Home for the Holidays

During my approved grocery shopping for Thanksgiving…

I just typed today’s date.  After pressing “11.28.2011” into my keypad, I started to backspace over the “2011”, thinking “well, maybe I’ll just leave it shorter, and omit the 2011 part.  We all know what year it is.  Besides, it might look snappy that way.  Yes.”  Then it occurred to me not only that we are now well into the 2011 holiday season, and thus the New Year is fast approaching, but I was reminded that the time I will be spending within the confines of house arrest will span far into 2012, and with that, this blog will exist to document the experience.

I suppose that I could take some small comfort in knowing that at least I will be out of here before Nostradamus’ cryptic prediction of the apocalypse.   I will have just over one month of unbridled freedom before the world holds its breath and looks to the sky on December 21, 2012.  No sense in thinking of that now though.  Good Lord.

One year of house arrest. This is strange for me to think about.  One year.   That much is certain, without accounting for grim, outside possibilities- which we’re not.  Whatever else may happen, I will be on house arrest for 365 days.

So few things in life are certain.  This truth has seemed especially piercing to me, coming out of the last two years.  I began that time by naively stepping into a “job” situation that turned out to be an entrapment in a world of illegality in the end, unbeknownst to me in the beginning.  By the time I did find out the nature of what I was a part of, I felt that I was in too deep to get out.  It was terrifying.  I lived every day wondering what the hell might happen next.   Then came the arrest.  This marked the end of one hell and the beginning of another.  The first a private hell, and the next a very public one. In my experience, I have found that a private one is far worse.

I spent almost one year and a half in legal turmoil at the federal level, not knowing what would happen to me.  Sentencing finally arrived.  Relief?  Yes, of course, there was some of that.  It could have been so much worse.  Be that as it may, I found out that I was, in fact, going to federal prison.  Enter another unknown.  What would prison be like?  How could I, someone was who was once co-president of my high school and an honor student with plans to conquer the world, survive in such a reality?  Well, I did, and I learned a lot bout myself and other people in my journey.  I am grateful for that.

I am still very much adjusting to being on the electronic monitoring program.  There are restrictions on everything I do now.  I can’t do my laundry without first leaving a message with my probation officer to alert her that I am leaving my apartment to go downstairs to the laundry room in my building, for example.  I have two probation officers.  One is assigned to oversee my “release” for the next three years, including my initial year of home detention.  My interaction with her thus far has been one 3-hour first meeting at her office in Inglewood, CA, and one home visit in which she popped by my apartment to make sure that I am living in a suitable arrangement.  Tomorrow I will come to her office for my first random drug test.  I am required to drug test because my crime was drug-related.  I’ve never had any problem with substance abuse or addiction, but because of the nature of my crime, it is protocol that I be tested.  Usually, under these circumstances, I would be required to report to regular testing, but because in pretrial I was testing up to eight times a month and had not one positive test, the officer has permitted me to submit only to random drug tests.  She called me this evening to report tomorrow.  That’s how that works.

The other probation officer is in charge of monitoring my home detention.  This job is a lot more hands-on, and I report to her multiple times a day usually, through leaving a message on her automated system.  Every week I am required to submit a schedule request for the following week, including my exact work schedule, my proposed time for grocery shopping and other essential activities like doctor appointments, etc.  I am also allowed three hours per week of what is called “Earned Leave”, or “EL”.  This is time for me to do something of my choosing, whether it be going to dinner with friends, seeing a movie, getting my nails done, that kind of thing.  I have to fax her this document every week.  This has proved to be a challenge though, because in the program the offender is generally required to fax the information 7 business days in advance.  I am an actress, but I pay my bills through working as a server at a restaurant, so my schedule is made less than a week in advance.  The officer has given me permission to submit the schedule for the next week every Friday, by 12pm, but the rub there is that my restaurant’s work schedule is usually ready by the end of the day on Friday.

Last week I barged into my manager’s office on Friday at 11:40am, begging him to please give me my schedule early before it had to be faxed to the probation office.  He was understanding, as we had already spoken about the details of predicament, but nonetheless it was stressful to have to pressure him to give it to me when it wasn’t necessarily ready.  I have no personal access to a fax machine at home, so I had to ask another favor to be able to use the fax machine at the restaurant.  My managers have been very understanding throughout my legal ordeal, but still I wish that I didn’t have to keep asking for favors.

As you can imagine, this has been quite an adjustment for me.  Not only has my general freedom to do as I please been revoked, but I have also been faced with the consequence of not being available to support my friends and loved ones as I would like to.  I’m not able to go home to WA to be with my family for Christmas, for the first time in my life.  If I’m not working, I will spend the holidays at my apartment.  I already spent Thanksgiving here.  Thankfully, I was able have some friends over.  There are no restrictions on having people over to visit, as long as they have no outstanding criminal record.

I did feel a pang of helplessness though, when my friend Rich passed away unexpectedly (When is death ever really expected?) last week.  His services were on Friday, and though I dutifully faxed in a request to attend, it was denied.  I have never experienced losing a friend before, and I wish that I could have been there to join in celebrating his life with people who knew him.  I have little else to say about that right now.

I will write again soon, and hopefully in better spirits.  I find myself in such a strange situation now, but at the same time I plan to make the most of it.  Losing Rich has reminded me that life is precious, even if it is currently being lived on house arrest.

Freedom.  It is so relative, when you really think on it.  It has been said that “we create our own prisons”.  As that may be true, I wonder now if we also create our own freedoms.  Freedom of the mind, freedom of the heart…  Whatever physical freedom we may be allowed in this moment, whether it be by a court-order or a present decision or inclination, it is up to us what we make of it.  We are welcome to decide to be unhappy or look at the darker side of things, but at the same time we are just as welcome to embrace something better; to strive to make ourselves better and happier, and more able to give something back to the world, regardless of what it has given to us.

346 days to go.

First Blog

I was released from federal prison on November 9th, 2011.  I was incarcerated at Victorville Federal Prison Camp for women in Adelanto, CA, in the desert, for a term of 30 days.  Today is the 12th day of my “freedom”.  I sit in my single apartment, in Los Angeles, alone.  I have a GPS location device on my left ankle. It’s bigger than I thought it would be.  It reminds me of a pair of binoculars, strapped to my ankle with a two-inch thick plastic band.  I am on house arrest.

On August 26th, 2011, I was sentenced by a federal judge in Columbus, OH to serve 30 days in prison, 365 days of home confinement, and two years of probation, following a guilty plea to conspiracy and possession of over 220 pounds of marijuana with intent to distribute.

I will be on the electronic monitoring program until November 14th, 2012.  One year.  Today will mark the completion of my first week of home confinement.  This is my first blog, on any site, ever.  I have never felt any inclination to blog prior to now, or even to post regular updates on Facebook, Twitter, or otherwise.  However, given my recent turn of circumstance, I have decided to document my experience via this website and blog.  This is a new reality for me, and I wonder if sharing my experience may help to alleviate some feeling of detachment or isolation from the “outside” world that could occur during my confinement here.  Then again, it could be worse; I did just come back to LA from being an inmate in federal prison.  I am free, yet confined.  A compromised freedom.

Being here is better than being caged in a prison, but, such as in life, with every change, we trade one set of complications for another.  With this blog I intend to share some details of my current set of complications.

I know that many thousands of people have been in this program, and live in it today.  I have never known anyone who has been in this situation or is in it now, but I would love to connect with others in similar circumstances in a hopefully shared interest to make the best of an unfortunate turn of events, spun out by unfortunate decisions.  Here we go.  More soon…

358 days to go.