Correctional Facility

Today’s post is just on one story.  As part of a TV report Toni Marie spent a few days in the Women’s Correctional Facility in Clarenville.  Darker topic than usual, but you can tell it was a story that had a big effect on her.  She still remembers a lot of details from it.

ROB:    A few years ago you had an report where you spend a few nights in a women’s correctional facility.  That must have been an incredibly interesting few days.

TONI:   It was.  I got the idea from watching a story from an American network where a really well known news anchor did that.  She went in and stayed in a women’s correctional facility for a few days.

I called a few people that I knew in the Justice Department.  Some of them pulled a few strings for me.  I was able to stay a few nights in a minimum security women’s prison in Clarenville.

Myself and a female camera person went. We weren’t strip searched or anything, but had to shower when we got there. Gave them our civilian clothing and wore hand me down clothing that they had. At first we had to wear that. Then they laundered our clothing and gave it back to us.

We slept in a cell and ate with the inmates.  At first when we got there we were quite nervous.

But most of these women weren’t in there for violent offenses.  They were in for fraud and that type of thing.  We learned pretty quickly that we weren’t in any physical danger.

It was really emotional to speak to some of these women.  To find out why they were doing the things they were doing.  Most of these women were moms and missed their families tremendously.  They had photographs and letters from their children.  It was really heart wrenching.

Very few of them acted as if they didn’t deserve to be there.  Most of them said, “Look, I have committed these crimes.  And I’m serving the time.” That was an interesting thing, because usually you think that everyone is going to say they were wrongfully convicted.  But we didn’t get that.

One woman was serving a much longer sentence.  She was convicted of manslaughter for having killed her common law husband.  Through the interview with her, and in the trial it came out that he abused her quite a bit.  This was her way of trying not be attacked this particular night.

She picked up small kitchen knife.  When he came towards her she poked at him to get him away.  Knife went in and nicked his heart, he died instantly. Could’ve gotten him in the shoulder, but she didn’t.  It wasn’t premeditated.

From talking to her we found out that she’d been abused in every way possible since she’d been about four years old.  Practically every relationship she’d been in with a man had been abusive in some form or another since she was that age.

She had very low self esteem, and ended up finding herself in this sort of relationship over and over again.  I guess she was at the breaking point.  It was heart wrenching for her.  She also had a child that wasn’t able to see her for years.  So, it was really tough.

One of the interesting things is something that I’m sure has changed.  The only work duty that these women could do was to repair the uniforms from the male prisoners.  They sewed buttons or knitted socks.  That was their job. Which is a little bit sexist that they weren’t able to do other things.

When we packed up and got ready to leave we were saying goodbye to the women.  This is my soft news person again, I started to cry.

The inmates said, “Why are you crying? You get to leave here. You know, we’re the ones that have to stay. Why are you upset?”

And I said, “Because I almost feel guilty.”

You know for me it was, “Oh look at Toni doing the bad girl thing for two or three days.  And I get to hang out with you guys.”

I always knew in the back of my mind that I could leave in a few days.  In some ways I almost felt as though I was taking advantage.  Even though I thought I was sincere when I was leaving I had a real guilt about me.

ROB:    The fact you were kind of coming in and do the report.

TONI:   And then leaving again.  But one of the women said, “Well, you are the first reporter who’s actually stayed here.  Most just come in and do a quick interview and leave.  At least you ate the food that we ate.  You sat at the table with us.  And you were as bored as we were for the last three days.”

That was really nice.  They actually made me feel better, which is funny since I was the one getting out.

About six months later I was walking through a store in one of the malls.  One of the women I met she was very funny.  Very clean humor, just genuinely hilarious.

Walking through this store and all of a sudden I hear this voice.  And I know right away it’s her.  She was about fifty feet away from me.  She says, “Gosh I haven’t seen you since we were in prison together.”

Everyone in the store just kind of stopped and looked at me and thought, “Oh my. I didn’t know Toni Marie was in prison.”  But she did it for the comedic affect, it was funny.

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