Mother’s Day Behind Bars
Mother’s Day is a very difficult holiday for me. I have spent the past 21 Mother’s Days in federal prison for a nonviolent drug offense. Unless sentencing laws change, I will serve nearly five more years behind bars before I am reunited with my children. I want to share my story so that others do not make my mistake, but also so politicians in Washington will realize that our sentencing laws need to be fixed.
I grew up in Mobile, Alabama. I became pregnant in ninth grade and dropped out of school to care for my child. I was determined to be the best mother in the world. Unfortunately, as a single mother without a degree, money was always a problem. In 1988, just after I turned 20, I met a good-looking man named John who promised to help me financially. John had come to Alabama to sell crack cocaine, and needed someone who knew the area. I am sorry to say that I helped him for a little over a month in return for money that helped me provide for my family. After about six weeks, I ended things with him and moved myself and my kids up to Boston to start a new life.
I wasn’t in Boston long before I was indicted on drug charges in Alabama. I returned to take responsibility for my mistake. I prayed I would not have to serve any time because of my clean record and limited involvement but I could not have been more wrong. I was put in jail immediately. My lawyer told me that unless I cooperated against some drug dealers in Florida – people that I did not know – I would have to take a chance on a trial.
I could not give the prosecutors what they wanted because I did not know anyone in Florida. Meanwhile, John cooperated against everyone, including me. I was eventually charged as a manager in the drug conspiracy. I was found guilty at trial and, even though I did not have a criminal record, sentenced to 30 years in federal prison. The year was 1990. I was just 23 years old.
|Stephanie and family members|
Mothers Day is an unhappy reminder of the mistake I made two decades ago and the price I am still paying to make up for it. It is a reminder of all the birthdays, holidays, graduations, and good times I have missed. I know I did something wrong. But I am also sure that I did not need 30 years in prison to learn my lesson and that my children did not need to grow up motherless.
There is a chance I could be home for Mother’s Day next year. Last year, Congress finally fixed the crack cocaine law that required even first-time, low-level drug offenders like me to serve decades in prison. The problem is that they did not make the change retroactive to apply to those of us already in prison whose cases illustrated why the law desperately needed to be changed. The U.S. Sentencing Commission soon will consider whether it should make its new crack guideline retroactive. I pray that both Congress and the Sentencing Commission will recognize that the only fair thing to do is to apply the new law to those of us in prison.
I am overdue for a second chance. While incarcerated. I have earned my GED, completed college courses, and earned professional licenses that will allow me to compete for a job when I finally am released. I will be much different than the young mother who kissed her children goodbye 21 years ago. This Mother’s Day, when you hug your kids close, please remember me and my family and all of the children who will celebrate this holiday alone because their mothers are serving long sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.
Stephanie Nodd is serving in the Coleman Federal Correctional Institution-Medium in Coleman, FL. Her projected release date is November 6, 2016.