“I had a rough childhood,” says Margarita Zamora. “My father never wanted nothing to do with me. When he found out my mom was pregnant with me, he left her because he was a married man. My mom was always in and out of relationships. I had two stepfathers, and one of them sexually abused me as a child. And then I ran away from home when I was 17 and got together with my first husband … My last job, I was working at a Burger King, all these hours, and I couldn’t even make enough to pay my rent or feed me and my kids. And so that’s how it all started.” (Click here for this story in Spanish)
At 39, Margarita Zamora was desperate. She wasn’t an addict; in fact, she’s never used methamphetamine in her life. But her desperation led her to make terrible decisions, and she ended up in prison for trafficking methamphetamine.
Growing up in poverty in San Benito, Texas, there weren’t a lot of options for Margarita. She didn’t finish school, and after leaving home, she quickly became overwhelmed by raising several kids and trying to make ends meet. In and out of prison since 2000, she was involved in selling drugs with one of her sisters when she found out she was pregnant again. Finally, a lightbulb went off. “I hadn’t been able to raise my other kids because I was in prison. I missed out on so much. I realized I wanted to stop everything I was doing and be there for them.”
But before that realization, the sisters had been transporting drugs in Texas, and it finally caught up with them. In August of 2014, Margarita’s sister Jessica Sanchez was arrested. Eventually, Jessica implicated Margarita in the conspiracy, and even though she’d changed her ways and was starting to get her life in order, Margarita was arrested in 2017. For her role, she was sentenced to 150 months (12.5 years). Jessica, because of her cooperation, was sentenced to 84 months.
Information on how the disease was progressing in prison, what the Bureau of Prisons was doing about it, and how to stay safe was non-existent.
At FMC Carswell Camp where Margarita was imprisoned, the already bleak situation got even worse when COVID hit. Information on how the disease was progressing in prison, what the Bureau of Prisons was doing about it, and how to stay safe was non-existent. Staff put up tents to isolate people, but at the same time, officers were coming and going with no regard for hygiene protocol. “I remember one officer wasn’t even wearing a mask,” Margarita says now. “He went into this one girl’s room and got in her face and yelled at her. After, she was like, ‘I could feel his spit on my face.’ There was nothing we could do. We were like sitting ducks in there.”
At this point, Margarita was terrified – and sick. She suffered already from diabetes, high blood pressure, and liver disease, and was therefore especially vulnerable to COVID. “I just remember praying that day and asking God to give me another chance, that I had already learned my lesson and that I needed to come home to my babies.” She applied to her warden for compassionate release and was denied. “I was losing hope.”
That’s when she received an email from FAMM, sent to federal prisoners, about the process of applying for compassionate release through the Clearinghouse. Margarita asked her sister Maria to help her with the application. Soon she was connected to a public defender who pulled together her paperwork, medical records, and disciplinary records, and put in the motion for her release.
On July 22, 2020, Margarita was granted release. Since she’s been home, she’s been adjusting to being “mom” again, after so long away. She lives with her husband and three of her daughters, ages 5, 8, and 23. “When I went to prison, it was terrible for them. My eight-year-old, she went through a terrible depression, crying all day, every day. My husband felt so bad. Now, after all this time, we’re adjusting again.” Her eldest daughter is expecting a baby boy, and Margarita is excited to be able to be around for him.
And she hasn’t forgotten about something she told a friend she left behind at Carswell. “My friend said, ‘Pray for me. If you have a chance, tell them what’s going on here, how the conditions are.’ I told her I would do the best I can.
“I still can’t believe it,” she says. “I still cry here at home. Wow, I’m home. I’m actually home.”
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