Interview with Donna Henry
motherhood prison-life state-violence substance-abuse
Donna Henry: The only part that really, like really, got to me is being… you know Kankakee it was…it was a nice place to a certain extent. It was only 200 womens, 2 to a room, I was blessed to really get to someplace like that. Instead of being Dwight when there’s a thousand womens, no privacy, no no nothing. The only thing that really got me was “the Gateway”—you know, Gateway’s the drug, you know, re-hab. And it was like . . . and they were letting the inmates run the Gateway.
Carolyn Watson: Donna, I’d like for you to tell me a little about yourself—your early life… when you were young, growing up. How many brother and sisters did you get with your mom, or your grandmom - you know, just start out by talking a little bit about yourself.
D.H.: My name is Donna Henry. I have 4 sisters; there’s 5 of us, five girls, no brothers. I lived with my mom. My childhood, it was okay, my mother did all she could do for us, you know and my father was there, too. It was just my decision to go out there and do the things that I was doing coming up. In fact, things got a little rough for me when I started, you know teenage, wanting to do what everybody else is doing. I was hard headed—didn’t want to listen, a lot of things happened to me in my life when I was young. It was like still now it’s hard for me to deal with, you know.
C.W.: What things?
D.H.: I got raped before.
C.W.: You were raped at what age?
C.W.: Could you tell me about that?
D.H.: A guy I didn’t know. . I was outside one night, hanging outside with my friends. My mother had gave me a curfew. She was at work, so I felt I could sneak out, you know. And you know, My cousin was kind of like, “wild.” you know. And I was “wild,” but not at the extent that they were. I wasn’t that “wild”. Still I wasn’t doing the things they was doing. One night we were sitting on the porch and this guy, I didn’t know . . .all I knew was that his name was Josh. He was a much older guy and he, you know, just kept playing… you know, when older guys with younger girls want to keep trying to talk to them, and I’m like I’m not that type of person . . .and I was playing with my keys, the keys I had in my hand, you know how you be throwing your keys up. And I threw my keys up and he snatched my keys. It was about one o’ clock. Knowing I shouldn’t of been outside at the time. We were sitting on the abandoned porch, you know, how everybody just sit down, just kick it . . .and he threw my keys in that apartment was where they sold drugs out of and my cousin had got up . . .you know, we all just… they got up and was talking to they boyfriends and I’m like, I stood there, I sat there about five or ten minutes and I’m like “Man, I don’t want to go in there and get my keys. I’m like this man get to playing and I don’t know him like that.” I should have followed my first mind when I said I didn’t want to go in there and get my keys. But I’m like, Okay, I told my cousin, “stay right there, don’t go nowhere, let me go in here get my keys.” And she on her own little thing with her little boyfriend and so when I went in there he pushed me in. He had came all the way down the stairs and I’m thinking he gonna come up and he came and he pushed me in. And by that time it was like, everybody was gone…everybody was gone. It was like, just me and him and I was trying to… and I’m like, “Get me out this door, open this door, let me out this door, stop playing with me.” And the he kept telling me things… I’m like… telling me who I was. Because the only thing he knew was that my name was Donna, but, that’s what I thought. He kept telling my name, my whole name, where my Momma worked at. And I’m like, you know, it kind of startled me, you know, cause he was telling me all this stuff. I’m like, “how you know all these things about me if I don’t know you?” And all the stuff he was saying about If I tell somebody… at first, I was real scared, I’m not finna say I wasn’t because I’m a teenager I didn’t know what this man gonna do to me, you know is he going to kill me or what? We got to tussling I’m trying, but now I’m getting scared now cause he more bigger than me and more taller, so it’s like, “okay am I going to die? I’m not going to say anything, I do what he tells me to do, say what he want me to say.” It was just…we were crazy… at first I thought he was just… you how a person act like they’re going to do something to you, but then…and once I seen and I tried to go back toward that door, he hit the wall and his whole fist went through that wall and then he pulled a knife out and I knew right then and there that he was serious. He kept telling me he had a gun. And, I didn’t want to take no chances, if he pulled this big knife out, I don’t know, you know what I’m saying, I don’t know what else he really do have. And when he got telling me what he was going to do to my Momma, she ain’t home for work, how you know my Mother not home from work? Which I knew she wasn’t home from work, that was the purpose for me to sneak outside. That kind of like messed me up, when he said, “I got a knife. You tell somebody… ” I’m like… it’s like I don’t know if he was just playing with my mind, but everything he was saying was the truth: How could you tell me where I lived? Which way I go home which way I come from school if you don’t know me? You know… He raped me. The only way I really got away from him… cause when he went down, caught himself trying to… and I kicked him and I ran to the door… I said I got do something. I heard my cousin. My cousin came to the door. They kept sayin, “Donna in there? Donna in there?” And he kept saying, “No.” they kept sayin, “I know she in there. I know she in there.” I’m sayin in my mind, “Lord, please let them… they know I would’nt’ve just left without them.” So, my cousin boyfriend came back he just kept beating on the door he kept sayin “man, she up in there.” It was a 40 oz. bottle right there and I knew I could get out, and I’m like “I don’t know if this man gonna kill me or what.” It was abandoned building, so it was a window, I said, “If I grab for this bottle, I gotta take one good shot throw it out the window for they could hear, because I could hear peoples, you know, coming past cause it wasn’t no more openings. It was like, it was an abandoned building, boards and everything.
C.W.: How old were you?
C.W.: When did you start using drugs?
D.H.: I was about 23.
C.W.: So a long time afterwards?
D.H.: Yeah, I tested reefer, didn’t like it. Tried the drinking, didn’t like it.
C.W.: Did you tell anyone about the rape?
D.H.: When I came home… he had come let me out, but he didn’t let me, I forced the door open. At first I didn’t tell my cousin they asked me…but knew something was wrong. But, I was like, “There ain’t nothing wrong, ain’t nothin wrong.” The only thing I thinkin about now was my Momma because she hadn’t made it home from work. An then, when I got home she wasn’t there, so now I’m really thinking if I say something, then I say he and his friends probably do have my Momma. And my sister was in the room and my sister’s friend, they knew something… so I told my sister, I told her “Don’t tell nobody, but she like, I got to tell somebody.” I said, “Just wait ‘til Momma come in,” but Momma never did come in ‘til 5 o’clock or 6 o’clock and then my sister told her, her sister-in-law, I had ran me some bath water and I was just finna get it, and they call the police and they kind of like scared me because I’m young, I don’t know what they gonna to do to me, and it was like when the police come through the door, my Momma was coming through the door. And I ain’t never been more glad to see my Momma… in my life.
C.W.: Did you become sexually active after that?
D.H.: I had already was sexually active. That kinda like, I think I was 15, matter a fact I wasn’t 16 I was 15. That kind of made me . . .
C.W.: So, you were the youngest of 5…
D.H.: The baby.
C.W.: Did you finish high school?
D.H.: No, I dropped out in my 12th year.
C.W.: You dropped out of school?
C.W.: Did you started getting in trouble with the law, what?
D.H.: I didn’t start getting in trouble until I was 22/23. I waited ‘til I had 2 kids, get grown, to start acting crazy.
C.W.: So, in between the rape at 16 and 22 or 23, what were you doing? In terms of your life?
D.H.: Umm… I had really just kinda like…I was still Donna, but I was a . . .to a certain extent Donna. You know, certain things, I didn’t go out. It’s like I had cut all that out. I had really stopped all that. Like, I secluded myself. I knew what happened, but I just didn’t want to face what happened. It’s like now it still bothers me. I try to deal with it, but it’s like it was kinda hard because he never was caught.
C.W.: So, you did report it?
C.W.: To the police?
C.W.: Tell me about that experience.
D.H.: Whoa, As I recall like first I was telling you, it kinda like scared me when they came to the door. I had to tell somebody this might be another man. And, you know how you thinking you bad when you coming up—thinking can’t nothin touch you? That made me feel like sh-, I mean . . .
C.W.: The investigator was a male, not a female?
C.W.: So, you know, describe, you know…
D.H.: When I was telling him about it… at first I didn’t want to open up to another man. I’m not finna say I did because I felt real nasty, you know. I felt like as if I wasn’t worth nothing. I just didn’t understand how could a grown man to do something like that to a child. When I was telling him, the officer, you know, he was open, he wasn’t like some mens be like. He understood where I came from; he was asking me “am I okay?” you know. He knew I wasn’t okay mentally or physically. He took me to the hospital and I was tellin him that I was kinda ashamed to tell my mother, you know, about what really happened, He told me “Don’t ever be ashamed.” That’s my mom.
C.W.: So, at the hospital, do they have special people to talk to you and stuff like that?
D.H.: Back then… I don’t know if I was just too embarrassed…you know, that’s probably the way it was.
C.W.: So, how old were you when you had your first child?
D.H.: I was 18…17
C.W.: Are you married?
C.W.: Have you ever been married?
C.W.: Tell me umm… about… as life kinda turned. When you started getting in trouble.
D.H.: Ooh… My life turned when I started using her’on, because I felt I was too good to use cocaine. That wasn’t me out there going out tricking off or tweaking or none of that… I though that I was too good for that, you know. So, I didn’t want a drug everybody knew about. I wanted something laid back, undercover as I thought, you know… one of them type of drugs. But then, you know, you start selling drugs, someone already took care of habit, I took care of my habit. You know, as I thought I was a full-functioning addict, I thought because I did what I was supposed to did as far as my kids, stay in the house—I thought I was a functional addict. But as I realized, I wasn’t. You know how you can be in the house, but not really in the house, you know?
C.W.: I want to digress just for minute. You used the term, “I felt nasty.” Can you describe that?
D.H.: I felt like shit. I felt like somebody pissed on me.
C.W.: So, you started getting in trouble with the law?
D.H.: I started selling drugs.
D.H.: And then, at first I never did got caught. But as they say: “in the long run you will.” And it’s like when I stopped selling that’s when I started wrong place at the wrong time. And It was just, it was just my time.
C.W.: So, how many times did you go to the County jail?
D.H.: I went to County 3 times. The third time I stayed.
C.W.: Tell me about that. Your first…
D.H.: My first time I ever went to Cook County for a drug case…
C.W.: and what it felt like…
D.H.: I had always went to Harrison and Kedzie for a couple of fights… I had about two or three fights. But, I never went to Cook County to stay. So, when I got there I’m like, “Damn. Me. Donna. In jail.” I couldn’t come to grips with it, you know. Man, in that place they treat you like crap. Like crap. Put you in the room when all the ladies lock you in, give you that nasty baloney. It’s…and then, it’s when like you know you have to go court. They just…They treat you like you as if you nothing, and I feel I don’t care what we do, we all the same.
C.W.: Were you in the drug program at the County jail?
D.H.: No, I was not.
C.W.: So, you go to Dwight. Describe . . .
C.W.: How many women were there? The bus ride… Tell us about it
D.H.: The bus ride was long, there was just so many womens tooken away from they families to see that we choose to do. It just really make you think, “I’m not finna go back home anytime soon.”
C.W.: Your first impressions?
D.H.: This is a cage. I’m finna be locked down like an animal and that’s how I felt.
C.W.: Can you talk about what we talked about before we started, about the sounds and feelings?
D.H.: Cause on our way it was like… you know as we got there it was like this loud noise, I don’t know what it was. You know, it was like, like a siren, I don’t know if it was to let them know we coming or what? And when we get off the van, where they was standing there with them guns. I had to really think, “I’m a criminal, you know.” Something you would see on TV, never thought that it would happen to me. I was here, as they say the “big house,” I’m here.
C.W.: How many women came with you on shipment?
D.H.: How many womens? There was about a hundred and something womens… shackled…
C.W.: So, tell us about that experience. Shackled?
D.H.: Yeah, we handcuffed. We, the whole nine yards… feet, hands we linked to one another and then when we got there, okay, it’s like you hear, “You going to do what I say do, that’s it that’s all, ain’t no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Your rights are really gone.” They try to make it like… you ain’t got no rights. When you come through the door, you can talk to them with respect and they still treat you like crap. You know, if one person do something it falls back on everyone, you know they take you upstairs in this room, open the cold window, it’s cold, it’s the wintertime, you’re going to open a cold window? We already in this jumpsuit, this nasty jumpsuit, we don’t how many womens have been up in this? You don’t know if it’s clean or not. You gotta take off everything, your panties, your bra. Your body touches something that you don’t even know if it’s clean or not. And they want to open a window. Talk to you like your dog—“shut-up!” that ain’t how you talk to nobody, I don’t care what we do or how we do it. We still ain’t got to be treated like that.
C.W.: What was the worst part about that processing?
D.H.: Man locked up until you be able to be cleared as they say, to go to a better place. Ain’t nothing better to me, ain’t nothing better… locked in a room 24/7…
C.W.: You got to explain to somebody that doesn’t know you in quarantine then…
D.H.: You in quarantine . . .
C.W.: And you can’t move until what?
D.H.: You cannot move up outta there until you clear is you maximum/minimum, your security come back and you able to go out on the yard and go to where you are gonna to be living at for your terms, or if you lucky, if you…you get to go someplace else. But if not, you stuck there. And just like being dead, you see, You walking dead.
C.W.: Do you go out to eat?
D.H.: Is that what you want to call eat? Yeah. Put you in two’s, stand on one side of the row, talk to you like you crap, you know: “Go this way, go that way.” You go inside the cafeteria or whatever you want to call it to eat. You got five minutes, practically 5 or 10 minutes to eat. So that means you gotta eat real quick and real fast. 9 out of 10 ain’t worth eating.
C.W.: So how long did it take you to clear?
D.H.: I cleared… I stayed in, locked in that room for 7 days. You ate in that room, you slept in that room. You only was able to go take a shower, if you got lucky one time out of a week. They tell you all the good junk: 1,2,3,4,5, but you know it’s not like that. You know, you locked in this room 24 hours a day and the only hour you get out—you don’t even get an hour out—1/2 an hour to go take a shower.
C.W.: So what’d you do?
D.H.: Washed up in my room and when I was able to get out I went and took a shower. That’s when I signed up for Gateway in Dwight. Everybody say, “Sign up so you can get out quicker.” And I went over there, it wasn’t no better.
C.W.: Tell us about Gateway.
D.H.: Gateway in Dwight, it’s a drug rehab, you know, dealing with your drug issues. To me it’s really what you want: if you want to stay clean or not. Because over there, they wasn’t over there for the rehab. . .you know to learn what you can learn about your addiction. They focus on somebody else. How can you get yourself well, if you focus on somebody else. They made, they biggest mistake by putting the inmates in charge. Never could you do that. Because we all big-headed. We all think we run something and we don’t run nothing. It was a lot of miscommunication. Everybody want to be the boss and I felt that, that was the wrong decision to do that. I felt that the counselors should have been the counselors, the inmates should have been the inmates. There’s nothing wrong with one of us trying to help one another, but how can we help somebody when we ain’t helpin ourself? You now, I don’t mind the help, but I have to help myself first. If I’m giving all my focus to you, and you ain’t on where I’m at. I’m gonna be just as sick as you is. It’s not a picnic. When they say. . .it’s another form of slavery to me, that’s all it is. They try to dress it up. Can’t dress it up.
D.H.: It’s just, instead of. . .you working for 7 cents a day. You working like a dog. You doing things that. . .lifting up stuff . . .I don’t mind, but don’t treat us like crap. It’s either we do what they say we do or go back and get locked up, it’s so simple. It’s so simple. They might as well have just kept me handcuffed because that’s what it is. Put you on a job, put you in one of them nasty uniforms, and go out there and clean up slop like dogs. Clean up . . . damn.
C.W.: Were you mandated by the court or you picked it?
D.H.: I choose, because I knew. . .I was sick. If I didn’t learn about my disease it was gonna kill me. And I was tired of dying, I was slowing killing myself, just didn’t realize it.
C.W.: So describe one day in prison. Take me through your whole. . .just one day.
D.H.: One day in prison for me…is hell.
C.W.: And make me know what you experienced.
D.H.: Misery. Lonely. Depressed.
D.H.: Okay. One day . . .In Dwight, because you there in Gateway. . it wasn’t like other penitentiaries where you get up and go to. . .you there. 24/7 you there. You get up in the morning, take a shower, and then you DTI, you clean up and then you go to group. From there we used to be from about 8:00 in the morning until 5:00. It was meetings. Meetings. We go for… at 12 o’clock we go for lunch. We come back, sometime we have recreation, but it was group. Learn our addiction. . .therapy for me. Cause I took it. It was medicine and I took it because I was sick, I needed to recover. And then after that, it was over with, to dinner, go to sleep. And it’s like same old thing, constantly repeating itself. Especially. . .and you didn’t have a chance to. . .if you didn’t get in Gateway, it was best to go to school. It was best to go to school.
C.W.: Describe your worst day in prison.
D.H.: My worst day in prison for me was at Kankakee because I got switched from Dwight, to Kankakee. My worst day was bad, as they say, “A bust,” in Gateway. “A bust” mean no movement. It mean that everyone acted out of control. No movement, we have to stay in our room 24/7, the only way we was able to come out was for our group assignments, or our duties.
C.W.: And why were you all “busted?”
D.H.:Because people weren’t. . .it comes back to we trying to be in control, not wanna follow rules.
C.W.: So, how many people were punished?
D.H.: Everybody. Everybody was punished. I didn’t like it, for the simple fact was, if I do something, let me own up to mine. Shouldn’t nobody got to take responsibility on mine. And Gateway in Kankakee did not run it like that. They was more on favoritism to me. It was a lot of favoritism. I could come and tell you anything, that’s not how something should be run, you know. It’s because you like me, I’m the counselor, I like you better than her. They say it wasn’t, but it was. And it was out of control. They kept telling people to stop, stop, stop. I felt they should have never had inmates. . .how could you walk up to a grown person and tell them “shut up, you do this?” No, that’s not how you come to nobody. And that’s where they messed up at. See, they didn’t care they didn’t have to stay there, they was going home. They left the inmates in charge and that’s what happened, the inmates got big-headed. Everybody had to suffer. Think I liked it… locked in the room?
C.W.: What was your room like?
D.H.: 2 to a room. I was blessed to have a nice roommate…The third time because my first roommate set our room on fire.
C.W.: She had some problems?
D.H.: No, she was smoking. . .she asked me for a cigarette and I gave her a cigarette and you know it was 3:30, it was “count time.” After count cleared, it was time to the CDR, to eat. She knocked the fire off the cigarette into the garbage can. And when I didn’t go to dinner, I sat in the hallway, in the other room and a young lady asked to read my book, read my magazine. And so luckily I got up and when I came in the hall I smelled smoke. And I’m not thinking it’s my room, you know. Go in the room, open the door, phoof! The fire. What really hurted me was that she lied and said she wasn’t smoking. So, I’m finna get blamed for something that you done? I didn’t like it all.
C.W.:And you did?
D.H.: We went to the superintendent afterwards because…what really made me…the lieutenant there, after the fire, 5 minutes after the fire, told me how to go in that room. Now, you in a small room, little bitty, ain’t that much window, ain’t that much air, but closed in, ain’t no air circulating. . . after a fire, I got smoked up I couldn’t breathe, they had to rush me to Dwight. Because she was not supposed to put us back in that room, it was plastic from the garbage can, and I got…my chest was all. . .I didn’t know what was wrong, I thought I was about to die. And after she said that we were stuck in that room, thank god for Sergeant Richardson because when the other officer came, I said, “I cannot breathe in this room.” And she came and she looked at me, I was like “huuh, huuh.” Gasping for some air and I couldn’t…it didn’t affect her.
C.W.: Did the fire department come?
D.H.: The fire department put it out. Naw, we put it out, because I came in the room and I seen a cup of coffee. . .that’s the first thing. . .i just grabbed it and threw it on it. But the plastic, the fumes and stuff, that’s what made me sick. And what really hurt was I felt she was my associate, I could never say she was my friend, but she lied and said that she didn’t smoke. I admitted to the superintendent that yes, I did give her a cigarette, but not thinking she going to put the fire out in the garbage can. I hold responsible for giving her the cigarette. I’m not going to be held responsible for putting that garbage can on fire in that room. . .if I didn’t do it. And when we came to him, before he started he said, “I appreciate y’all tellin the truth.” He had seened it all in me, because I wasn’t finna be charged for a fire.
C.W.: Did they charge her?
D.H.: Yes. For something they. . .yes, I wasn’t finna take the blame for that. Another case in the penitentiary? Oh my god. I ready to go home to my kids. My whole life had already ended, you know, coming there. And she finally ‘fessed up cause he told her, “Whatever happened, I’ll make sure it don’t happen, you know, you won’t get as much, I just give you a simple punishment.” He was cool. He could have sent us away in shackles back to Dwight. But, he didn’t. there were only 200 womens there. He gave her a chance. It’s like, when your roommate do something, you be held responsible for it. That’s what they like. Because I came to the penitentiary by myself, I was going to do this bit by myself. Wasn’t nobody else going to this bit for me, so why should I have to be responsible for somebody else actions? That’s the only thing I didn’t like.
C.W.: Could you talk a little about the staff? The guards? How they treated you?
D.H.: Dwight, okay Dwight staff I dislike them because they felt, cause they was the guards you wasn’t nothing, and that’s not how the world goes. Okay, we know we did the crime and we do the time, but you ain’t got to treat us like we don’t exist and that’s you they treated us. Kankakee. . .them guards was nice, they treated you with respect. That’s one thing that I can say. . it wasn’t a whole lot like Dwight. . . you know, Dwight, with the officers that were there, they treated everyone with respect. It’s how you carried yourself, is really how they treated you. Because you can’t treat everyone the same. I don’t care if you try to treat her right, her right, one is going to act crazy. So, they treated you according to how you treated yourself. They respect. . .they respect everybody.
C.W.: Did you ever see anybody sick and needing medical attention and not being able to get it?
D.H.: In Kankakee? That’s one thing I never seen. That’s the place with 200 womens. They was on top of it. They did all they could do.
C.W.: What about at Dwight?
D.H.: I never really was too much out because Gateway we stayed in, we didn’t have a chance to go out. I was there one time, this girl got sick, when I was in there we came in, they didn’t open the door. They didn’t open, you know how they supposed to open the door, they let us stay there, so she just hollered. Just to holler because she wanted to get out. You don’t know if this lady is sick or not, you a officer, I feel he supposed to open that door and let that lady out. She was hollering bout she could hardly breathe, that she had asthma. And he did not. He did not open that door. We can’t hardly see it, but we can just got a little bitty thing in Dwight you can just see through it, and we can hear that open and that door, he did not open that door, he sat right down there act like she was saying nothing. Until the next officer came on shift and the next guard, everybody was hollering downstairs to that guard that this lady she can hardly breathe. And that officer, that lady, went up there and let that lady out that room. And I felt that, that’s not right. I don’t care what we do, how we do it, we still a human being. Cause they never know when they can get sick. They never know, I don’t care who you is, you never know what can happen to you. You gonna need somebody.
Salome Chasnoff: What about the shower situation at Dwight? With the guards?
D.H.: Oh my god.
C.W.: Going to the bathroom. Describe that.
D.H.: It’s like going to the…It’s like going to the zoo. No privacy. It’s nasty, un-sanitized. You got no shower curtain, just like slavery with the water hose and they spraying you down. D.H.: Yeah. The water coming down, you may as well be standing right there because the door open. The guards. . .it’s really no privacy. The door don’t close hardly and you don’t have nothing up there to block you so you in there, another lady in there, they got a mirror right there, which I feel that is so crazy. Why would you have a mirror right there if the door is open? If you coming this way, you free to look at her.
C.W.: So it’s set up?
D.H.: Yeah, for they can watch.
D.H.: When you walk in, you got 2 stalls for us to take a shower. You got a mirror sitting right here. The door is right here and whoever come in this way can see you and can’t nobody come in this way but the officers because we all are locked in our rooms. So, it’s really no privacy. Ain’t nothing to pull back, close the door—close what door? The door barely closes. So, it’s like you might as well just stand right there and take a shower. On the other parts, if the gate locked, then you go down there, then that’s it, but over there where you quarantined you in quarantine. That’s what it is. It’s not a place where I would ever choose to go back to.
C.W.: Did you have visits from you children?
D.H.: I was blessed.
C.W.: Tell us about that.
D.H.: My sister came, my kids foster mom brought them out. I was blessed to see my kids every month. I was blessed.
C.W.: Tell us about the experience of them taking your children from you. How did that transpire?
D.H.: My son caught TB. My little baby got exposed to tuberculosis and I didn’t really realize how serious that was. I had took all the doctor’s appointments, I missed 2 doctor’s appointments. When I got locked up my Mother had had a heart attack. As they say “rock bottom” that was my rock bottom. The day I got locked up, the before that my momma went to the hospital she had heart attack. My Momma, my kids, losing them. . .It was time for me to be a woman. To do what I need to do.
C.W.: The process of. . .how did you lose your kids? What happened?
D.H.: By going to jail. They felt that, DCFS felt that, there was no one there. How’d they put it… wasn’t nobody there able as they claim enough to take care of my kids, but I felt that was a bunch of crap because they father stepped up, my family was there. At the time it was just. . .
C.W.: They notified you in prison, okay. . .
D.H.: No they didn’t! They did not notify me. My family, I called home and my sister, my neighbor told me. Then my sister came and told me everything that happened. DCFS steps into your life and . . .it’s not like the first time to deal with them coming into my life. I had two her’on addicted kids, you know, so I been dealing with her’on for about 6, 7 years. I was kind of angry for them coming back in my life because I felt like I did what I needed to do because I felt like I did what I needed to do to get them out my life. . .as I sit down now and think about it, it’s hard to come to grips with it, but I’m doing what I can do now to get my kids back. It’s not easy being in the penitentiary knowing that DCFS is in control of your kids. It’s not like I can say, “come here, y’all,” it’s not like I can say “Go sit down y’all.” I can always tell them I love them. But being there 24/7 with them, it was hard to come to grip with that.
C.W.: So, when your mom got sick, they took the kids?
D.H.: Yeah. They said. . .it was as they say neglect because I missed two doctor’s appointments. Like I was incarcerated when it had happened. I kept, you know, I stopped asking why and I just came to grips and stopped asking why. You know, I had to realize god does things for a reason. That’s what it took for me to wake up. I can’t say for nobody else. They. . .the people taking my kids, my Momma almost dying, going to the penitentiary. . . whoa…that can knock the wind out of anybody.
C.W.: So, a neighbor told you: “They got your kids.”
D.H.: And it’s like I went blank: It was like, I couldn’t hear, I couldn’t think. That felt like I was going crazy. Sent my birth into this world and somebody else got. The lady who birthed me into this world finna leave me and I’m the baby. How stupid can I be? How could I go out there and do the things that I done? Everybody’s blaming themselves. What happened you know My family who did this? Who did that? Right today, when I go to court, they really can’t give a good enough reason why . . .because I was there took care of them—I did, I did. But, like I said, god does things for a reason, like I tell my family don’t even argue about it. What ever happened, happened. That’s what it took me to wake up call. I thank it. Because, evidentially, I must wasn’t being a quote / unquote momma like I was supposed to be. Because if I was they’d never be in the system. I’m not going to sit and say I was superwomen, because I wasn’t.
C.W.: So you had. . they brought the children for you to see them?
D.H.: Yes, every month and I was blessed to have someone who was looking for my kids, love my kids like they mine. My oldest sister got my daughter and two people, the Hangman’s have my two sons. And I’m blessed to have them. They treat don’t treat my kids as foster kids, it’s they kids, our kids, you know. Young people, 30-somehting, blessed. They stay out in Calumet City. I am blessed to have them in my life. They ain’t gotta treat my kids like that.
C.W.: So, tell us about the programs that you’ll have to complete to get them back.
D.H.: Okay, I have a parenting. . .I completed parenting. I did the drug program. I completed all that. I’ll be okay. I’m okay. As long as I chose not to use, I’m okay today.
C.W.: So, when will you get the kids back?
D.H.: I got to go back to court again in February. The judge told me . . .well, I told him that right now I was not financially able right now to get them. I’m not finna go in there and say that I can when I’m just now getting a job. I’m just now being born again. I got to learn . . .come to grips with myself. It took me a while to realize that things ain’t going to be the same, Donna. You just can’t walk back into your kids life and say, “do this, do that, do this.” It’s not going to happen like that. I did thought that was going to happen, but reality is, “mom, you was gone for a year, it was hard.” It’s tough, except, I was gone. It’s just a wake up call. It made me realize that I can be here today and gone tomorrow.
C.W.: Did I ask you to describe your worst day in prison?
D.H.: Yes, that was the bust on Gateway, locked in the room 24/7, when they would come out. I didn’t like that.
C.W.: What did you do?
D.H.: Nothing. Go to school, go to work.
C.W.: No, I mean in the room?
D.H.: Sit down, listen to the radio.
C.W.: You had a radio?
D.H.: I had a radio. Thank god my family was there for me, I had a radio and I went to church. I had a radio. That’s all I had in that room. I played puzzles, but…time just to think. . .in that room 7 straight days, not able to come out, only to go eat, only to go to your assignment—anybody would go crazy. Be about the same person for—eat, use the bathroom with that person in there. That was very uncomfortable for me. Very. You know what, to me it is just a learning experience. It’s a learning experience. You know when I got out, I choose not to go back.
C.W.: So, have you had counseling?
D.H.: I go to therapy now, with my kids. It’s Thursday. I went before, I did the parenting, I did the drug rehab, I did the outpatient. . .you all didn’t have to do none of that outpatient because I ain’t used no more for two years.
C.W.: Are you still on parole?
D.H.: Yes. I get off next year.
C.W.: I’m not clear about how you got into prison like. . .
D.H.: Selling drugs. Possession with intent to deliver.
C.W.: And how long was your sentence?
D.H.: I got four years. . .I had three cases: I had a possession with a delivery; possession with intent to deliver. I had two possession with intent to deliver, but the judge threw one of em out, combined both of them together, and gave me just four years. I was blessed to come out with 4 years. Them cases are long. One case 6 - 30 years.
C.W.: These are class X’s? So that you had, wait. . .
D.H.: No, they didn’t make it that yet. I didn’t have that much, I had enough to send me to the penitentiary. It was enough.
C.W.: What was the best day for you in prison?
D.H.: The best day for me in prison was the day my sister came and told me that my Momma survived that heart attack. That was the best day. You know, my momma. This made me look over my whole life. Thinkin about what I shoulda, coulda did for her. I’m the baby, I’m the youngest, I need to do for my kids what she done for me. It was an eye-opener. I love my kids, they mean the world to me. Without my mother, I wouldn’t have been able to have them. So, that was the best day of my life, when they told me my mother was going to live.
S.C.: Describe your cell. The different cells that you lived in.
D.H.: I was in one cell in Dwight - they had a mattress problem - this little… big, real hard, toilet was rust, iron, water pushing in. It wasn’t home, I didn’t like it. I’m not finna sugar-coat it. I didn’t like it at all.
C.W.: Could you fix it up?
D.H.: Yeah right. Got jokes today. Yeah with some tissue around it. If you wanted your booty to warm. Ain’t no fixing that up.
C.W.: Cause it’s metal. . .
D.H.: It’s metal. Imagine waking up in the middle of the night, have to sit on something metal to use the bathroom on, and you flush it and it’s like your whole body being suctioned in. You could drop bread in there and it would go straight down. They tried to give you a blanket. A itchy blanket. And a sheet. It’s a place I will never, ever, in my life. . .I can say never, ever, because I know I’m not that bad. It’s not a place for a human being. It’s not.
C.W.: Did you have friends there?
D.H.: Friend is one term that I don’t carry too often. Associates. Because you gotta know what a friend mean before you say somebody’s your friend. And then you have really no friends, it’s what you make out of it. You can have a close associate . . .because you never…“trust none, suspect all” - -that’ s my motto. Because you got peoples that’ll skin and grin in your face knowing you ain’t did nothing, but to cover their butt, to get outta hot water, they’ll put you down, just to cover theyselves.
C.W.: To do what?
D.H.: To get theyselves out of trouble.
C.W.: Did you see a lot of that: Stool pigeoning?
D.H.: Yeah. A whole lot of that.
C.W.: Tell me.
D.H.: It’s like…Okay, one incident: In Kankakee, one of the ladies got caught with drugs in there. People was lying on peoples who didn’t have anything to do with it. Somebody came up in Kankakee, brought some drugs in there. It looked bad on us because it was a privilege to be in Kankakee: minimum security, it looked like a house, a boot camp, it’s like little hotels. My family came . . .drove past the place, many times, they looking for barbed wires, fences, guards. Wasn’t none of that. It was not none. . .we had are one… we had our own friendly one little dog around there. It was nice and for somebody to you know, seen how nice it was to have their friends, couldn’t be they friends, to bring some drugs up in there—I have never, ever seen that many police in my life. It was like watching the FBI. I forgot I was jail, but being there, it felt like you really wasn’t. But, when that happened that day, it was like watching “LA Law” and “America’s Most Wanted” because they was there people was getting innocent peoples in trouble. Like this one girl who did it, she knew it was her stuff. Her roommate had just came back from having an open heart surgery, an old lady. You gonna sit and say that she had something to do with it? How could you, you know, why would you get somebody else in trouble like that? Knowing that old lady wasn’t down with y’all. That was your all’s stuff. And I felt they shoulda took the blame for themselves. They asked us. I felt that old lady shouldn’t. . .she was on her way home. You know, imagine she had just came back. . .we was glad to have her because she was like momma around there. You know and to a little young girl to do something like that to her. ...what made it so stupid, the girl who did it—it wasn’t for her, she was doing it for somebody else. You going to be that dumb to go pick up some drugs up and bring it back for somebody else? And if she was on immediate release to go home, she waiting on days to come back. How stupid could you be?
C.W.: So, how many police was there?
D.H.: Whoa…man, man, man. They was waking us up outta our sleep. Those who had visits, they was waking you up asking,“Who came to visit you? What they came to visit you for?” Then, It was like being in penitentiary because they wanted to know. I don’t blame them because that was a minimal place, you know, why would you jeopardize everybody else’s life. How was you gonna sell it? Commissary?
C.W.: They get it all?
D.H.: Yeah, they it found about 60 something rocks, her’on and cocaine. How you going to smoke a rock… and knowing a place this small? Knowing you could smell cocaine floating around there.
C.W.: Where did they find it at?
D.H.: Up under the girl pillow. It was time for Officer Alex to do appliance check. Appliance check mean, make everything in order. You know she’s always telling us,“y’all we finna do appliance check.” So, it means for us to get up off our butts and go fix our bed or something. GO fix the bed; Go do a little something. And the girl sat right there and the officer went into the room and we knew something was up when the officer said everybody go into your rooms. And the superintendent came up there. We knew something. That was crazy.
C.W.: She got more time?
D.H.: Oh yes, they shackled her up and sent back to Dwight. That was a minimum place and they took a lot of people. A lot of peoples went down for that. You never know who alls has to do with it until it came out. I felt everybody shoulda took the blame for their own, but who could take the blame? If I can get you to bring me in something, that gonna be on you. That’s just how they was thinking, so it just showed they wasn’t on nothing, they was still on the same garbage. If you keep, continue to do the same thing, you get the same result. But, after that, it was back to Kankakee. It was back to Kankakee.
C.W.: Oh, Okay, the rules didn’t change?
D.H.: No, it was back to Kankakee. It was a little rocky at first, because they want to know what happened, how did it slip up in here. Cause the streets was right there, so it was right there. You know they say, one messed it up for everybody, and that’s what they tried to do.
C.W.: When you were Dwight did you ever see guards abusing women?
D.H.: Mentally. Physical, no. I cause…I wasn’t able to get out there much. You know, cause it’s like everybody knew about them hitting on womens. . .now, behind closed doors, you know what happened, but in front- they talked to you like crap. That’s enough abuse right there for anybody. They curse you out, call you bitches… I mean, 'scuse me . . .c’mon you’re going to call womens that? I seen one guard, told this lady he would spit on her. Because she was walking out of line supposed to be on one side. He driven her: “You don’t move, I’ll spit on you.” That is just the nastiest thing you can do, spit on someone. Yeah, come to think about it, my roommate. . . it just made me think about it . . .this one officer was in there, she told me that a lot of ladies had reported him because he was making them have sex with him. Like sucking on him because she would never want me to go nowhere, and I don’t know why she would be like “stay here.” I was like, “huh? I was finna got out to group or something” and then they took her, she had finally reported to the counselors, by Gateway, we have counselors, and she reported to the counselors, and they put her and a couple more ladies in protective custody. How you going to charge them for something she . . .they not the one’s doing it, it’s your officers. That’s what I didn’t get.
C.W.: Instead of her coming out and telling you, she just wanted you to stay in the room all the time?
D.H.: Yeah, and then when she finally told me, I’m like he did what? She said,” 'Member you came in here…” I’m like,“Yeah.” and when the gate parked and she was like real jumpy and nervous and she trying to make me suck his thing man, I’m like “Oh, man I’m like, you better tell somebody.” And she was like, “If I tell somebody they ain’t gonna believe me and something more gonna happen to me.” But, then we she said…a couple a more other ladies said, finally said something. She was like,“Damn, he was doing this to all the damn ladies up here.” They was too really too scared to say something. Then everybody got to telling…I’m like… Then they put them . . .it was they word against his word against and guess who won? Him.
C.W.: So, that’s what she said, “If I tell, it ain’t going to help.”
D.H.: Yeah. And it didn’t matter. It’s just like, to me, when you’re in there with certain officers, you might as well just say “rape me.” It’s just another form of it. Because you dressed up in that uniform.
C.W.: Were you aware of any officers and inmates going together?
D.H.: At Kankakee. . .no, they was married. Going together? Naw….there none of that in there. Some of the officers were married with husbands and wives.