Life's Turning Points
by Karen Johnson

My story is perhaps more common than one would think given the increase in the amount of women being incarcerated here in Illinois. Despite my pre-sentencing report – I was a business owner for 5 years; a wife over 22 years; and the mother of three including a son with Autism. I, a first time offender, was sentenced to two three-year terms.

Incarceration has not been easy, especially on my family. My husband, who has Multiple Sclerosis (MS), has struggled being a single parent working a full time job trying to keep our family together. Prison was nothing I imaged. I had only movies and videos to go by in the first place. But I have come to realize the system isn’t based on rehabilitation, but on warehousing. This is not to say that there aren’t women working to improve their situation and prepare to re-enter society. I’m saying that there is very little in way of programs and services to help achieve this end. Not surprisingly, the rate of women returning to prison in Illinois is around 46%.

It’s my belief that incarcerated women pose a greater challenge to IDOC. Many of us are mothers. And in the six months I’ve been here, I’ve seen the toll it takes on women. Women, grieving the loss of family, men, and especially children many never seeing their children during their time here.

I, myself, have tried to learn to internalize the stress and fear over the separation of my family. My sentence has become theirs and this fact I struggle with on a daily basis. What I’ve done to our family I consider almost a form of abuse. And I pray every single night that we can make it through this and that my bonds - as a wife, partner, and mother grows stronger.