An Interview With Women Offenders-DC Public Safety

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– Audio begins –

Len Sipes: From our studio in downtown Washington D.C., this is D.C. public safety, I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. We have another interesting program on women offenders, and back at our microphones, we have Dr. Willa Butler. Willa Butler is a supervisory community supervision officer, and most places throughout the country, they call their people parole and probation agents, within Washington D.C., we call them community supervision officers, and Willa basically runs a unit for women offenders, and we have three people who are currently within her group, and I’m just going to be using first names to describe all three. We have Jacquelyn, Jacquelyn’s on probation for failure to appear, we have Diane who’s on probation for drug dealing, and we have Kim who’s on probation for assault, and to everybody out there listening, we really want to thank you all for your participation, for the comments that you give back to us. We’re up to 135,000 requests on a monthly basis for D.C. public safety, on the radio and the television side, and for the articles and the blog, and even the transcripts, which is certainly amazing to me. If you need to get in touch with me, you can do so via email, and that’s Leonard, L-E-O-N-A-R-D, dot-sipes, S-I-P-E-S, @csosa.gov, or you can follow me via twitter, which is twitter/lensipes, S-I-P-E-S, and with that long introduction, Dr. Butler, Willa, you’re going to start off the whole thing. How you doing?

Willa Butler: I’m doing fine, Leonard. I would like to thank you for inviting us here today.

Len Sipes: I always enjoy your presence, Willa!

Willa Butler: Oh, well thank you so much!

Len Sipes: You and the young women that you bring to these discussions, I think, are some of the most interesting people that I get to talk to, and we get all these requests from the listeners for more and more programs for women offenders, or regarding women offenders.

Willa Butler: Okay, well this program is WICA, Women in Control Again, it’s a holistic approach to counseling, which I developed in 1998 when SAINT/HIDTA became a unit.

Len Sipes: Right, and St. Hida, nobody’s going to understand what that is.

Willa Butler: St. Hida is a substance abuse unit that we have here at CSOSA which was developed in 1998, and they asked me to come over and develop a gender specific program for our female offenders, and when you study female offenders, it’s just not substance abuse that we’re looking at, but it’s a holistic approach as to what happened, we go back to when they were children, or do a retrospective journey back, and we find that many things have caused them to enter the criminal justice system, and one of them is needing support and programs such as WICA, a place where they can be directed, where they can get some type of help or support during their traumatization or victimization or whatever they’re experiencing at that moment or in their past life.

Len Sipes: Okay, and people are going to say, “Willa, Dr. Butler, they’ve committed crimes. What do you mean, their victimization?”

Willa Butler: Well, when I say victimization, it’s basically what you’re experiencing growing up. We all basically, society is dysfunctional, but some areas a little more dysfunctional than others. When I say our environment, what we’ve been subjected to, and a lot of times, we as women, not only female offenders, but we have been subjected to victimization as children, and a lot of times, it has gone unanswered. And response to that victimization, I don’t want to use the term, it’s acting out, but we may do things a little differently than the so-called “normal” would do. We have survival tactics maybe a little different.

Len Sipes: Well, the research, this is all Department of Justice research, and we’ve talked about this before the program, is that the research from the Department of Justice basically states that women offenders have higher levels of substance abuse, higher levels of mental health issues, and in terms of research on abuse and neglect, offenders basically stating that they were abused or neglected in childhood, sexual abuse against female offenders who were victims of sexual abuse is astounding. It is above 60% where I think for male offenders, it’s somewhere in the ballpark of 10-15%. So we’re talking about, in essence, different types of offenders when we were talking about male and female offenders, correct?

Willa Butler: Yes, exactly. Like you said, the statistics are higher for women, although men have experienced the type of victimization, but they handle it differently than women do, and one of the main concerns is that women don’t have support when they go through it as children, or as adults, and they have the propensity or tendency to, I’m not going to say, I don’t want to use the term, as acting out, but like I say, survival skills, they become more dependent as opposed to interdependent. A lot of them, due to – maybe – due to the victimization, I don’t want to say, but they don’t finish school, and therefore, they don’t have the economical means to take care of themselves, and sometimes they go to, maybe selling drugs, or boosting, or something of that nature.

Len Sipes: And I think, you know, we’ve discussed this in the past, Willa, the idea is this, and you tell me, and the ladies who are going to be interviewed can tell me this or not. I’m not, number one, I’ve got to say, I’m not making excuses for bad behavior, because I’ll get letters, and I’ll get emails, and comments on the program saying, basically, “Leonard, you’re making excuses for bad behavior.” It’s not so much making excuses for bad behavior, it is basically what is, and I’m recording this at 10 after 11, and all I’m saying is that it’s 10 after 11, and people listening to this program have heard this example from me before, and that it, it’s simply that the facts that I’m talking about right now, I mean, and the majority of criminologists in the country talk about, and there seems to be a consensus among people within the criminal justice system that the following is true: women offenders have substantially more problems than male offenders in terms of the coping because they’ve had a pretty tough life. A lot of them have been the victims of sexual violence. A lot of them have raised themselves in the same way that a lot of male offenders have raised themselves. Their codependency, or their dependency upon males has gotten them into real trouble. I’ve talked to dozens of women offenders who are serving long stretches of prison time because the male basically said, “I want you to take this big carload full of drugs to New York City, and if I don’t, I’m going to mess you up.” It just seems to be, in many ways, a different world, most women offenders have kids. When they come out of the prison system, if they come into the prison system, they’ve got to come out and deal with kids, so it’s just not them that they have to be concerned about, they have to be concerned about kids, so in everything that I’ve said, when I’m expressing a consensus of criminological opinion, do you believe that this consensus is correct or incorrect?

Willa Butler: I believe that it’s correct, but moreso than being correct is preventive measures. If we had more preventive measures in place, then it wouldn’t go this far –

Len Sipes: Like what?

Willa Butler: As opposed to a place where a person can go, a place where a person can go when they have been victimized, and number one –

Len Sipes: At what age? We’re talking about –

Willa Butler: At an early age.

Len Sipes: Okay, so you’re talking about kids getting the mental health –

Willa Butler: Children, as well as adults, because a lot of times, even women, they’re not believed that something has happened to them, or either they’re made to feel guilty. One thing, when you’re talking about being raped or molested, is that what part did I play in it, and that’s what society has the tendency to look at, well what part did you play in it? We didn’t play any part in it, because no one has a right to violate your person.

Len Sipes: Well, how can you hold an 8-year-old responsible for being the victim of a sexual assault by a family member, which is extremely common amongst women offenders?

Willa Butler: One thing, not being believed. I think that’s the most traumatizing thing, because you’re being re-victimized all over again, because, you know, our parents, our support, our safe haven, and when you go to them and tell them that something like this has happened, they don’t believe you. So then you’re out there left alone, I mean, who else can I, where can I find refuge, if I can’t find it from my mother or from my father, and depending on who the abuser is, sometimes it may be the mother or the father.

Len Sipes: And it’s not unusual for it to be the mother and the father, and I’ve read that within research. So that becomes part of the problem. That becomes the whole issue of, if you’re wondering, as criminologists would say, if you’re wondering why women offenders are the way they are, take a look at their own upbringings. I’ve heard other people say that it’s massive child abuse. It’s child abuse on a massive scale. Now that applies to both female and male offenders. But it’s a situation that we don’t talk about, Willa. That’s the weird thing about all of this, it’s a situation that we really don’t like to talk about, and why we don’t like to talk about it, but we simply do not like to address the fact that, in terms of, let’s just talk about women offenders right now, that in many cases, they have been extraordinarily abused in terms of their own childhood. Now I’m not going to put words in the mouths of the three ladies here, and we’re going to go over to them right now, starting with Kim – Willa, is there anything else you wanted to follow up on? Because I’m going to let you end the program.

Willa Butler: No, I’m fine. Thank you.

Len Sipes: Okay. Kim, one of the things that I find interesting. Now you’re on probation for failure to appear. Now all three of you have basically talked about having a criminal history, having a history of substance abuse, having a history of being in and out of crime. Is that correct for you?

Kim: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay, how long – get closer to the microphone, please. How long have you been in and out of the criminal justice system, Kim? How long have you been in the game?

Kim: Let me start with, I left home at 13, and I’m 41 now, I’ve been using since the age of 13, and I left home, left school, I didn’t go to school, 8th grade, so I haven’t finished my education, I didn’t get my GED, because of my drug abuse.

Len Sipes: Okay. What’s your drug of choice?

Kim: Crack. Cocaine.

Len Sipes: So you’ve been at it for decades.

Kim: Forever.

Len Sipes: Forever. Have you been –

Kim: Off and on.

Len Sipes: Have you been in prison?

Kim: Yes. In and out.

Len Sipes: In jail? Okay. So you’ve been, you’re exactly what we read about.

Kim: Exactly.

Len Sipes: In terms of being in and out of the criminal justice system. What’s your take on your experience, what’s your take on being with my organization? What’s your take on life in general?

Kim: Right now, I’m more angry with myself, because it’s not like I didn’t have support, and my family was a lot of support, because they still are supporting me, you know, my family has always been there for me, you know, I love them so much, because they’ve never ever turned their backs on me, no matter what I’ve been through, so I just want to say, throughout my incarceration, instead of being, putting women in jail –

Len Sipes: [cell phone ringing] Yes, if all of us could turn our cell phones off. I’m sorry, I should have told you that before the program. I’m sorry, go ahead Kim.

Kim: Instead of incarcerating women, they need to find out what’s really going on in our minds, you know what I’m saying, jail is not for nobody –

Len Sipes: [cell phone ringing] Please.

Kim: And I didn’t never get anything out of going back and forth to jail. That’s probably why I continue to go, and –

Len Sipes: But you know there are people who are going to simply say, “What’s your problem?” You know they’re going to say that!

Kim: Mine is missing. I’ve just been diagnosed for bipolar. So mine is that, by leaving home as a child, it’s not much that I knew. I don’t know anything. So I didn’t do anything. I didn’t go to school, so I wasn’t around, my parents said I was out in the street doing what I wanted to do. So I didn’t know no better. So instead of, once I went to school, tried to get my GED, but they didn’t keep me in there long enough. Another thing I can really say is that I feel like they need more programs.

Len Sipes: Talk to me about the programs.

Kim: We need to be more educated, we need to be more therapy. More therapy, because they never know what’s going on. A person just don’t wake up and say, “We wanna get high,” because that’s not what I planned, I didn’t plan to be like this at 41.

Len Sipes: Right.

Kim: This was not my plan at all.

Len Sipes: What was your plan?

Kim: To one day open up a day care center. I love children. But you know, my life has never been stable enough to take care of no kids, not even my own. I have one son.

Len Sipes: If there was an opportunity somewhere throughout your life, that somebody would have provided you, who intervened meaningfully in your life, got you the mental health assistance that you needed to be sure that you got off of drugs, if you were on drugs at that point, so let’s just say at 11 years old, right before it got real bad, because you were doing drugs since you were 13, been on your own basically since you were 13, right? So at 11, they meaningfully intervened in your life, you had the social work, you had the mental health treatment, you had different people there who advocate for you, who help you make sure that you stayed in school, what do you think would have happened?

Kim: Well, my mom did all that. She did that, so I had, I was an only child, too, until 13. That was my problem. I was spoiled, and when my mother had my brother, I didn’t want that. So I left home. That’s when I left home, because I was already seeing doctors and psychiatrists and everything.

Len Sipes: Okay, so there was intervention, but different people did –

Kim: But when I left home, it didn’t continue.

Len Sipes: Okay. But you left home at 13, you didn’t have a right to leave home at 13, why didn’t somebody basically reach out, grab you, and pull you back.

Kim: Who?

Len Sipes: Parents.

Kim: My parents couldn’t find me. I was nowhere to be found. Somebody sends the police to pick me up for running away from home.

Len Sipes: Okay. Were you arrested at any point between 13 and 18? Didn’t anybody ask you what you were doing out –

Kim: Well, I danced in the club, so I left home.

Len Sipes: At 14!?

Kim: Yes.

Len Sipes: Wow!

Kim: Yeah. What a life.

Len Sipes: Wow!

Kim: I took care of myself.

Len Sipes: I’m – you’re – everything that you’re telling me, and this is one of the reasons why these programs are so profound. I mean, that is a profound statement. You were dancing in clubs at 14.

Kim: And they let me do that.

Len Sipes: How are you doing now? How are you doing now? No, I think whoever let you do that should be – well, I’m not supposed to expressed my personal opinions. All right, back up. How are you doing now?

Kim: Today?

Len Sipes: Today. You’ve been with Willa’s group, you’ve had an opportunity to talk through all of this. Has it made a difference? Do you think you’re going to continue going back to crime? Do you think you’re going to continue going back to drugs? What’s your future?

Kim: Well, hopefully, I’m going to stay clean. I know I’m going to stay clean, because I’m tired. I’m sick and tired.

Len Sipes: I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Kim: Exactly. I can’t go back to jail. I’m never going back to jail.

Len Sipes: Now you do know that everybody who says that –

Kim: – goes back.

Len Sipes: Not everybody, but there’s a substantial proportion of people – I’ve sat there and said, “I ain’t never going back, I ain’t doing no more drugs, I’m not going back to jail, I’m not going back to prison, I’m going to come out and do landscaping, I’ve got a job lined up,” 3 months later, there’s a needle in his arm, hell, in some cases, 2 days later, there’s a needle in his arm.

Kim: I’m taking it one day at a time. One day at time. And for me, right now, I have to stay focused on my son. I have son.

Len Sipes: How old’s your son?

Kim: 23.

Len Sipes: What’s your relationship with your son?

Kim: I don’t know. We’re working on it. It’s always been good. We’ve always been close. An unconditional love, but you know, I want to be a closer part of his life. So I feel like I have to make changes in my life today. I’m not getting no younger, you know what I’m saying? Society ain’t brought me. I brought myself here, mostly, you know what I’m saying, because it’s things that I could have done for myself that I didn’t do that I’m trying to do today.

Len Sipes: Okay, what do you hope to do a year from now, in terms of a job?

Kim: A job?

Len Sipes: Are you working now?

Kim: No.

Len Sipes: Okay. What do you hope to do a year from now?

Kim: I do housekeeping. I clean every now and then, because like I said, I have my education is not all that well, so I can go back to school, I know, but I’m working on that too.

Len Sipes: You’re going to be in my prayers. It is clearly within society’s best interest to reach out and help you. It’s either that, or the drugs continue. It’s either that, or the pregnancies continue. It’s either that, or the crime continues. So I’m hoping and praying for you – now I am going to express my personal opinion, I’m hoping and praying for you – how long is it before you’re released from your supervision, us in here in CSOSA?

Kim: 2 years.

Len Sipes: 2 years, okay. No positive urines?

Kim: Oh, they’re all negative.

Len Sipes: There you go. Thank god for that. Thank god for that. Kim, you’re a –

Kim: Well, something else I can say is I go through my spells, I’ll stay clean 6 months out of a year, and the other half of the year under, and this goes on throughout my whole life.

Len Sipes: But that’s got to stop.

Kim: I know!

Len Sipes: But everybody says that, just because I say it doesn’t mean it is, but I think you tell a very inspiring story, and I’m going to pray for you and hope that things come out okay. You’re a beautiful young woman. I just think that you’ve got a heck of a future in front of you, especially with Willa’s help. We’re going to go over to Diane now. We can’t say “contestant number 2,” Diane, and don’t look at me like you’re not going to talk. Come on now! You’re sitting there, you’re sitting there. Another beautiful young lady. Diane is on probation for drug dealing, and Diane, have you, everything that I’ve said thus far about the childhood history, about basically raising yourself, lots of drugs, men who aren’t the best for you, is any of that true, is that a myth, what’s your take on all that, Diane?

Diane: Yes, most of that is true. But I’ve been having a drug problem for many years now, and I was put into a women’s program because of my relapse. I have just relapsed.

Len Sipes: You’ve just relapsed. What’s your drug of choice?

Diane: Heroin.

Len Sipes: Heroin.

Diane: And I do crack, too. I also do crack.

Len Sipes: It’s interesting how the folks in Baltimore and D.C. say “hare-on,” and to everybody else, it’s “hare-o-in,” but that’s, I said that a little while ago, I was being interviewed, and I said “hare-on,” and the person said, “what?” and I said, “I’m sorry. It’s hare-o-in.” You know, boy, this is amazing, because when you talk to Kim, its crack, and we talk to Diane, its heroin, two drugs that just completely mess you up for the rest of your life. When did you start doing drugs?

Diane: When I was like, 20, I believe 20.

Len Sipes: Really?

Diane: Yes.

Len Sipes: That’s a little unusual, because most of the ladies I’ve talked to, the guys for that matter, started drugs earlier than that. What caused you at the age of 20 to do, was it heroin, or was it something else?

Diane: It was powder coke then.

Len Sipes: It was powdered cocaine. So at 20, at the ripe old age of 20, you discovered –

Diane: Yeah, we thought it was fun, I guess, we were doing it young, I guess, we think it was fun in the beginning, and it turned out to be the worst.

Len Sipes: Oh, it’s always fun in the beginning. There’s no high like the first high. Okay, so what are you doing now? You’re on probation, how are you working out?

Diane: Well, I’m on probation for 5 years, and like I said, I have relapsed, and I asked to go into a long term program, because I really believe that I need help.

Len Sipes: All right, so you pulled some positive urines.

Diane: Yes, the last three.

Len Sipes: The last three? Well you’re fresh off the street there! Okay, Diane, I’m sorry to hear that. So we’re going to put you in what, a residential?

Diane: Residential.

Len Sipes: Okay. You’ve been, how long, go ahead, look at that microphone now, how long have you been involved in the criminal justice system? How long have you been in, what we call the lifestyle, the game, you know what I’m talking about, I don’t know if the audience knows what I’m talking about, but the criminal activity that goes along with the whole drugs and crime stuff.

Diane: Well, I’ve always been around drugs.

Len Sipes: Always been around drugs –

Diane: My mother and father did drugs.

Len Sipes: Your mother and father did drugs.

Diane: Both of them.

Len Sipes: Okay. And so how’d you hold off until the age of 20? That’s amazing. So, what’s your crime background?

Diane: I was locked up for domestic violence one time. This time I was in for distribution.

Len Sipes: Okay. So it’s domestic violence and drug distribution. How many times have you been arrested, do you think?

Diane: Probably four.

Len Sipes: Four. That’s not a lot compared to some of the ladies that I’ve talked to on the streets. Other ladies that I’ve talked to on this program that have been arrested 20, 30 times, you know, so you’ve been locked up four times.

Diane: I only stayed, did time, like twice.

Len Sipes: Okay. But you know, when I talk to people beyond this room, beyond offenders directly caught up in the criminal justice system, I keep hearing, “Leonard, would you stop it with programs for offenders? We’ve got kids to take care of, we’ve got the elderly to take care of, we’ve got unemployed people to take care of, we can’t wet nurse every person who puts a gun in somebody’s head or sells drugs, I mean, you know, they did the crime. What do you want me to do for them? We’ve got kids to take care of. We’ve got the elderly to take care of. We’ve got all sorts of people to take care of, and you’re out there saying there should be additional programs caught up in the criminal justice system.” How do you respond to all that, Diane?

Diane: I believe everyone deserves help, and a lot of criminals do have more problems than others, so I think it would be nice to have a lot of different programs that we can get into.

Len Sipes: Okay. Would the programs make a difference? I mean, that’s what everybody wants. People say, “You know, Leonard, I don’t mind putting more money into programs for offenders, but tell me it’s going to make a difference. Tell me it’s going to have an impact on the lives of these young men and women, and in some cases, older men and women.”

Diane: Well, I’ve been in a couple of programs, and I came out and did well for a while, but eventually, I relapsed. But I think it’s in self, too. If you really want it, you –

Len Sipes: But that’s the question. Do you really want to? I mean, you’re fresh off of positive urines.

Diane: Yes, I want to.

Len Sipes: Why? Why, why, why? Why do you want to get off of drugs now?

Diane: [overlapping voices] because I’ve been clean for a while, and I’ve seen ho fast I lost everything that I had just gained.

Len Sipes: Okay. But you’ve been involved in programs before for substance abuse, correct?

Diane: Yes, but usually I stay out a long time, and when I come back in, I’m almost dead, but this time, I caught myself before then.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Diane: And I asked to go into a long term program.

Len Sipes: That’s great, that’s great. Other people force you into other programs?

Diane: Most of the time, I went in for someone else. And then I was looking so bad, I didn’t want to be on the street.

Len Sipes: Yep. You know, people are going to say, Diane, again, another beautiful young woman, you would think that there’s a life for Diane beyond drugs. You know it’s going to kill you. You know it, you know it, you know it, and people, that’s a lot of what people don’t understand. If it’s going to kill you, and if it’s going to make your life miserable, why, why, why, is the pain that happened previously in your life that bad that you’ve got to mask it?

Diane: I believe it has something to do with the pain.

Len Sipes: Where does the pain come from?

Diane: I mean, when I was growing up, I’ve seen a lot of violence and drug abuse, and I just didn’t talk about it, I guess.

Len Sipes: I’m sorry? Kim? No, no, no, no. No, go ahead. No, get close to the microphone. Get close to the microphone. Go ahead.

Kim: A lot of times, when people lose members in their family, and they relapse, that’ll make them relapse, too. My thing, I never really been to no drug programs. I have more family support. My family will come and get me no matter where I am and say, “It’s time for you to come home.” And I go, because I know they love me, and they’re going to be there for me. But I always go back out.

Len Sipes: But a lot of family members, well, there’s two things. First of all, a lot of family are so sick and tired of the person in and out of the system that not only do they not let them back inside the house when they come out of prison, they change every lock on every door, because they’ve stolen from them far too many times, they’ve made their lives miserable far too many times. You know what I mean?

Kim: I know exactly what you mean. I haven’t really, I haven’t burned my bridges, I’m just, haven’t done that yet. My family just loves me so unconditional, it’s so hard for me to say, I remember one time, I stole my brother’s classic Cadillac, kept it for two months. You would think that he wouldn’t want to be bothered with me no more. It was like a month later, we got back friends. But I don’t know why my mother loves me so much, and that’s one of the reasons why I want to get clean. My mother, because a lot of times, we don’t have our parents, we don’t realize, our parents and our family members go through our addiction also. And my mother tells me all the time, she says she can’t die, because she won’t wonder if I’m going to be able to take care of myself. And that’s a terrible feeling, because all she worry about is me. I’m the only one she worries about. I have two younger brothers, and they take care of me, and that hurts too, because I have to go to them when I need help, and they should be able to come to me, and that hurts a lot, and I’m going to work on that, but I wanted to say something about the programs. You know, the programs, if you really want help, the programs might help you. But for me, some people go to the programs because they have to go. We need more therapy. The program’s not therapeutic, they’re just, you’re talking about drugs. Most people go in there and talk about drugs. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t go to meetings myself. I would prefer to go to church, which I’m really not going to church like I should. But I don’t like to be around a lot of people who use, because that’s my triggers. Because they talk about the old things that you used to do. That’s one of the things I don’t think people should talk about. But I think we should have more therapy.

Len Sipes: I talked to one person who said giving up drugs was easy. Giving up the lifestyle, giving up the friends, giving up the corner was the hardest thing.

Kim: Because I sometimes think about why I’m not with my friends, because then I think about I don’t want to be like that anymore. But see, we need more therapy, more therapy classes. One on one therapy, because we don’t just want to use drugs. We’re going through things that people don’t know, and we suppress it with drugs.

Len Sipes: And that’s exactly why we’re doing this program so people understand –

Kim: We need more therapy, more doctors, more counseling.

Len Sipes: – what it is that you’ve been through, and the fact of what that struggle is. Okay, now ladies and gentlemen, we ordinarily stop programs at 30 minutes, we’re going to be way beyond 30 minutes on this program, and I think it’s justifiable, because I think the stories that the ladies are telling are hugely compelling. We’re going to go over to Jacquelyn, and Jacquelyn, said it with a smile, so you need to get real close to that microphone, Jacquelyn, as much as possible. That’s fine. And ladies and gentlemen, Diane has to go. Diane, thank you very much for your participation in the program. I really appreciate it. That was really gutsy on your part. Okay, so we’re going to go to Kim. Kim’s on probation for assault, as we play musical chairs in the studio – I’m sorry? – Oh Jackie! Jacquelyn! I’m sorry, my apologies. I’m watching everybody leave, and I was saying Kim leave, and it’s Jacquelyn. Jacquelyn, you’re on probation for failure to appear in court. Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Jacquelyn: Well, basically, I’ve been –

Len Sipes: Get closer to the microphone, please.

Jacquelyn: Basically, I’ve been in and out of the system for two years, but I’ve been doing good since I’ve been on probation for over a year, and I’ve been clean for 11 months now.

Len Sipes: Okay. What was your drug of choice?

Jacquelyn: Cocaine.

Len Sipes: Okay. So you’ve been testing negative?

Jacquelyn: Yes, I’m negative.

Len Sipes: Good, thank god. Now how long have you been involved in the system? You said you’ve been involved for a couple years. Does that mean two years currently, or does that mean beyond –

Jacquelyn: Two years, two years.

Len Sipes: So you’ve only been involved in the criminal justice system for two years?

Jacquelyn: Yes, just two years.

Len Sipes: Really? How did that happen?

Jacquelyn: Because I made the wrong choices to do wrong –

Len Sipes: But you know, again, you’re another beautiful woman – young woman, but you’re not 18 –

Jacquelyn: No, I’m 44.

Len Sipes: Nor are you 25. So how does somebody in their 40s suddenly decide to get caught up in the criminal justice system?

Jacquelyn: I guess you learn from your mistake, but I chose the wrong thing to do so, I’m learning from my mistakes, and so, I mean –

Len Sipes: But you’re learning from your mistakes, but you got caught up in the criminal justice system at 40, that doesn’t make any sense. I’m so used to talking to people who get caught up in drugs at 13. I’m so used to people getting caught up in crime at 16. You got caught up in this stuff in your 40s?

Jacquelyn: No, I started out almost 39 –

Len Sipes: Okay, get closer to the microphone –

Jacquelyn: 39, 40, yeah. I started at 39. That was only a year, 2006.

Len Sipes: All right. What caused you to get involved?

Jacquelyn: Hanging with the wrong people. Hanging out in the crowd, trying to be cool.

Len Sipes: Yeah. In your 40s? Wow!

Jacquelyn: Yeah, trying to be cool, and you know, I said, I’m getting too old for this. So I learned, but I kept getting locked up for the same thing and the same thing, I said “It’s time for me to stop doing this,” and –

Len Sipes: How many times were you locked up?

Jacquelyn: Maybe three times.

Len Sipes: Three times. And what were the crimes?

Jacquelyn: For prostitution.

Len Sipes: Okay. So you were out there involved in prostitution to raise money for drugs?

Jacquelyn: For drugs, yeah.

Len Sipes: Okay. Have kids?

Jacquelyn: Yeah, I have a son. I had three sons, but I have two deceased sons –

Len Sipes: Okay, I’m sorry to hear that.

Jacquelyn: and one living son.

Len Sipes: All right. And have you been doing drugs before the age of 40 –

Jacquelyn: Off and on.

Len Sipes: Off and on. So you’ve been doing drugs for how long?

Jacquelyn: Well, basically, I can say I started, when I had my children, I was on pretty good, and then after I lost my sons, then I got into a depressed mood, and I used that to soothe my mood swings and stuff.

Len Sipes: Okay. Get a little closer to the microphone. I don’t want to, I’m afraid to ask this question, but I’m going to ask this question. What happened to your sons?

Jacquelyn: One got killed in a car accident, and my baby son got killed in a fire.

Len Sipes: In a fire. My god, that’s tragic. That’s tragic beyond comprehension. So that accelerated your drug use?

Jacquelyn: And it didn’t solve anything, it just made me get out there more and do, do, do, and I didn’t realize until the last, this year’s been really good for me, man, it had really taught me to be wise and do good, and I’m clean. I’ve been clean for 11 months, and I get off probation in August, the 2nd of August of this year, so I’ve been doing good, going to my classes, I missed some of my classes, because the buses be runnin’ late sometimes, but I do good, I love coming to my meetings and stuff, it has me generating, to cope with my problems, with the daily life, I’m going back out on the street, being around my friends, they do drugs, get high, “why don’t you come over,” no, I stay clean, try to get off probation and do my part, I want to stay out of jail.

Len Sipes: What’s the world like when the people around you are always doing drugs? Is that what you’re saying, that your personal friends are all involved in drugs?

Jacquelyn: Yes, it’s my personal friends, it’s all about drugs.

Len Sipes: I mean, that’s –

Jacquelyn: And I said, I’ve been doing good, I’ve been clean, I don’t go around, I say to myself, stay away from people who do it, and that’s how you can stay clean, stay out of that environment.

Len Sipes: Yeah, everybody’s saying that, but again, as I said a little while ago, talk to the guy who said, giving up drugs is one thing, giving up my friends, giving up the corner –

Jacquelyn: Yeah, giving up, you’ve got to give it up if you want to stay straight!

Len Sipes: Right! But I mean, there’s so much into this whole story of substance abuse and criminal activity, where you know, if you see people driving a nail through the side of their head, and you can see the obvious pain and the distress it causes them, you would think that you wouldn’t do that sort of thing, but then again, so many people get caught up in this, and you’re saying, at the age of 40, and a couple years beyond 40, your peers, your friends are still doing drugs.

Jacquelyn: Yes, they sure are. They haven’t changed. Doing it, they’re out all night. I mean, I seen one of my friends today when I was standing outside, and he’s taking a urine, but he’s on probation too. Is they gonna change? No! But they can’t wait to get off this. They say, “I can’t wait to get off!”

Len Sipes: But the result of it is hell. The result of all this is just straight to H-E-L-L. I mean, for your kids, for your family, for your possessions, for where you live, it’s just, that’s the thing that always will bewilder the rest of us who aren’t involved in drugs, is that if you do something, the drugs, the pool has got to be beyond comprehension, because you know what it’s going to do to you.

Jacquelyn: It brings you down, it takes all your money, I mean, you can’t, next day, you don’t have nothin’ in your pocket –

Len Sipes: It takes everything!

Jacquelyn: It takes everything, and you’re going to wake up and smell the coffee, and say, “Let me, this got to change!” I mean, you want to feel good about yourself, you don’t want to be down for the rest of your life because you want to do drugs or alcohol, whatever the substance that you use, you know, to make you feel the way you want to feel. But my heart, I’m waking up, and it’s time for me to grow up, and I’m 44, and I have a son in the Army, he’s just finished Army, he’s going to go into the Marines, and he’s 25, he just turned 25 May 19th, I mean, March the 19th, excuse me, March the 19th, but he’s married, and he has two kids, so he’s doing good by me, but he knows, he don’t know that I’m in the court system. I haven’t told him. I kept that from him.

Len Sipes: The whole concept of programs, because I’m going to go to Willa to finish everything up in a couple seconds. More programs?

Jacquelyn: More programs, more counseling, and it helps. It helps me a lot, it helped me a lot, and now, I get off probation, and I’m doing successfully, doing good without any relapse.

Len Sipes: Well that, to me, is astounding, and I’m so happy to hear that. I really am, because I know, just in terms of knowing you as a human being, in terms of sitting across this table looking at you, there’s an emotional connection, but just for society, just for your son, just for your grandkids, just for everybody’s sake, it is in our best interests to make sure that you’re clean.

Jacquelyn: Yes, be clean, and that’s what they want you to be clean, always be clean, and you don’t want to get set back, you don’t want to go back to jail, and those, I say no.

Len Sipes: I hear you. The other point is that, I forget who said it, Jackie, but I think it was Diane or Kim, but – it’d have to be Diane or Kim, because there’s only two other people – about liking the process of when you all get together. I discussed one time in the women’s prison, talking to a whole group of women, about 30, who said that they never felt more at peace and more comfortable because they have these counseling groups with the different women there.

Jacquelyn: It makes a difference.

Len Sipes: And that this is the first time in their lives that they’ve been able to express what happened to them, who they are, their struggles, without feeling judged by everybody else, and they loved that concept.

Jacquelyn: They’ll come to the meetings and participate in them, and it helps, it helps you feel good when you talk about your problems and stuff, when you hold back, that’s when you can’t grow, if you hold back.

Len Sipes: I hear you. I hear you.

Jacquelyn: So I tried participating, get it off your chest, and when you go home, you feel good, go get me something to eat, lay me down, take a nap, and forget about the outside, you know, and just be me. I know I’ve got to do, because I’m not going back to jail. I’m staying clean.

Len Sipes: I pray that you do. Okay, the microphone’s going to go over to Kim, and then we’re going to finish up with Willa. Go ahead, Kim.

Kim: Okay. I really appreciate Willa. She has been tremendously helpful to us. Her meetings is inspiring, very inspiring, because when we women get together, it’s like sisterhood for me, you know, it’s nothing, I love it, you know what I’m saying? Because we get to let our hair down, talk about our problems, and give one another insight where we can do the help, or some of us go through things, and we need to talk to women. Women understand women more than anybody. So Willa has, I love her program. I just wish we could have it more than once a week. Because once a week is just, it’s just like going through the whole week, anxious to get there, you know what I’m saying, just really want it to be more than once a week.

Len Sipes: One of the reasons why I love to have Willa do these problems and bring over some of the people that are currently in the group, because the stories that Willa tells, and the stories that the ladies involved in the group tell are just profound beyond comprehension. I always get letters – not letters anymore, emails – in some cases, I even get phone calls. Different people saying, every time I do a group, every time I do a radio program with Willa and her participants, they find it to be one of the most inspiring things they’ve ever heard in their lives. All right, Willa, you’ve got the last couple seconds, and again, I do want to apologize to everyone, I do try to keep these programs to 30 minutes, but whenever Willa comes by, we just throw caution to the wind and let the microphones roll, because it’s such an interesting program. Willa, do you want to sum up what we’ve just heard, if that’s humanly possible?

Willa Butler: Yes, I’m going to try. I’m just touched, the program, it’s for the women. It’s to address their concerns and their vulnerabilities, and I’m glad that it’s working. It’s therapeutic, too, and we’re dealing with the core beliefs. In other words, our belief system is the reason why we are “in the system,” and what we’re working on now is changing it. I guess I have to, cliche, “thinking for a change,” but we’re trying to have understanding as to why we do the things that we do, and how we can change the way that we do things, and I just thank the ladies for coming down and participating, and I thank you again, Leonard, for having us here.

Len Sipes: Oh, I love it! If it was up to me, I’d have you on every month, but I think the listeners would get tired of it. The listeners do tell us, “Leonard, it’s a very interesting program, but mix up the variety,” so you’ve got carte blanche to come over what, every three months or so –

Willa Butler: Oh, thank you!

Len Sipes: – and do the program every six months or so, three months or so, but you know, do people, here’s what people need to hear who are listening to this program right now, that their tax paid dollars is going to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the people who we’re trying to help, but also it’s going to make them safer, and it’s actually going to reduce their tax burden by taking this person out of the criminal justice system and out of the substance abuse system. Is that what people want to hear?

Willa Butler: Yes, yes –

Len Sipes: And is it true?

Willa Butler: Yes and no, and what, I’m being realistic about it –

Len Sipes: And I appreciate that.

Willa Butler: You have to want to change, and you have to really want this thing, but the thing about it is, we can instill in you to at least start out being compliant, then you’ll start adhering to the rules and regulations on what you have to do, and understanding that change comes from within, and what I try to teach the women is to spend time with yourself during the day, at least 10 minutes a day, because you’ve been out here, you’ve been raised in the street, and we don’t know who we are, and once we begin to know who we are and to love on ourselves, then we’ll want to change, because we know this is not where God wants us to be, because there is a better place for us, a better tomorrow –

Len Sipes: No sense being dead at 45.

Willa Butler: Exactly!

Len Sipes: Because that’s where the people caught up in the lifestyle are headed. They’re going to be dead at 45.

Willa Butler: Exactly. And we are promoting change, and I believe it’s working. I don’t know what else to say. I get choked up, too.

Len Sipes: I get choked up every time I do one of these programs! I mean, how can you listen to Jacquelyn and Diane and Kim without being emotionally moved! Okay, to Kim and Jacquelyn, because Diane had to go, or even to Diane, because when she listens to this program, because my heart goes about to everybody involved, it is so important to me personally and to everybody listening to this program that you succeed, and I hope and pray, and you’ll be in my prayers, that you will succeed and improve your lives and the lives of the rest of us. Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety, I am your host, Leonard Sipes. Again, we are over by 15 minutes in terms of the program time. I apologize for that. Feel free to give us comments at D.C. Public Safety, you can go there, listen to the radio shows, television shows, the newspaper – I’m sorry, the articles, and the transcripts, you can get in touch with me via email, Leonard, L-E-O-N-A-R-D, dot-sipes, S-I-P-E-S, @csosa.gov, stands for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in Washington, D.C., or you can follow me via twitter at twitter/lensipes, please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

Meta terms: Women offenders, female offenders, child abuse, drugs, violence, violence reduction, violence prevention, crime, criminals, criminal justice, prison, incarceration, parole, probation, corrections

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