Today, I sat in prison and came to realize the great error of my actions and those of many in my situation.  For some time, the federal and state prisons have been overcrowded with tens of thousands of females who were charged, convicted, and sentenced for white-collar crimes: embezzlement, fraud, theft, tax evasion, conspiracy, and a host of other money related crimes.  The department of prisons have tens of thousands more on waiting lists – waiting to be assigned a number and a bed. As one prisoner is released, two more are processed in and the cycle continues.

We are publicly humiliated by the media. The government seized everything of value, thus leaving many of us homeless.  We are further humiliated by being forced to strip to nudity and commanded to present our nude bodies to a prison guard in an undignified posture.

We . . . are no longer considered a member of the human race.  The money crimes are so unspeakable that we deserve to be treated like an animal; so, the judge, prosecutor, jury, and society seem to think.  The courts put away the mother, daughter, grandmother, sister, and wife.  We have lost ‘grace’ in their eyes.

We were sent to a place that is not certifiable for human habitation, but who cares; we are animals after all. We are placed in a small space with twenty-five unfamiliar females from all walks of life and are expected to conform to rules that change daily from one authority figure to the next.

We entered the prisons as zombies, both in body and mind. We seek out our assigned bunk beds and are witness to the evidence of each previous resident by the deep impression in the worn mattresses.  We sit in a trance as disbelief clouds our minds and the question slowly creeps in and starts to echo out our mouth, “How did it come to this?”

At that moment answers are lacking.  There are no rational thoughts or reasoning that can satisfy the question.  No answer seems to justify the environment we have been placed in.  So, we sit in a state of shock.  Nothing can validate the crime warranting such harsh reparation.

As we are punished, so are our children, husbands, fathers, and grandparents punished.  Justice says, “You did this to them!”

Days, weeks, months and for some . . . years go by as the question continues to cloud our minds.  We are seeking, debating, and analyzing, “How did it come to this?”

Meanwhile, our families start to slowly come unraveled, coming apart because the magnets (that is the mother, daughter, grandmother, sister, and wife) that pulled and held everything together have been taken away.  Society says she is unworthy to be free.

Still sitting on that bunk bed in the overcrowded space in the building unfit to house humans, our minds allow the truth to reveal itself.  Many suggestions to the question are presented, such as:  Wanting to provide a better life for our children; wanting to care for a sick loved one; wanting to take care of debts that had gotten out of control; having a drug addiction, or a gambling problem.  The list of possible answers goes on for each of us.

One day after some soul searching comes the truth, the answer, the shame, the acceptance…it was Greed.

The Greed of wanting to have the biggest house; a house so big that we were lost in it, and the distance from one another to have our quiet time, our private time to ourselves.

The Greed to live a lifestyle we saw the rich and famous living that we were too impatient to wait on and work harder to earn.  The Greed to have that new expensive car that we only drove on a dry, warm day; the expensive clothes that just hung in the oversized closets; and the jewelry that had lain in the chest protected from dusk until that once-a-year affair provided an occasion to wear.

The Greed that allowed us to stay at a world class five-star resort for a month, to unwind, but instead, we worried the whole time.

The Greed that kept us up each night working and worrying about getting caught or planning how to get more.  Unable to stop, addicted to the money and the challenge.

We were not able to see the big picture, the one picture that was the most important; that was blurred by things, pressures, and responsibilities that we created.

On the bunk bed in the overcrowded space in a building unfit for humans, the moment of acknowledgement begins.  The true remorse is felt and an understanding of the damage our actions caused our children, husbands, siblings, grandparents, and friends sink in.

Only now can the question, “How did it come to this,” be honestly answered.  Greed was what led to the action, but the real truth was, “a choice was made,” whether it was based on poor judgment, short sight of consequences, failure to see the big picture, generational sins, or a character flaw.  No matter what the reason, the answer remains the same, “a choice was made.”

According to the US government statistics, there have been nearly a million females imprisoned for white-collar crimes from 2005 to date. This is the legal system’s answer to the problem. They put away the women ignoring the correlation between juvenile crimes, teenage pregnancies, high school dropouts, students’ poor academic performances, the increase in the foster care system’s caseloads, and the burden on the ailing ill-equipped grandparents to be parents to their displaced grandchildren.  Not to forget the human and social service systems that are now overloaded and underfunded.

There must be other measures that can be taken, short of imprisonment for first time offenders that can be punishable while preserving the family unit.

Money crimes are addictions just as drugs are.  Preventative measures and treatments are warranted if society is to recover from this epidemic.  We must do something!  There are far too many families being torn apart and the financial burden on the public is rising each year.

Do not become another number asking yourself, “How did it come to this?”  Those that have made a choice and have yet to be caught, “Stop now,” the price is far too high.  Those that may feel the temptation, maintain your integrity.  Do the right thing”

Society must remember the prisoner sitting on the bunk bed, in the overcrowded room, in a building unfit to house humans could be your mother, daughter, grandmother, sister, or wife.  They too are human beings and deserve your compassion, understanding, and a second chance.  We all make poor choices and fall.

It is time to turn off the television, lay down the magazines and newspapers to focus on what is truly important. . . Family! 

By DeVine