In my life before incarceration I lived believing in a couple of myths surrounding the Criminal Justice System. One of those myths were that people in prison deserved to be there and their time fits their crime. I also believed the system was not biased and people were granted a second chance when they did mess up. I quickly found out that neither of these myths were true because after living most of my life with minor brushes with the law, for driving without a license and a few personal bad checks, I found myself facing serious criminal charges. I never thought nor expected that I would come home one day to federal detectives at my boyfriend’s house, nor that the evening would end with me handcuffed and heading to jail. I thought, surely they will see that I am not a bad person and give me a second chance. Yet as the months progressed after my million dollar bail was revoked (REALLY? who am I, Charles Manson?), my questions were left unanswered. Finally the Federal Public Defenders showed up and started explaining things to me. I thought I was in the twilight zone, surely this wasn’t how it went? It didn’t matter that I had a credible 16 year history of abuse or that I clearly wasn’t the mastermind behind the crime, I was still just a broken and scared woman facing some serious jail time. They said the Feds were black and white, you were there or you weren’t there. They said the best thing for me was to sign the plea deal that had a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years. And that was the best case scenario. My first offense and I could get 15 plus years?!? I didn’t want to take the deal, but after hearing stories from other women who ended up with more time because they had taken it to trial, I signed the deal. In court the Judge stated he realized that my boyfriend was the mastermind and he acknowledged some important differences in our case then others like it, as well as make the statement that he wasn’t afraid that I would recidivate but that I would end up with another man who would cause me to. I received the minimum which was still 15 years. I deserved time for my part, I deserved to be punished and held accountable, but the time doesn’t fit the crime. Especially when I see state cases that were way way way worse than mine and they got off with a slap on the wrist. Over the last 8 years I have remained shot free and I have tried my hardest to rehabilitate myself. I took every class I could that would help me mentally, physically and spiritually and now I help teach those classes to other broken women like myself. I am a new person, a new creation. I haven’t hugged my children in 8 years. Where is my second chance at life? I am in no way the only person who has suffered from these things. Just take a look at Alice Johnson, who received clemency for a life sentence for being a “phone mule” in a drug ring. And there are so many more I couldn’t list them. I just want to know when are changes going to be made for the people who are incarcerated and serving excessive amounts of time? When will we be looked at as people and not inmates who are often regarded as animals. People on the outside go about living their daily lives with the delusion that the Justice System is fair and just. They look down on those in prison and don’t truly understand what it is like to be caught up in the system and have your freedom taken away. I understand this all too clearly because I used to be one of those people. There are a lot of good people in prison. Women caught up in conspiracy charges where they could simply have answered a phone call and got pulled into a case. The world needs to see and understand that changes do need to happen. There are too many families separated and children suffering without their mothers. This myth needs to be squashed once and for all as we cry out, please read and understand our stories. Thank you. — Margaret J.