SUPPORTING YOUR LOVED ONE DURING PRETRIAL AND THE 3 MOST IMPORTANT WAYS TO HELP YOUR LOVED ONE KEEP IT TOGETHER
Federal pretrial is tough to describe if you have never been through it. When someone is federally indicted, the indictment itself is unsealed, made public, and the defendants named are arrested and arraigned. There are many hearings and conferences before taking a plea and all this process can take a long time. From the time of the initial arrest to the time you take your plea can take years and defendants will either spend this time in a federal detention center, or some of the “lucky” ones get out on what is called pretrial supervision. I put lucky in quotes because it does not always feel so lucky. It is not exactly freedom and the fears and uncertainty of the situation can be rather crippling, and it can feel like your mind is the labyrinth of hell during this time. If your loved one is on federal pretrial release, they need more support now than ever.
On pretrial, some people are on ankle monitors and on a home confinement situation, while others just must check in with a probation officer and call “code a phone” daily. Code a phone is a number you call when on supervision. You call and enter your password to find out if you must take a drug test that day. I knew I had to call early because the place I had to test was 30 minutes away and I have heard that places are hours away for some people. Going through pretrial did not exactly feel like innocent until proven guilty but if you are like me, I had so much gratitude for getting more time in the free world and with my family, I did not complain and there is no fighting it anyway. I welcomed the structure and rules to coax me through the beginning of my sobriety.
If I could go back and navigate my pretrial knowing what I know now, I would have changed some things. Pretrial is the land of uncertainty. You want to hold on to hope, but what does that really look like? If you are hoping to just walk away from this whole thing, well that is what I call false hope. Or maybe you are hoping by some miracle you can escape a mandatory minimum?
I really did not know what hope looked like for me. I think I was just holding on hoping to survive on a minute-to-minute basis, and I was not sure what to think. I know there were days I fantasized the whole mess away. Sometimes that was the only way I could make it through my day, and it was the only way I could look at my loved ones without bursting into tears at any given time.
Let me be clear, if you are federally indicted you are as good as incarcerated, it is just a matter of time. With a 98% success rate for pleas or convictions for federal cases, there is no reason to believe you are the special one. I promise you, you do not have a golden ticket, so go ahead and get that thought out of your head. In the land of the feds there is no usual evidence needed. Ghost dope, ghost money, and ghost guns are created by statements by anyone and everyone. There is no discrimination against people even if they are an unsavory character. If they want to make a statement all they must do is step right up.
In my case, I was never caught with anything. There was no wiretap, no hand-to-hand sales to an undercover, no physical evidence. The only evidence against me was statements and there was an abundance of them that were not actually me. So, I could not wrap my brain around actually doing time when there was no evidence. But there was. The were statements given, and any number of drugs that someone said they saw me with or said I sold them was all added up, thus creating ghost dope, and you cannot fight a ghost. This can pertain to money and guns just as easy. It is not fair; trust me I know. It is hard to believe currently we just are cool with putting people in prison for decades with such small standards of proof and so many lies, but it happens. Our country has an embarrassing amount of people incarcerated and this is one of the reasons. Lowering the bar for evidence and stacking the deck against the defendant will keep the prisons full without any effort.
I am saying these things because it is important for people to know, especially the people on pretrial and their loved ones. My pretrial lasted 3 years. I had no idea what to expect or when I was going to have my freedom ripped away. My indictment superseded twice and got continued many times. As I approached 3 years on pretrial, I was sure, it was coming to an end and I braced for the impact. Only to find out the other defendants were asking for a continuance. As I let that sink in, relaxed a bit, and tried to adjust my thinking to at least another 6 months of this weird existence I found myself in, I realized I was really growing weary. I was so tired of this mind game I had no choice but to play. I was starting to wish it would end. Be careful what you wish for. Two weeks later I got a call that the powers from above had changed their mind and there would not be a continuance. I was told I had a week before I had to turn it. This is how uncertain pretrial is. After years of hoping for the best, whatever that was, it was over, and it was time to tell my daughter and my entire family. This was it…
If you have stumbled upon this blog, I suspect either you or your loved one are in this situation. I am sorry you are going through this. The only thing I can offer is some advice on how I would navigate my pretrial if I had it to do over again. Here are 3 suggestions for support for you or your loved one on federal pretrial.
1. LIVE LIKE YOU ARE DYING
If I had it to do all over again, I would have lived like I was dying. I wish I would have reached out to family and loved ones I had not spent time with in years. Especially older relatives. I wish I would have been honest with myself so I could have been more honest with my family about the mountain I was facing. I would have spent time with people like it was the last time I would ever see them, because that is exactly what happened.
With the feds you are going to be doing some time. The federal government loves lengthy harsh sentences, and you will do a minimum of 85% without an act of God. For whatever reason, they did away with federal parole long ago. I cannot say I understand why the state offenders can get parole, but federal defendants cannot, but that is how it is. A lot of people are under the impression that the First Step Act will save them. As an inmate, on the inside we see that First Step Act is a dog and pony show. Maybe the intentions of passing this law were to head in the direction of ending mass incarceration, but they left it in the hands of the BOP, and they are not in the business of getting people out of prison, and thus all the things that were supposed to happen are not actually taking place, but that is another blog. So, do not get it twisted, you are going away. With years on the table, you can expect to lose loved ones and pets along the way. Time is going to go on without you and while the feds have you hostage, everything and everyone you love is getting older and changing.
So, if you or your loved one is on federal pretrial, make memories while you can. Live like you are dying. Spend quality time and be honest about the reality and the severity of the situation. Do not battle that mountain alone, you will have plenty of alone time once inside. If you are blessed with pretrial, make birthdays and holidays special. Make time for elderly loved ones to listen to them tell their stories and cherish them telling it because this might be your last shot at hearing them speak about their life. Say the things you need to say and spend the time you need to spend. You will lose a lot of friends along the way, people you thought were friends will drop like flies, so focus on the people that are going to ride with you.
Do not be fooled by the blessing of time out and about in the world, it’s only temporary. Do not let your brain give you some false hope that all this magically went away because months have gone by like nothing is happening. Do not make that mistake. Go sky diving and do things you have dreamed of doing but have put it off. Of course, you must follow the rules of your pretrial, but file whatever motions you have to with the court and try and take that last vacation. Take every opportunity to make things right with everyone you love.
2. EMOTIONAL SUPPORT
I cannot say it enough, pretrial is a scary and uncertain time. Emotionally, at times, it is almost unbearable. It is hard to put words together to truly justify how hard it is. I will never forget the panic and anxiety I experienced almost daily. I had never been incarcerated, so I had 3 years on pretrial to dream up the worst case scenarios and freak out about it repeatedly.
I would go from crying my eyes out to fantasizing away my indictment completely, to wishful/hopeful thinking sometimes in the same hour. I would say that pretrial is an emotional roller coaster but that is not true. A roller coaster you sit back and enjoy the ride feeling the breeze and excited by the ups and downs. This is more like an emotional triathlon that you did not train for or want to do and even if you collapse it is like you are still being drug behind a truck, there is no escaping, no chicken exit.
I think counseling is important and I am grateful my loved ones encouraged me to go. But that was just one day out of the week and I am a liar about my emotions and feelings, so I cannot say it was always productive. Even the most capable person will want to curl up and quit at some point. I wish I would not have been so stubborn and been more open about what I was going through. I would encourage anyone going through this to let your loved ones in and let them go through it with you. Talk about the uncertainty. Talk about the pain you are feeling. Do not just let your loved ones fend for themselves.
I remember waking up with night terrors crying my eyes out. I would go in and hold my daughter and smell her head like I was trying to bottle her scent in my nose and brain. She was young and I did not want to burden her with the worry I had every day. So, I stuffed my emotions down the best I could and when I had to lose my mind, I slipped away and got it all out and I would not change that at all. I believe it is simply too much for a child to endure. I remember how bad it would tear me up to look at her pretty, young, sweet face and know that she would be a totally different human the next time I would get to see and touch her.
The guilt of the past, knowing what you are about to lose, and not knowing what the future could possibly look like is unbearable if you do not look away. I had a good friend that had been through it all years ago. He was my rock and would talk me off the ledge constantly. I do not know what I would have done without his guidance and his navigation away from that ledge I gravitated to and insisted on dangling from. Everyone on pretrial needs a person like this. I am grateful for my friend.
The hardest part about this is how easy it is to wish away. Time heals all, but unfortunately this is a scab that is going to have to keep getting ripped off. In the months and years ahead, the confusion of what seems like nothing is happening can make you feel like you slipped through the cracks. You did not. This is such a hard existence for the person on pretrial and the people that love them.
I refused to even consider anything spiritual. My thoughts were that I needed to get myself right and then I would go find Jesus. Even though I stopped using all drugs the minute I was indicted and have never slipped ever again, I just did not feel worthy of any kind of God’s grace. If I could go back, I would change the way I handled this. Now I feel this amazing peace that can only happen with Jesus and prayer and I would not trade it for the world. I just wish I had not been so hardheaded.
For your loved one’s mental stability, encourage them to pray. Pray with them and for them and if you can get them on board with this, God will ease their pain. Unfortunately, it is not exactly an easy sale. Encourage them to read uplifting spiritual books like anything by Bob Goff or Mark Batterson. You cannot go wrong with the Circle Maker or Draw the Circle by Batterson.
All you can do is offer a shoulder to cry on and some gentle guidance in a good positive direction as much as possible. Sometimes they might need to be a recluse, but do not allow them to hide from life. Emotional support is imperative, and we all need our loved ones in times like this.
3. GET YOUR AFFAIRS IN ORDER
If your loved one has been indicted, do not let them procrastinate in taking care of their affairs. Children, pets, homes, cars, etc… These are the obvious things. Make a list and expect it to grow. Everyone and everything that has a need or is a necessity, put it on the list and make it happen and work through each item until you can check it off. Legal documents like power of attorney, wills, leases, mortgage, get it together and get it in order.
I am so incredibly grateful for my dad and mom helping me so much with all my issues. Without them, I would have dug myself a hole and retreated, paralyzed by fear. I have a feeling I would have left an even bigger mess with my inability to process pretty much anything. This is just not an easy situation and you really do not want to believe this is happening which makes it even harder to act responsibly.
Beyond the obvious tasks that need to be remedied, medical care and dental is a must. Federal prisons barely have medical and dental care. It has gotten worse during the pandemic, and now they just blame everything on Covid and move on.
When I first got to prison, dental surgery barely glanced in my mouth and that was nearly 3 years ago. I have never seen the dentist again. Oh except for when I broke my tooth and as I stood at the door crying holding a piece of my tooth in a Velveeta box, the dentist told me to go away, that he was not going to help me and not to bother him…
Thank God for Dr. Superglue. Craft glue is our only hope around here for fixing teeth and dentures and eyeglasses too. All this guy does is pull teeth and hide behind the BOP saying that is all they allow him to do. After he pulls all the teeth out, they expect these people to just gum their food because they refuse to provide dentures.
So, if your loved one has any dental issues or concerns, get them to a dentist. If your loved one is on the verge of needing dentures, do not wait, get it done or they will suffer the whole way through their sentence. I see people using their teeth to open a package and I stop and give them a lecture about only using your front teeth for smiling during your stay at the BOP.
Medical is equally negligent and the staff lost their moral compass long ago. The BOP advertises on Facebook encouraging people to come work for them and give medical care to people that may have never had it. Um… I did not come from under a rock and way to lower the bar.
I have seen a lot of people suffering in prison. One girl is walking around with a huge tumor that has continued to grow on her side since she got here last year. They refuse to treat her, with all that being said, get all the exams and cancer screens you need to get. That weird looking freckle you are not quite sure about, go get it checked. Even the simplest tasks are an uphill battle while in the clutches of the BOP and I have seen things that simply sicken me.
I am not saying all these things to fuel your anxiety, I want to be very clear about the importance of getting yourself and your affairs in order. Life as you know it is about to drastically change and if you are out on pretrial you have a unique opportunity to plan and get your affairs in order.
I would also suggest working and saving as much money as possible. There are not a lot of jobs in federal prisons, and most will not make ends meet. Get your money saved up and get your money into the lockbox before your arrival.
In conclusion, I would strongly suggest you take complete advantage of your time on pretrial or help your loved one on pretrial the best you can. It is going to be hard and incredibly emotional. This is such a difficult time for the person on pretrial and the people that love them. I encourage you or your loved one to live like you are dying and make the most of seeing and spending time with the people closest to you. I encourage as much emotional support as you can possibly give and seek professional help and pray more than you ever have before. If you do not know how to pray, find someone who does and get them to help you. Help your loved one get their affairs in order.