I love me today and as long as I love me you can’t do it to me no more.
J.A.: It sounds like you’ve made a lot of changes while you were locked up, emotionally. Any other ways you think you changed or grew out of the incarceration?
D.D.: I think the incarceration has changed me completely in every area of my life. I appreciate the littlest things. I don’t take for granted a minute anymore. My outlook on life - I don’t live for the day or for the moment - I have goals. I have dreams today. I just see so much more for me. I didn’t never… I never thought that I would be capable of doing what I’m doing now: having the busy schedule that I have and being able to maintain, I never thought that I could have a fulltime job and go to school and be a mother - and be good at all of it! It feels so good.
The structure that being in prison, and being confined and not being able to make none of those decisions for myself: what I was going to do, when I was going to do it, not that like you could do a whole lot. That changed me because I have choices today. As long as I evaluate the choices that I make and the decisions and know that there’s long-term effects. On anything that’s cause-effect, cause-effect and I’m so careful now. That, the system helped me do that. I think everything through before I do or say anything anymore. That’s a good thing. It’s helped my parenting skills. Because now, if they misbehave, I think it through before I deal with the situation. Where before I would just react. And I don’t do that no more. I take my time.
S.C.: What do you like to do with your life? What would you like to do five years from now, ten years from now? Where do you wan to be?
D.D.: 5 years from now, I just pray that I’ll have… be able, for my kids, lemme start with my kids… my dream is to - I want a home for me and my kids. I want them to have stability. I want them to know that this is gonna be a place where they’re always gonna be safe and it’s always gonna be there. That’s like number one for me to do is just achieve this for me and my children. I see myself with a bachelor’s degree in social work and substance abuse, 5 years from now. I see myself eventually opening up - I wanna open up like a halfway house for women coming home, but them for to be able to be with their kids.
Because I know how hard it was when I came home not having the resources there, not having nobody to help me and not being able to be with my kids like I wanted to be with them when I first came home. And I think it’s real important. I know that - a women myself - I had to work on myself before I could be a mother to my kids, but I think that there needs to be a place for women coming out of the to have that option, because they don’t have that option right now. And that’s where I see myself. And just… keep advocating for change ‘cuz it’s not - the prison system is not there to rehabilitate you. They’re sending - women are going in and coming out way worse. They’re destroying the kids. They’re beating the mother’s down, but they’re destroying the kids. I’ll do anything I can to make a difference in the kids life because I have kids and I know what it’s done to them and if it’s anything I can say, do, volunteer, anything, I will do it for them babies.
S.C.: When you think back to penitentiary or jail, were there any funny experiences or any humor or any kind of warm experiences?
D.D.: Yes, I had a lot of warm experiences. My best, 2 of my best friends, I met while I was in the system. We came home together. She’s my baby’s godmother, she’s my ear - I call her up and just rant and rave and she just listens. We have such a close connection, such a close bond - we were roommates. So, she was there on days I would drop to my knees just crying and she was there to pick me up. She was there to wipe away them tears on Christmas and birthdays when I couldn’t be there for my kids. When they were sick and when my older one wouldn’t want to talk to me. She was there to be my strength when I couldn’t be my own strength. And then my other friend, she’s still incarcerated. She’s been locked up 13 years. She is like a big sister. I think that… I thank God that I met her and I know that if I wouldn’t of went to the prison system I wouldn’t of met her. And I know that everybody’s put in your life for a reason and she’s my motivator.
She’s just… I admire her because of how long she’s been in the system. She hasn’t let the system break her spirit. She’s a beautiful person and she will help anybody. And it’s… for me to see that, and I know how the system is, it’s odd. Because the system tears you down, it breaks your spirit, it breaks who you are, if you’re a compassionate person, a lot of women don’t come out compassionate no more after doing long sentences because they turn cold and bitter from the way that they’re treated because that’s how the system is designed. They get cold-hearted. And to see her still have this beautiful personality, this compassionate… it’s so awesome to me because she has not let these people change who she is, get inside and that’s special. I love her and can’t wait for her to come home.
S.C.: Is there anything else that you wanted to say that we haven’t asked you about?
D.D.: Yeah, I think it’s real important for people to know and to understand and to know that just because we’ve been incarcerated or are incarcerated it doesn’t make us monsters. We still have a heart; we just have issues, some of us deeper than others. It’s not about locking somebody up and thinking that that’s addressing the issue because it’s not - if the help’s not there to deal with the core of the problem, it’s just going to get worse and worse and their never going be able to make it out in society. There needs to be help, there needs to be counseling. There needs to be therapists.
There needs to be more programs because the jail system is not cutting it and these people have to come back to the communities. So, I think it needs addressed, there needs to be more programs. Especially, and I’m not being… but I’m a woman and I’m a mother and that’s definitely an area that really needs to be looked into and a lot of changes need to be made because it doesn’t just effect the women’s lives, but it effects the children - long-term. Them not having a mother around - I’m living proof, I lost my mother at 12 - some of these kids are younger than that, you know, who don’t have a mother in their life and they need their mother. But, they need their mother healthy, they need their mother with the resources to be able to make it when she gets out, and something needs to be done, otherwise they are going to keep coming back and it’s going to get worse and worse.
S.C.: If our society is organized around some people making a lot of money out of other people’s incarceration, like some people benefiting from other peoples imprisonment, what can we do to change that?
D.D.: To take that money from them and open up some programs. They’re making money off of it, but actually, if you really think about it, they’re going to spend more in the long run. The recidivism is going to keep going, there’s going to be more kids that are going to end up in the system and I mean, the kids are gong to end up in foster care and then eventually into the system, too. It’s a vicious circle and it’s never going to be broken until the system’s changed. It’s not just about… not everybody should be sent to the penitentiary. The penitentiary is not the answer for everybody. You send people there who are really not bad people and come out with all these different, how do I want to say that, knowledge of things they didn’t have a clue of. I was incarcerated for a long time and I was a good girl and I came out… God knows the things that I learned and heard that I would’ve never even heard about if I wasn’t in a system like that.
S.C.: Like what?
D.D.: Just different crimes, different crimes people committed, and how they did it and manipulating the - just different ways to commit crimes.