Texas Jail Project About Newsletters Stories Reports In The News Jail Commission Peer Voices Campaigns & Actions Contact Donate

A Mother’s Story of the Dallas County Jail

Dec 5th, 2006 | Category: Dallas County, Stories, Women and Jails

Letter to TJP from former inmate Margie Snider, November 28, 2006

I was put in the Dallas County Jail on May 1st for Civil Contempt—for missing child support payments the previous year to my angry, rich ex-husband. Even though I was paying, with the money coming out of my payroll checks, the fact that I had missed some earlier payments gave him a loophole and a way to sue me. He found a way to once again use/abuse the system put in place for our children to cause me suffering.

When I went to court, I had no lawyer—couldn’t afford one—and I thought we would be talking about a payment plan for the missed payments since I was making steady payments at the time. I was on meds for depression and anxiety like I’ve been ever since our divorce nine years ago. Instead I was taken in shackles from the courthouse. I went into shock.

And then I didn’t see my sons for five months. My sentence was for 180 days. I lost my job, car, home and became very depressed and suicidal, but I didn’t tell the staff because the other inmates said that if you are suicidal you will be stripped naked & put in a solitary padded cell with a camera in it, 24/7.

After three weeks, the jail put me on meds that weren’t even my prescription. Mind you, the pills prescribed by my doctor had finally had me feeling better than I had in years and it he had tried several different medications to find the right ones–after all we are dealing with the human psyche, not an infection or something! So basically I was a guinea pig for the Dallas County Jail. All I could think of was what if I have a horrible reaction to their meds?

The jail doctor said it was the only kind available to me, but I worried so much about what would happen if I got sick with nobody around to help me. The result was I couldn’t eat or sleep and I lost 31 pounds in there. Remember, I had never been incarcerated before or away from my children like that.

And the guards made it all worse. They are almost as cruel as the Nazis—the way they talk to you and the psychological tricks. For example, when you’re new there, you really really want the stuff you are used to, like coffee or diet coke. So when the guards started shouting line up for coffee at 4 am, I was hustling down there, so glad. But there wasn’t any and I said where’s the coffee and everybody laughed at me, because inmates don’t get coffee. The guards get theirs but they like to shout, “line up for coffee” every morning.

They treated me better than most because they understood that I wasn’t the “usual” prisoner and someone started gossip that I was actually a journalist! I often asked a jailer’s name & if they had children—that usually spooked them into a little unnecessary kindness or brought on a smug attitude. Then when I told them I believed that we were all truly sisters in the big picture and especially in God’s eyes then they really thought I was a spy or creepy-crazy! I told them they could still do their jobs & be compassionate human beings—they told me to “shut the fuck up.”

There were plenty of other women in there that clearly were wronged, like Charon. She was another mom being jailed for child support delinquency for 1 1/2 years—and some of the time was in solitary due to the fact that she is HIV positive! I witnessed her suffering with various open sores and rashes that were not managed or addressed for weeks! Now that she is out she is trying to get back on her medication program and can’t seem to get any help with it. Please bring her forward because me and other inmates lost a lot of sleep over her. She says she has had HIV for over 10 years and the jailers knew it going in but they would say, “You aren’t getting any preferential treatment since HIV is an illness that you bring on yourself!”

I understand the jailers had their own crosses to bear I am sure along with their own demons. They were undereducated, oppressed, single mothers—black women making maybe $7.50 an hour and the only outlet for all the crap they are dealt each and every day is to take it out on the prisoners who can’t do a thing about it.

While I was in there my family was heart-broken and enraged because they knew how I battled depression and they were so worried this would “tip me over the edge.” In there, I had to figure out some ways to fight off depression and preserve my own sanity—I prayed. I tried to use humor. We were talking about how they treated us like dogs and I encouraged my whole cell to bark like dogs when answering—and we all started howling and barking. We all laughed so hard at that, but it got us into trouble.

One thing was on Mother’s Day when all the Moms were getting so down and I put M and Ms and Skittles into water to make color and made a heart stencil so we could make cards and stationary to send our kids, to tell them how we loved them. I remember a woman saying please make a bunny shape, my kid loves bunnies. It was like I told my kids when they worried about the kind of people I was with: these are women who made mistakes, even some big mistakes, but we all loved our babies and missed our babies.

For someone who is very depressed, I honestly would not have survived if I didn’t know there were two boys counting on their mom to be okay.

I was told over and over again “Dallas County is the hardest time you’ll ever do… even harder than the pen.”

Well, I am out now, but that experience has had a huge negative impact. I am financially devastated and lost all my personal belongings, including my baby albums and my mother’s paintings (she had already passed away). Of course, when I lost my permanent job, I lost the health insurance that paid for the meds I need. Luckily my doctor gives me samples because I can’t afford them. I have insomnia, nightmares and am now seeing someone for post-traumatic stress, but I am so busy trying to recover and go to work each day at a temporary job that I don’t see how that is going to be possible. It’s really tough, but I am going to make it.

I am not embarrassed or ashamed because I was not the one who made the mistakes and doled out the mistreatment and my boys know that it wasn’t my fault I had to be jailed, but they still experienced being abandoned by their mother for 5 months—and nobody was rehabilitated or nothing corrected by my incarceration.

But I survived and I will go on.

Tags: ,
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.