Jan. 1, 2019

MOST OF US SIMPLY WANT TO BE HAPPY.

In my position as Women’s Director for Arkansas Educational Television, I often interviewed divorced and single women about their many struggles. I developed a weekly television show called “Forever Female,” which featured divorced/single women learning new skills and creating successful careers.

The show often spotlighted females performing jobs considered “male-only” jobs like....telephone linemen, chauffeurs, highway department workers, fast-food managers, airline pilots, real estate agents, even prison wardens.

In the mid-seventies, when the Arkansas Correctional Facility for Women moved the women's prison from Grady, Arkansas to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, I interviewed Helen Carruthers, the facilities’ new Warden and the South’s first black female Warden.

During our Forever Female segment, Ms. Carruthers invited me to interview some of the prison’s female inmates. Several days later, Ms. Carruthers called to thank me for the television interview and to issue another interesting invitation: The corrections board wanted me to spend one night in the old facility and one night in the new facility....to experience the dramatic difference.

An older black woman named Maggie was assigned to be both my guide and my over-night roommate during my very brief incarceration. Maggie was serving time for fatally stabbing her husband with an Ice Pick after years of battering and verbal abuse. She had served every day of a thirty-year sentence and was being released in five days.

When I interviewed Maggie about going home—she responded with tears. “Miss Sally, I love it here. This is my home and I don’t want to leave it!” Maggie talked about being “taken care of and feeling safe” in Prison. She especially liked not having many responsibilities or needing to make decisions.

Maggie liked most everything about prison life—the food, the people, the exercise center, the big-screened TV—and insisted on referring to the facility as “her home.” At the time, I remember thinking—it’s a sad commentary when a prisoner prefers incarceration to freedom, family, and a real home.

 So, it wasn’t surprising when, a few months after her release, Maggie was arrested for a fatal altercation involving a family member. Following a hasty trial, Maggie was returned to the women’s facility to serve a life sentence. At last, Maggie was really….home.

Sally Miller