One In, One Out

I am delighted to be collaborating with Kim Cano, author of the highly acclaimed book, “On The Inside” to form the One In One Project.

“On The Inside” is based on a true story about a middle-aged woman who is sentenced to seventeen years in prison after committing a white-collar crime. Her family abandon her and without the support of her husband and two sons, finds herself alone inside the penal system. As her sentence wears on, Kristen learns about life in prison, the people she shares a common home with, and most importantly, herself.

The character Kristen is based on Kim’s real life sister-in-law. Kristen and I share many things in common. We have both experienced the criminal justice system as mature women charged with a white-collar crime, and we have both had to come to terms with how society treats women like us, women who have served their time and still carry the stigma of their sentence.

Yet, whilst Kristen served her sentence in prison, I did not. I was given a suspended sentence, which I served in the community. And Kristen saw the way the American penal system operated, whilst I experienced the British criminal justice system. One in, one out.

Together, Kristen and I hope to highlight the differences in each system due to our own experiences and to help raise awareness of how women who commit crimes are treated by society and media representation at large.

Kristen & I have started a pen-pal relationship across a vast ocean. Between us, we aim to form friendships between women in prison in the US and the SHE community women. Many SHE women have served short-term prison sentences and lost everything.  Under SHE’S umbrella, with support, SHE’S women will divulge their lives post-prison release and how they are building brighter futures. Kristen and the US women will contribute their experiences of their lives while serving their sentences and the women will draw support from each other.  Many of these women are leading busy and peer mentoring other women in prison.  Friendships are forming and women from two countries are drawing on support from each other.

Kim Cano, the author of the book and I met on Twitter after I spotted the book. With Kim’s support and allowing us to use her book, based on her family’s experiences and Kristen’s, the One in One Out Project will be the foundation of friendships formed under difficult circumstances. It is my greatest pleasure that Kim Cano has agreed to me using her fantastic book to facilitate this.

The Project welcomes any woman who would like to write to women in the US, serving prison sentences.

So, please watch this space!

On The Inside

9 comments

  1. I have received a letter today from a woman named Beth who is serving a 25-year sentence in Memphis.

    I am still waiting for a response from ‘Kristen’ after Kim Cano gave me her address details. As soon as I hear from Kristen, I will update.

    Back to Beth. She wrote to me after hearing about my quest in finding out more about the US penal system. While there are films, books and reports, there is nothing like the *eye of storm* to get the down and dirty on what goes on behind walls.

    Beth tells me the media representation of women who have been convicted of a crime in the US is similar to the UK. This is of no surprise to me. I shall write back to her and give her the UK pitiful attacks by shitty tabloids on women who in many cases are victims of some awful travails.

    Beth begins her story. She was born on a farm in Bonicord, TN. She describes herself as a person with strong work ethics. In High School, she was captain of the basketball team, president of Student Council and Homecoming Queen. Very American and very girl next door.

    She married at 19 years old and soon became pregnant.

    Life moved on, however and Beth is open over her crime, her husband was abusing her and in 2002, Beth could take no more beatings, she shot her husband. His body was found three days later where he fell and Beth was found hiding in the closet.

    I will go into more detail around her case as she has invited me to ask her more questions in my response. Long & short is, Beth pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 25-years. Her earliest release date is 2024. She was sentenced in 2003. Perhaps our Mark could come and clarify what a sentence would be for a woman in similar circumstances, in the UK.

    Beth is thriving among her friends inside. She has dedicated her time to helping other women who do not have her confidence. She runs groups and works full-time. She loves to learn and her two sons along with her four grandchildren keep her spirits lively.

    She explains that few women have a high school education (not unlike many of our imprisoned women) in her prison and she spends much of her time helping these women with their education.

    In 2007, the David Lipscomb University of Nashville introduced the LIFE programme. Professors and students went into the prison to hold accredited classes with the women. Only 14 women out of 500 were chosen and Beth was one of them. She now rolls out classes to other women.

    She has completed her BA in Liberal Arts and was transferred to a prison closer to home as her father became ill with prostate cancer. Ten years of good behaviour secured her move. This was last year. She has more freedom here as this is a minimum-security facility.

    In her new environment, Beth is a Clerk at a Career Management class which all women must take prior to release.

    Beth is now hoping to be moved to the Annexe which offers jobs and better pay. The Annexe offers the overall opportunity to prepare for life on the outside. Updates on Beth and her commute through to The Annexe will be made.

    Beth tells me she is fortunate, her sons are regular visitors, her grandchildren also and she has one close friend inside. Her close friend Linda is a wonderfully funny woman who keeps Beth’s sanity intact with her quips.

    Beth signs off with a poem and a beautiful, neat scrawl.

    An ode for Tracey McMahon, my friend in England:

    “Each day I am thank full for nights that turn into mornings, friends who turn into family, dreams that turn into reality, and likes that turn into love’

    She sends her love to England and all who sail in her. She asks if she can be of any help for my project and wants to hear news on how the British Justice System treats women.

    Well girlfriend, you’ve come to the right place.

    More soon….

    1. So you are going to inform her of our prehistoric beast, our over crowded prisons that are like cattle stations? Lock them up and throw away the key syndrome, our short term prisoners are just prison tourists bed, breakfast, and evening meal.

      They all suffer from the revolving door syndrome, all with tights around their ankles because there is no support to hold them up.

      The problem with our penal system is that it is an industry and not a correction facility. The industry it has created over the last five decades is now monumental, by the time the rich have had their pickings there is nothing left to help the prisoners.
      Staffing in our over crowded prisons is another problem, their only order of the day is crowd control. It creates a system for both staff and prisoners that only creates contempt for that system.
      Loathe or love the Yanks, they are are way ahead of us in many ways. They may have more prisoners in their Jails than China has. But one thing they don’t have is cattle stations, their penal system and their correctional facilities are far better than ours.
      Comparisons are often used to sweep things under the carpet, the lengths of sentences for similar crimes between the Brits and the Yanks are enormous. One has to remember that they are two different countries, so you can flush that comparison away.
      During the war did we not have the Geneva convention in order to safeguard prisoners of war?
      So in peace time we have nothing in place on how our prisoners should be treated.
      The crimes that so often happen in prisons are just a fact of life, they call it prison mentality.
      Any person that is in prison should still have the obligatory right to the “duty of care” from the state just like any other member of the public.
      Overcrowding in our prisons is the biggest factor on how not to run our prisons, the over staffing of the MOJ and NOMS has been another factor within an industry created to deal with our prisoners which is another factor.
      The National Audit Office reveals that this problem is being addressed, the industry is being removed from the national control and is being placed in the private sector.
      Will this bring about the changes that are so badly needed within our penal system? Only time will tell.

  2. Interesting response, JP.

    My primary interest is on women who are serving sentences. In “Kristen’s’ case, she is serving a sentence in a different state, so it will be good to hear her version of how life in Florida.

    In Beth’s letter, she sounds upbeat and positive. Education appears to be the overriding factor that keeps her going. Which is a contentious topic here given Grayling’s apparent distaste for organisations who are campaigning for improved access to education and books.

    I get your drift, certainly I do. The US in many ways are advanced than the UK. There is privatisation of prisons going on there. But like here, sentencing is based on the poor in society. So any person who is educated and in prison is going to feel frustrated at the lack of education there is in prison. Courses are designed for those who have no education. I found this so when I looked into courses for those serving a community sentence.

    Short-term sentences here are ineffective and do not work. Punishment continues on the outside and the UK makes sure people pay double for falling foul of the laws. Car and home insurance, jobs and of course the very unforgiving embedded British Psyche that people must be condemned forever. If I read once more, ‘if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime’ I’ll say something not very nice. Those who bray for people to be locked up, forget if we lock people up and do nothing, society bears the brunt of those actions as a whole.

    What does strike me, is we, are easy to slam the US incarceration ethics of the US. But once you have done your time, there is a degree of compassion. Look at Beth’s sons. They visit their mother, love her, keep her going. Beth needs no rehabilitation, she is paying for what she has done and that is the loss of her liberty to make her own choices. There was no self-pitying, certainly no complaints, a quiet acceptance that her life is where it is and she’s doing what she can to get through.

    Thanks for your response.

    1. I have to agree, I am not one who subscribes to the social norm that women should never commit crimes and then moan about how hard they have it in prison.
      I can also see the difference between short term and long term sentencing of both men and women. However the woman’s biological clock needs very little thought to how it must react when incarcerated.

      Men are built differently to women and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work that one out. Take any woman away from her children all be it only for a short time, I could only try to imagine the detrimental effect it would have on both woman and child.

      Place a woman into any jungle after taking her away from her home and her family, one would have to think that it may deter her from further offending. What about the anti-authority induced hatred for the authority that has placed her in that position.

      So just soak up the time and deal with it, a very gifted response by the many that have never lost their mother, sister, wife or daughter to this draconian system that is called our justice system.

      The fact that some women who are in prison for committing serious crimes is not the whole issue here, they still need to be a part of the system that they have been punished for their crimes by losing their liberty. Do they need further punishment by that system because of the failings of that system.

      Short term sentencing was only created by the system, not as a deterrent but because there were no programs set in place within society to deal with them without them losing their liberty. Surprise, surprise this has an impact on prison overcrowding.

      Many say the lack of education within prisons is a major issue in which I have to agree with, have we missed the boat here. I think we have to re-educate the establishment and the system that has created this problem.

  3. My sister in law, who I call Kristen in On The Inside, told me there aren’t a lot of educational opportunities until a person gets closer to the end of their sentence. She said people are under the impression they can get a degree, etc. but that’s not the case where she is. Maybe things are different in every state. I have heard that Florida and Texas are the two states with the harshest sentencing, so maybe that’s why she was given so much time.
    Sometimes I wonder how much a degree would help my sister in law. I know so many kids coming out of college right now with honors, kids who did everything right, and they can’t find work. If she will be competing against them, with a record for theft, those odds don’t seem in her favor. My guess is employers will shun her. And she’ll be much older when she gets out, so there will be age discrimination to contend with too.
    I think her best bet would be to start her own business. Maybe instead of training prisoners for jobs they most likely won’t get, they should make the training more entrepreneurial, that way the women will have a better chance to succeed in the future. That being said, I have no idea how a program like that would work or how start up money would be found. It’s just an idea.

    1. Hi Kim,

      Thank you so much for your comment.

      We are very much looking forward to hearing from Kristen.

      In Beth’s case, she has been in prison for ten years already so she’s approaching her halfway mark.

      Florida and Texas are notorious here for strict sentencing policies, so your comments backs up what is the general British opinion.

      You also make good points on Kristen’s crime. Any dishonesty crime brings discrimination. I had an existing business and while it was on the brink of collapse, my clients were willing to overlook the behaviour and referred to their existing relationship with me. If we go back 100 years, the ‘common thief’ was scorned in society and there is no worse label than the one of dishonesty. Many may argue this particularly with current day media representation and vigilante behaviours around sexual offences. If one is a woman and convicted of a dishonesty crime, woe betide you.

      In England & Wales, education in prison is available to longer term prisoners. Short-term prisoners have little time to get hooked into the system. The process is so painfully slow. Community education programmes are suitable for many, but they are not what would guarantee employment. Employment here is limited due to the tyrannical disclosure screening process and whole many employers claim they do not discriminate, an aggressive press article is what they want to avoid.

      That all sounds bleak. Reality is, if we act vulnerable and allow discrimination, we are likely to encounter it. In my day-to-day life, I encounter no discrimination at all. My main goal has always been to show an eager audience, that we are in control of our own output. I have written and engaged with many during my journey and I have been treated with nothing other than respect. It is that I hold onto and I did not need rehabilitation. I needed to sort out my life and stop doing what I was doing. I have been able to lead a life with my head held high. I hope the same for Kristen. I no longer beat myself up with a brick, I now use a feather.

      This project is growing and with Beth on board now, and women here in the CJS, communication with women overseas in similar situations (my plan anyway) is that women empower each other to find beauty inside an ugly situation.

      Again, thank you Kim, for allowing us to use On The Inside as our flagship novel based on your family’s circumstances, it is an excellent read and I love how you concentrate on the friendships formed within. I treasure my copy of this book. And having the paperback enables me to use as a prop for our women.

      Now we have the US postage problem sorted, we can really grow this area and give women both inside and out, hope.

  4. Both you and Kim certainly have formed a relationship that spans the vast amount of water between you both. Maybe the State or the system that operates in both countries could indeed show signs that they may be willing to explore new ideas.

    Systems imposed by any state are often accepted that they have got it 100% right, systems are set in place by humans and we all know that sometimes human error may have got some things wrong. Communities have to bare some of the blame when things have gone wrong, to appease the public within any community is another area that influences prison sentencing guidelines.

    Lock them up and throw away the key syndrome, we need to feel safe and criminals need to be taken out of the community. Any deterrent set in place will not stop offending by itself, people who struggle to fit into a community be it by deprivation or hanging out with the wrong peers. Will very often be the ones that are locked up, people are not born to be criminals it is a process that often runs alongside a certain set of circumstances. The wrong place at the wrong time is often used I was just unlucky, we all need a little luck at times.

    Communities are a place where families bond together and take care of one another, they police themselves and if you have no food for your children ask us and we will feed them. Don’t think you can just take it from others because you don’t think you have that choice, everyone has a choice it depends on which one you take. We have all made mistakes and some of us have wronged others. When prison is the starting point of any problem within any community you will never solve that problem.

    Those who think that lengthy sentences are the only answer would probably shine a different light on their thoughts, if it was their mother, wife, or daughter who is serving one. Criminalisation is a process that seems to be set in stone, and one thing for sure there is no movement in a stone, yet with age it does refer to the Stone Age. Living in the Stone Age in our modern society is certainly not one to be proud of. What happened to the phrase, you have to move with the times or you miss the boat completely.

  5. I received a beautiful letter from Kristen, yesterday. It was touching and her salutation was *Hey, girl* I knew then after much trepidation that Kristen had welcomed my card and words which I sent her.

    Having read Kim’s book, which is fictionalised but based on the story of her sister-in-law, I must admit to feeling choked that the real Kristen took the time out to respond to me.

    Kristen tells me she is very private and that trust is an issue. But her letter is beautifully open and she mentions Kim frequently in that Kim has offered immense support at a time when she felt abandoned.

    Kristen goes on to say that her time in *this hell* she feels she has become *me* again. She holds her head high and that she is making the best out of a bad situation. She mentions she has met beautiful talented women and she helps them via her role as a fitness instructor. She regularly holds volleyball and football tournaments. Kristen made me smile when she said she calls the facility, *Camp Cupcake*

    She keeps her fitness and her mind focused by running and she’s a strong determined woman.

    As Beth explained in her letter, and I know from our women here, the beauty out of the ugliness of such incarceration shines through each page of her letter. Kristen has many friends and she gives me a Helen Keller quote:

    *Life is either a daring adventure or nothing*

    Florida is well known for harsh regimes in its correctional facilities. Yet Kristen remains positive, bright and focused. Her letter shows no amount of self-pity, just acceptance for a situation that was of her own making.

    It was an honour to hear from Kristen & I shall send a response this week.

    Women of SHE are to be writing soon, they are very keen to be involved in this project. SHE welcomes these women from over the pond and we aim to forge friendships separated by an ocean. Looks like we already have.

    To Kristen,

    *Fall down seven times, get up eight*

    And much love from the UK & the women of SHE.

    As always, Kim, thank you for your help and for allowing this project to be spearheaded by *On The Inside*

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