Her observation rings true when I see Ashley Maya. During each of our three visits, there were never more than seven out of the 19 windows being used by guests.
Autolino believes the biggest challenge female prisoners face is readjusting to life outside.
“People need to be less apt to judge. We’ve all made mistakes. We need to help these women reestablish [themselves] and get back into society. If we don’t give them the opportunity to succeed, we’re part of the problem.”
One way Charlene feels communities can help convicts reestablish themselves is by banning “the box,” the section on a job application that asks if you have committed a felony.
“If you check that box, Human Resources will throw your application away without even looking at it. They don’t know that person. Yes, they’ve committed a crime, but what if they’ve been an active part of society for five years? Should they work minimum wage forever? They’ve already served their time. Why do they need to serve it on the outside, too?”
When Ashley Maya learned what her sentence was, she was at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
“I was already disgruntled when my lawyer called. I was applying for a new driver’s license, because my other one had been taken into evidence. There’s a box on the [DMV] form that asks, ‘Have you been convicted of a felony?’ I thought, ‘Great! Now I’m going to have to check that box.’”
Over the phone, her lawyer told her that she would serve a year in jail, followed by five years probation.
“Up until that point, I was in denial that I would do jail time. I didn’t fill in the box that day, because I hadn’t been formally convicted yet.”
When Maya is released in August, 2013, she will have two felonies on her record. She admits that her future doesn’t seem bright. She’s unsure what she will do when she gets out. She has a degree in psychology, and is considering a career in personal training,
“The thing is,” she says, “people will take one look at the box I have to check and pass [on me] immediately. The worst part is right above that box. It asks, ‘Have you served in the military?’ I’ll check both.”
Maya can pay for her DUI to be expunged after seven years, but the vehicular manslaughter will remain on her record.
Maya is a fourth-generation Marine, so the sting of being dishonorably discharged for her accident weighs heavily on her. Her five little brothers have aspirations of serving their country.
“They look up to me. I’m their role model. It’s hard to be a role model from behind bars.”
Maya admits that only her 18-year-old brother knows about her incarceration. The other four have no idea.
“I’ll tell them when they’re older. I want to be an example to them of what not to do. No one can punish me worse than I already punish myself. I try really hard not to think about the shame I brought on the Marine Corps.”
Maya continues, “You would never understand what it’s like to go from serving your country to serving time — to be treated like a hero, and then like a criminal.”
When Cassie Briscoe attempted to find work after being placed on house arrest, she realized she would have to confess her felony. She was certain it would hinder her chances, but Briscoe was fortunate enough to be rehired at a previous job.
“Filling in that little box brought out a lot of emotions in me. I was worried about being rejected. I’m constantly rejected. I realize I’ve created this, but I’m trying to move on. When I fill in that box, all employers see is a person that was in prison.”
Briscoe believes that many people fail when they get out prison due to overwhelming expectations.
“When you get out, [the courts] want you to do this and that, and get a job. How can you get a job with a felony? A felony changes everything. I see these men and women get out of prison, and they fall. I try to look at [my crime] as my past, but it’s hard to put it behind me.”
Briscoe’s recent arrest left her with $10,000 in court fees. On top of that, she had to pay an addition $1000 for her house arrest.
“I don’t know how I’ll afford it. I’m trying to get back on my feet, and I can barely make it. Every time I go to court, it’s 300 more dollars. The treasurer’s department keeps sending me bills.”
Briscoe compares her court fees to a student loan, only without the benefit of obtaining a degree.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do next. When most people were going to high school and college, I was doing drugs and working in the adult-entertainment business. I’m still figuring it out.”
Cassie volunteers at Metro United Methodist Urban Ministry with girls who are getting in trouble with the law.
“I want to be able to help those kids. I just started going in there and sharing my story. I tell those girls, ‘This is where I am now. The events of my past don’t define me.’ I want to make a difference in their lives.”
Ashley Maya’s release date is August 3.
“The first thing I want to do when I get out of here is go to a spa and wash the jail off of me, but first I’ll have to check into probation.”
She is looking forward to having a real pillow, a real toothbrush, mouthwash, and a comfortable mattress again.
Since she missed Pedro’s funeral due to her incarceration, Maya wants to take a visit to Virginia to visit his grave. She will have to get special permission from her probation officer to travel.
Maya is unsure what her future holds.
“I have the strong feeling that I am supposed to do something with what happened to me. I believe everything happens for a reason. I might not know why now, but, eventually, I’ll look back and realize why. At some point I’ll say, ‘Okay, Lord, that’s why that happened.’”
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