In 2013 I sat in the common area of the Secure Female Facility Hazelton (SFF Hazelton), surrounded by over a 150 women. I watched as they waited to heat up their Thanksgiving meals in the microwaves; food that had been put together ahead of time for us, so that the staff did not have to wait around and allow us to eat a meal that was warm because they needed to get on with their holiday at home, with their own families.
I sat with my large turkey leg (they were too cheap and lazy to make us a real turkey at this prison) and a bunch of other crap that had been carelessly prepared and thrown together into Styrofoam containers.
Suddenly it hit me and I sang out at the top of my lungs, “This is my last Thanksgiving in prison!” Many of the women stopped and clapped and others joined in yelling out it was their last one as well.
The countdown began. On my birthday I made the same announcement, “This is my last birthday in prison.” Then Christmas and New Year’s—you get the picture.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) allows mp3 players and has contracted with an outside, for profit, company to provide secure players (at a high price for inmates) and access to purchase music from a database of approved music. Any music with “explicit” lyrics is excluded; or if discovered removed from the database. I had downloaded Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out”:
I’m coming out
I want the world to know
I got to let it show
There’s a new me coming out
And I just had to live…
And Biggie Small’s (aka Notorious B.I.G.) version of it as well:
B.I.G., P-O, P-P-A
No info, for the, DEA
Federal agents mad cause I’m flagrant
Although the DEA had nothing to do with my case.
The last three months of my incarceration I would walk the compound, music blasting through my ears and singing at the top of my lungs, “I’m coming out. I want the world know, got to let to show.” I sang this so often, Correctional Officers and my fellow sisters surviving incarceration would greet me with this song as the count down began. “There’s a brand new me…”
I was released from prison on June 26, 2014 and my brother picked me up.
On September 15, 2014, I was arrested just outside of the doors of the psychiatric unit at George Washington Hospital. I had become suicidal the week before when I was notified that someone had phoned in a lie about my whereabouts despite the fact that I was wearing a GPS monitor. I fell apart.
On November 2, 2014 I received a call at the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA/CTF DC)—the private jail where DC women are incarcerated—from one of the Regional Director’s of the BOP. This is what he told me, “Well Ms. Nuevelle there was a mistake made and so we are letting you go back to the halfway house.” I was in the case manger’s office and I started to weep, but then I became angry and I said to the man on the other end of the phone who had robbed me of my newly found freedom, “What do you mean you made a mistake? You didn’t make a mistake you did the bidding of someone else and harmed me. When are you letting me go?” December 1, 2014 was his answer.
Not only did he admit to making a mistake, he refused to let me leave before Thanksgiving. “These things take time,” he explained. “I’ll get you out before your birthday and Christmas. How does that sound?” It sounded like bullshit and I told him as much. Then he gave me this warning, “Your case involves some complexities and important people and you need to be very careful. DC is small and we made a mistake, but you need to be very careful.” I asked him, “Why don’t you just say it? Say the truth. Admit what really happened.” His response, “We cannot have this conversation on the phone, but please be careful.” Then he hung up.
In 2014, I spent Thanksgiving at CCA/CTF DC. I was not bitter or frightened—but very suicidal. I had served over four and a half years unjustly in prison. I had no legal expertise on my side or allies during my trial and appeal, but I survived. What made the re-arrest so emotionally debilitating, was that someone chose to play politics with my life—Again. “The mistake,” robbed me of my freedom and joy from the year before in which I had believed I was spending my last Thanksgiving incarcerated.
Reentry is not only about freedom, it is about survival and there is no such option of, “Next Year This Time…” because we returning citizens do not even know about tomorrow this time. After incarceration we literally live hour to hour. In an hour your job can be snatched from you or you can be walking down the street and be arrested for no reason and then told two months later, “Sorry our bad.” We citizens who return from jails and prison walk on eggshells. We do not question if the other shoe will fall, but rather when it hits will we be able to sustain the damage and keep moving forward.
I do not focus on next year, or next week. This is what I know; I spent Thanksgiving 2015 —after six years of separation—with my best friend Erin and her son in Santa Cruz, California.
This year at this time I am in the moment and honoring the love, struggles and successes. Knowing the challenges and obstacles that will forever be a part of my life and those of other returning citizens. I went to prison, but the freedom I lost was more than the time I served. I lost my freedom to believe in tomorrow.
I know this truth: This year, at this time, I just want to live…there’s a brand new me!