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Teresa

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       I’m still in jail, Mama, and I’m fixin’ to go to prison. It’s about those checks. I haven’t got them paid yet. I went to court on the other, and that’s all taken care of. On the two tickets I got, I sat it out. I stayed in here five days for that. There couldn’t be that much owed on the checks. I’ve got no bond, so I’ve gotta sit in here until the judge gets unmad at me. I go to court whenever he decides to bring me over there. My public defender says it will probably be the first of the month.
       It sounds like there’s not a whole lot you can do right now, Teresa. They want to know you’re willing to do something to help yourself.
       If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have gone down to Indian Rivers. It took awhile but they finally accepted me. I said, “Look, I want to go, but I ain’t got no vehicle.” I said, “It ain’t that I hadn’t wanted to; I’m ready.” They accepted me.
       I think it’s a good sign that the judge is making you sit there because it sounds like he’s not going to send you to prison. If he were, he’d already have had you in court.
       I hope you’re right. Maybe he’s just gon’ let me sit in jail awhile. Oh god, Mama, we have grits and fat back fried like bacon, and two biscuits, and syrup seven days a week.
       Can you buy any food?
       Yeah, that’s what most everybody does, buy from the commissary—potato chips, candy bars, stuff like that. You can get tea, coffee, hot cocoa, different kinds of sodas, shampoo, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, stamps, envelopes, pads. It takes a lot when you have to buy everything the first time. They tell you not to spend no more than $60 a week at the commissary.
       That’s quite a bit. What if you don’t have any money? Then you just don’t brush your teeth?
      I didn’t get to brush my teeth the whole time I was over at the county, but it’s a little better here. Last week I had to sleep on the floor. Oh, oh, it’s beeping, Mama. Bye.
      Okay.
      Click.

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[A federal judge ordered an Alabama sheriff locked up in his own jail after holding him in contempt for failing to adequately feed inmates while profiting from the skimpy meals. U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon had court security arrest Morgan County Sheriff Greg Bartlett after dramatic testimony from skinny prisoners about paper-thin bologna and cold grits. The hearing offered a rare look into Alabama's unusual practice of letting sheriffs pocket money left over from feeding inmates. Clemon said the sheriff would be jailed until he comes up with a plan to provide the 300 jail inmates with nutritionally adequate meals, as required by a 2001 court order. Sheriffs in 55 of Alabama's 67 counties operate under the system allowing them to make money operating their jail kitchens. The law pays sheriffs $1.75 a day for each prisoner they house and lets the elected officers pocket any profit they can generate. The law doesn't require the leftover money to be spent at the jail or within the department; sheriffs can keep it as personal income. They historically have provided little information about profits under the practice that dates back to the Depression. At the hearing, 10 prisoners told Clemon meals are so small that they're forced to buy snacks from a for-profit store the jailers operate. Most prisoners said they supplement the meals by spending $20 a week or more on chips, oatmeal pies and other junk food at the jailhouse store. Despite rising food costs, Bartlett said he made a $62,000 profit in 2007 and $55,000 in 2006. Bartlett said he and a neighboring sheriff recently split the $1,000 cost for an 18-wheeler full of corn dogs. Prisoners testified they ate corn dogs twice a day for weeks.] Associated Press. (11 February, 2009). Sheriff arrested over prison food scam. CBS News. Retrieved from: http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-201_162-4706215.html
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      The Catch-22 of Teresa’s alcohol problem was that her addiction was caused by a history of abuse. Of course, it would cost the courts more to deal with the total person rather than simply punish poor behavior, but by doing so, they could give society one more productive individual. Until Teresa dealt with the cruel desertion of her mother, the childhood sexual and physical abuse, and the devastating loss of her son, how was she supposed to handle her own alcohol abuse? One can ignore emotional problems, but they simply don’t go away. They just show up in bad behavior, sometimes toward others, and sometimes directed inwardly, destroying the individual. It seemed to me that Teresa’s behavior was mostly self-destructive.
      I was disappointed that Teresa didn’t go to her probation hearing, but she didn’t have the money to finish paying her fine. She knew she would just go to jail. She had recently broken up with her boyfriend, Matt, and she was devastated. Teresa seemed so depressed and lacking in any real survival instincts. She had attempted suicide once before over a romantic relationship, and I was worried that she might try it again.

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Tina



      His bed’s gone. Tommy’s bed is gone! Everything is gone. Oh, Mama, I want my baby back! My baby’s bed is gone—his high chair, his stroller, his clothes—everything is gone, Mama. Mama, Jack can’t do this to me.
      No, Tina, Jack can’t do this to you. You stay away from the damn crack. Do you hear me?
      I am, Mama, I promise you. I want my baby back. Mama, please.
      When did you get out?
      I just got out. They let me out on my own cognance. I’ve got to go back to court July 31st.
      You go to a military lawyer tomorrow, and tell him what’s happened.
      I’ve got to get down to Jack’s mama’s. I got to get my baby. Jack has no right to take my baby out-of-state.
      Tina, you’re going to have to calm down. First of all, calm down. You have to have a plan. You have to think about what you’re going to do. Everything through the military is free. You have your ID card, right?
      Yes, Mama, I got my card.
      Tomorrow you go to the base and see a lawyer to find out what you can do. You have got to find out what Jack can and cannot do.
      I come in here, and his room was empty.
      You’re just going to have to pull yourself together tonight. Go take a walk. Get out of that place, and don’t go around anyone you shouldn’t. I have Lisa’s number. Let me go get it.
      Mama, I don’t even have a dollar on me.
      Tina, are there any churches nearby?
      Yes, ma’am, up the road.
      Well, tomorrow you go to a church and talk to the minister. You ask him to help you. Tell them what’s happened, and tell them that you have no money. Maybe someone would take you out to the base. I know this is a horrible thing to happen to you. I think it’s just awful, and I can’t believe Jack’s being so cruel. You haven’t seen him?
      No, I kept calling down there, but nobody would accept the calls from me. I called his dad’s house. I called his sister’s house. I called his mama’s house. They’ve got my two-month-old son down there, and they will not accept a call from me?
      You just start making the rounds of the churches.
      There’s a church right up the road. I’ll go up there and see if they can give me some help.
      Tina, I’ll send you some money but try going to the church. Tell them you have no money for the bus and would somebody take you out there to the base.
      All right, I can’t even think straight. I can’t hold it together because I’m here by myself. I just want to get out there to the base. Okay, I love you, Mama.
      I love you, too, Tina.

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Lisa



       How are things going, Lisa?
      It couldn’t get no better. I got a damn good job. I make $8.15 an hour making gloves, the kind they have in the hospital. “All the Women Making Money,” you heard that song? Destiny’s Child sings it. “All the women, independent, throw your hands up at me. All the honeys making money” sure is. That’s me; I’m a independent woman now.
      That sounds good. It feels mighty good, right? How’s Ashley?
      She’s doing great. Ashley’s got her some kids to play with where we live at. She went to church with them last Sunday. Ashley’s doing real good in school. Me and James Earl’s been helping her with her homework, and she’s bringing good grades home.
      We just moved again. We got a two-bedroom trailer. I mean it’s nice; it’s nice. See, if James Earl goes to jail, at least I’ll be working. I’m gon’ send you a little card for Valentine’s Day, and I’m gon’ send you some money for your birthday. I’ll give you my new address, Mama, when I find it out. We finished moving last night.
      Okay, Lisa, and I’ll buy myself something, and I’ll say my daughter gave this to me. So, everything’s going real good?
      As long as I keep this job and be good at what I’m doing, and just not miss any work. Shit, I can work my way up. Anybody can do it. Hell, I’m just glad I got money. You know what I mean? Shoot, money, money, money.
      It feels mighty good, right?
      Hell, yeah. Shit, I’m high on life. That’s right. I don’t need no drugs.
      Now you sound like the ol’ Lisa I know. Well, I love it. You just don’t know how happy I am. Maybe you can set an example for your sisters.
      What do you think I’ve been trying to do, Mama? I tell Teresa every time I go down there, “You could get a job and make something.” I tell Tina the same thing when I see her, but I don’t never know where she’s at.
      Well, listen, I better go. Be sure and let me know how you’re doing.
      I will. Well, I love you.
      I love you, too, and I’m so happy for you.
      Amen, sister.

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Cynthia



      Chuck and I went to see Cynthia’s parole officer while we were in San Francisco. He was very nice and listened to all I had to say. I knew Cynthia had married a fine Christian young man who was very close to his family and that she had a lot of support from his family. I’m sure they were worried about Cynthia’s background, but they did try to support their son in his decision to marry her. Of course, the parole officer must have seen many cases where the parolee failed. I was hoping Cynthia’s new location in Alabama, Daniel and his family, and even her sisters, would all be a positive influence on her. She was ambitious and wanted to succeed, but would she? I didn’t think her parole officer thought she would or could change. I only hoped she would prove him wrong.

      Cynthia had to make two trips from San Francisco back to Tuscaloosa before she completed her parole requirements. Chuck and I decided to give her two round-trip plane tickets in order to do this. The flight turned out to be a serious situation, but she was funny in the telling.


      Cynthia, what are you suppose to do in San Francisco for ten days—walk the streets?
      Just worry, and want to go home every day, and missing my family, and just sit here.
      I guess they want to see if you’ll run. It’s like sticking an alcoholic in a bar. Putting you back in that environment’s got to be hard.
      I could have had that first drink on the plane coming here, but no. Believe me I was looking at them, too—beer, the white wines, the red wines. Hmm, the white wine sounds good before dinner. And I said, “Well, that’s okay, I don’t feel like drinking. I know what it’ll do to me.” I’m sitting there looking at all the drinks, and the attendant’s passing by. She comes to me, and I say, “Well, I’ll tell you what—I’ll just have a Canada Dry!”
      I thought about that, Cynthia. “Here, she’s locked up in that plane, and the flight attendant is coming around asking her if she wants a drink.”
      Yeah, I looked over at the beers, Jack Daniels, and I said, “Here she comes.” My stomach started turning, and she got a little closer, and my stomach started turning a little more. She got to me and said, “Would you like something to drink.” I looked at her and said, “Sure, I’d like to have a Canada Dry!” I am serious, Mom. I can laugh about it now, but I was very vulnerable emotionally and scared about the flight. “Relax, one drink won’t hurt. You’ll feel better.” I said, “Naw, I don’t want nothing to drink; that ain’t the answer.” Then they came passing around again. “Would you like to freshen up your drink, or would you like another drink?” Then I saw this guy over here pop a lite beer.
      Oh gosh, that’s really tough, isn’t it?
      Yeah, it was, but I made it. Like I said, you have to have the willpower.
      I thought, “Well, maybe Cynthia should take a bus, and she wouldn’t have those drinks around her.”
      You’ve got to think about it, Mom. Any time you go into the store, there’s gonna be alcohol. When you feel down and stressful, that’s when it really hits you, and it starts to mess with you. It’s hard. I ain’t gonna lie to you. But like today it’s a easier day. I’ll just pray on it again tonight, and say, “Lord, thank you for keeping me strong.” Yeah, I think about my home, I think about Daniel, I think about you, I think about my family. I’ve come this far, what’s another week? I want to get this over with and behind me, Mom.
      You just turned 33, and you’ve got your whole life ahead of you.
      I was really, really going through it yesterday. When I was walking to Walgreens, someone grabbed me, and I got him off me. He had his arm around me real tight, and I yanked and pushed him off. I was in a business suit, and he did that, I mean in daylight. That’s the reason why I don’t go out at night. This place has really gone crazy around here.
      Well, be careful, Cynthia. As soon as you know you’re going to be going home, call and change the ticket.
      United’s really nice. TV in the front of you and everything. Okay, Mom. Well, I’ll give you a call tomorrow. I love you, Mom.
      I love you, too, Cynthia

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A True Story of Four Sisters And Their Struggle to survive
Abuse, Addiction, and Poverty in America

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