Oct. 15, 2020

MAGGIE KNEW "HER PLACE".

From my book: The Beauty Queen

In the mid-seventies, when the Arkansas Correctional Facility for Women moved from Grady, Arkansas-- to Pine Bluff-- I was Women’s Director for Arkansas Educational Television.  I’d recently interviewed the facilities’ new warden, Helen Carruthers, and also been invited to interview some of the inmates.  In fact, Ms. Carruthers and the corrections board suggested I 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 as my “host and roommate" during my brief incarceration.  Maggie was small, had crippling Arthritis, and wasn’t physically-able to do most of the chores assigned to inmates.  Because of her size and medical fragility, Maggie was spared a strenuous work detail. I learned Maggie, while married, had given birth to eleven children.  All were raised by relatives.  Her Incarceration File documented that Not Once, in 30 years, did anyone bring any children to visit her.  In fact, for all her years in prison, Maggie never received mail, phone calls, or visitors.

Maggie was serving prison time for fatally stabbing her husband (with an ice pick) after years of torture and physical abuse.  She had served every day of a thirty year sentence and was being released in five days. When I interviewed her and asked her to describe her excitement 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; about “not having any responsibility or having to make decisions.” She liked so much about prison---the food, the people, the exercise center, the big-screened TV---and continued to refer to the facility as “her home.”  I remember thinking, at the time---it’s a sad commentary when a prisoner prefers incarceration…to freedom, family, and a real home.

 A few months later, I wasn’t surprised to learn that,  shortly after her release, Maggie was arrested for a serious altercation involving a family member.  After a hasty trial, Maggie was returned to the women's facility for another lengthy stay.

Maggie was relieved to be home again.

Sally Miller