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Today’s question is a difficult one to answer. I was so upset and beat down after I was put in prison, that happiness wasn’t even a thought. I’ve got to be honest – I didn’t think I deserved to be in there.
The common joke is that everyone in prison will tell you they are innocent, but I didn’t find that to be true. Most people will own up to their crime and do the time for it. If they truly didn’t do what they were convicted of, they will keep fighting every step of the way in the court system and be vocal about their battle at every opportunity.
My conviction was two, 15-year prison sentences for possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute and manufacture a controlled substance after 12 cannabis plants were found in the closet of a home I lived in.
I had a college education, a career, had no criminal history, and received a recommendation from a parole officer that I was a perfect candidate for probation for a first-time offense. Unfortunately, there was a prosecutor in my county that wanted to make an example out of me.
The whole point of that information is to explain that I was so hurt, upset, and angry about my incarceration, and I never thought about being happy in prison. So, when it came to tackle this blog question, I sent an email to a friend of mine who is currently serving 20 years, and she is 10 years into her sentence.
Her name is Mistie Vance, and I am going to give you some inside info about prison life that she shared with me this week. This leads me to today’s blog post: Can you be happy in prison?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
When a person thinks about their loved one being in prison, a lot of scary mental images probably come to mind thanks to movies and TV shows. For Mistie, before she was incarcerated, she had a lot of crazy ideas about what prison was really like: dark and dungeon-like, dirty and loud, a place where the sun never shines and happiness is but a dream that only occurs before waking up to a nightmare over and over again.
Thankfully, Mistie’s prison experience has far exceeded her expectations.
“I can still remember my first day in county jail, ten years ago today,” says Mistie. “Sitting in a rubber room with a hole in the floor to use as a toilet and a camera on the wall to watch, wearing only a thin paper suit with a paper blanket to keep me warm.”
She remembers the piece of paper that was quietly slipped beneath the door – the words that meant the beginning of her new life and the end of her old one.
Charge : 1st degree murder and armed criminal action. Bond : $2,000,000.
It was an election year, and she was a 32-year-old woman with no friends or family, and absolutely no money. She says at that moment the thought of ever seeing freedom again was almost as ludicrous as the idea of ever being happy again.
The saddest part of all was the seven-year-old daughter and two-year-old son that she left behind. The only hope she had was the God she grew up knowing about without ever really knowing. So she prayed.
“For a year and a half I made the most of life in the county jail, a place where we never went outside to soak in the sun I loved so much, where a single pod was the entirety of our existence. And life was good,” says Mistie.
“Maybe it wasn’t what I had hoped it would be, and it definitely wasn’t what I’d planned, but I came to an understanding of one of the greatest truths to be learned in this life: Life is what you make it.”
For 19 months, Mistie prayed, did literally hundreds of Bible studies, attended every religious service offered, helped teach G.E.D. classes, and counseled girls coming in who felt hopeless and alone. Her heart was full, she says. Not because of what she had in her life, but from what she could give of herself to others. God was faithful in extending His mercy and grace, says Mistie.
“By the grace of God, I came to prison not with a first degree murder conviction, but with a twenty year sentence for voluntary manslaughter and a.c.a. Instead of two life sentences. I will serve between eight and fifteen years before release. And prison, for me, has been an amazing opportunity for helping others and growing as a person.”
Since she has been in WERDCC – the women’s facility in Vandalia, MO – Mistie has spent two and a half years in the BFA program ( a Christian reentry program ), taught the Impact of Crime on Victims class for two years, completed a vo-tech class, obtained her AFAA certification, taught aerobics classes in the institution for six years, and gave presentations in pre-release classes for two years.
She says she was blessed to have been able to spend the last ten years helping others, and it’s changed who she is as a person. She has also had the honor of meeting the love of her life, and has been able to spend the last three years with her.
“Can a person be happy in prison? Happiness is a choice,” says Mistie. “One you make every day of your life regardless of where you are. Happiness isn’t based on what is going on around you, but rather, what is going on inside you. Every situation you encounter in life has the potential to change your life or someone else’s.
Do you think it’s possible to be happy in prison? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Interview with Mistie Vance, Inmate at WERDCC in Vandalia, MO
Natalie earned her Bachelors degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and has worked in television and radio during her career. When she was a 19-year-old sophomore at KU, she got her first on-air job as a sports reporter for a CBS-TV affiliate. In 2013, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the possession and production of marijuana. She was released in 2017. We've kept her last name off of our website so that she does not experience any professional hardship for her contributions.
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