On Different Sides of a Prison Wall, Two Women Fight for Second Chances - FAMM

On Different Sides of a Prison Wall, Two Women Fight for Second Chances

Consider yourself lucky if you’ve got Georgean Arsons rooting for you. Her day job over the years has been in corporate America, but her superpower is criminal justice reform work. She has advocated from her home in Sea Bright, N.J., for roughly 50 people in prison. On any given day, she’s emailing, answering questions, comforting those with no hope or near to it, and updating people in prison about vital changes in the law that may affect them. She draws on experience, wisdom, and a well of empathy. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s fierce and relentless.

 

“I don’t mind being told no, and I’m not going to give up. I don’t back down without a thorough discussion of the facts and options. And in this kind of work, that’s key.”

Georgean first became involved in criminal justice reform when her son was convicted in California of growing marijuana on federal property in 2007. He served four years behind bars and died just a few years after release, his life and spirit forever negatively impacted by the experience. Georgean knows firsthand and too personally how prison often fails a community, rather than keeping it safe.

“I didn’t know much about the criminal justice system before,” she says. “It felt like I was hit by a ton of bricks – it was overwhelming. So I started getting smart about it. I specifically got a paralegal certificate because I wanted to help him.” Over the years, Georgean’s advocacy, with the help of a formal education in education and project management and two masters’ degrees, extended to many others. “I am very committed to this work, and I do have a close relationship with these people.”

One of those people is Stacy Weischedel, and if anyone needs some kindness and help, it’s her. Stacy is currently serving a life sentence in federal prison. Hope is in short supply behind bars, and the background and circumstances that landed her behind bars would be tough for anyone to overcome.

When Georgean connected and started emailing with her, she didn’t know why Stacy was behind bars. All she knew was that Stacy was a gracious and mature woman, who radiated compassion, even though she was fighting her own demons. Georgean knew she had to start fighting for her – and that she deserved a second chance.

Stacy has been in prison for more than 23 years now. How she got there is a very rough and traumatic road. “She didn’t have the most rosy upbringing and childhood. It included sexual abuse by a trusted senior neighbor,” Georgean explains. “And then she was raped in her freshman year of high school. She married very young, and they had a baby girl who died. That was devastating. They had another child, a little boy named Cole. But the marriage fell apart – and so did Stacy.”

In 1997, at a low point in her life and with no previous criminal record, Stacy fell for Eric Weischedel, who introduced her to methamphetamine on their wedding day and abused her physically and emotionally.

“She was a battered woman. He was one of those obsessively jealous men,” says Georgean. “She could not eat unless he said she could. He made her sleep on the floor while he slept in the bed, things like that.”

Stacy, covered in bruises and strung out on drugs, would return periodically to her son, now in the care of his father. But her addiction always led her back to Eric. Their relationship – fueled by drug addiction – took its darkest turn when Eric brought Stacy with him to commit a series of crimes in the Pacific Northwest, violently culminating in Eric shooting a car salesman.

Although Stacy, then 24, had no immediate prior knowledge of the crimes her husband was going to commit, she was charged and sentenced identically to him for kidnapping, car theft/carjacking, use of a firearm, and transport of a stolen vehicle. For Stacy’s role in the murder, she was sentenced to life.

“No matter how many different ways I want to say I’m sorry, it’s not enough. I need to live my life making up for it.”

Stacy is now 48, and what has happened in her decades of incarceration has been remarkable. Among an extensive list of accomplishments, Stacy has worked with UNICOR, the prison labor program, for 20 years, learning everything from how to operate a forklift to installing sheetrock to payroll data entry. She learned how to play the clarinet and saxophone and became part of the prison orchestra, entertaining during the holidays and for special events.

Most recently, Stacy has been voluntarily cleaning the common surfaces in the prison gathering areas daily, trying to stave off COVID. Also, she is one of 14 people selected out of 100 to enroll in a community college degree program. Her “resume” is so long that you have to be reminded she’s behind bars when you look at it.

But beyond any of the numerous “things” Stacy has accomplished, what is most notable is more subtle. She has a way of connecting to people and to what really matters that is rare in the chaos of prison life. “She’s very, very active in religious activities,” says Georgean. “She will drop everything she is doing and sit down with any woman who may be in trouble and pray with them, or just listen. You can absolutely count on her. She is very sensitive – and that’s part of why she is so damaged, but it also means she is deeply empathic to others. Recently, I had some health issues and in our emails, she never forgets to ask me about how I’m doing, if I’m ok.”

Stacy’s remorse is profound: “No matter how many different ways I want to say I’m sorry, it’s not enough. I need to live my life making up for it. I just knew from the day I was arrested that I wanted better for myself and my son. And I have lived each day for redemption.”

Most of all, Stacy has built a relationship with her son Cole. Their bond has flourished. Recently, she was overjoyed to watch Cole get married through a video link. Although the connection wasn’t great, it was an unforgettable treat. And soon Stacy with be a grandmother. Cole continues to petition online for her release, and he visits her whenever he is able.

Her mother, Spring Witham, has stood by her daughter all of these years and is her fiercest advocate. She facilitated the several motions for relief that Stacy has filed to have her case and sentence reconsidered.

In Georgean, both Cole and Spring have a real partner in working for Stacy’s release. “I have been able to use some of my knowledge and skills,” Georgean says, “to help these people with their compassionate release motions and their clemency petitions.” Stacy’s sentencing judge has never once granted a compassionate release, but Georgean is hoping to connect Stacy with an attorney who specializes in defending battered women. Incidentally, Stacy made a quilt with fellow prisoners and donated it to the local battered women’s shelter, and another quilt she helped make is in the Barack Obama Presidential Library.

While Georgean blames the prison system for the unfulfilling path her son continued on after his release, she also knows that what happened to him inspired her to help people like Stacy maintain closeness to their families and choose hope.

Bottom line, Georgean is dead-set against one-size-fits-all sentencing. She knows that there is no algorithm that can adequately take into account who Stacy is now, at 48, compared to who she was at 24.

Meanwhile, Georgean continues her fight for a system that allows for exactly that – mercy and a second chance.

Help FAMM work to keep hope alive for Stacy and so many other women in prison serving outsized sentences that are tearing families apart. Check out our Second Chances Agenda and make a difference with us.

Stacy (left) and her mom

State:
Issue: Clemency