Women in Prison: From Lifer Helen (Letter 1)

The voices of women prisoners are seldom heard. You may be familiar with Andrea and Renee who write for Jon’s Jail Journal, and now I’d like to introduce you to Helen by way of her first letter.

My name is Helen and I’m housed in a Georgia State prison. First off, in Georgia some people go to prison for crimes someone else committed. I fall under that category. I dated a guy who killed my only son. It was hard enough losing my son, but then I was sentenced to 20 years.

The past 9 years have been the worst of my life. I have seen prisoners get sick and beg for help, only to be turned away. I’ve seen three women die because of this. I’ve seen a woman get her head bashed against the concrete floor over an argument about a TV program.

Back in 2005, the guards moved us to this prison. I have been moved from one dorm to another 34 times.

I was moved from a woman who wanted a relationship with me. When I refused her attempt in 2007, she choked me. The guards took me and put me in lockdown.

Then in June 2008, they put her back in as my roommate. I flipped out. They moved me again. I’ve had a few problems out of her since, but nothing major.

Now in 2009, this prison decided they can’t afford to give us but one roll of toilet tissue and one bar of soap per week. We have to get sanitary items from family. They only feed us two meals on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The amount is not enough to say you even ate. If they can’t afford to take care of us, why are they keeping us in prison? If you don’t have family helping you, you are out of luck.
Between my meds for being sick and seeing the doctor, I owe the State of Georgia $116.50. I have no family support, so I haven’t even been able to go to commissary since 2006.

It’s not easy being locked up. I read a lot of books and stay in my 8 foot by 12 foot cell all of the time.

Your friend,


As this is Helen’s first letter for Jon’s Jail Journal, your comments and questions would be appreciated. If you wish to write to Helen then email me your name and address. She does not have Internet access, so I will mail your comments and emails to her.

Post comments below or email them to writeinside@hotmail.com To post a comment if you do not have a Google/Blogger account, just select anonymous for your identity.

Shaun P. Attwood


leigh said...

helen, i hope you are eligible for parole but considering that you've been in for 9 years and got 20 i'm guessing that is a no. i'm in GA as well and will try to gather some resources for shaun to send you. i'm an activist as well as someone with a loved one serving a life sentence for a crime not committed by him.

if you are having chronic health problems that require medication and visits to medical you should certainly push the issue of getting a medical profile. having chronic medical conditions means that they are not allowed to charge you for treatment related to those including but not limited to medications. if this isn't happening and you are being charged with treatment of chronic illnesses the statewide medical director may need to be contacted.

trying to get medical treatment within the walls of the GA dept of corrections is HARD so don't give up on your health. i can relate to the frustration only by being the go to person for health related issues on the outside for my loved one. being the one inside can't be less frustrating.

and i know it is hard to deal with the retaliation that supposedly doesn't exist but if you can stand it file your grievances, appeal them and keep pushing for your rights. document as much as possible and even document what your observations are regarding what happens to others there so that you can have back up in case you need to take further action.

are you at Metro, Arrendale or Pulaski? depending on that you might have some support available from groups that are actually in your immediate area. the nonsense that is this new consolidated banking for inmates could allow people not on your visitation list/ non family members to send you funds perhaps so that you can purchase the toiletries and avoid worry over if you should or should not go to medical for an illness. i'll also send the forms to shaun in case someone contacts him to do that.

are you all seeing triple bunking (three to a cell previously housing 2) like the guys are? has the smoking ban gone into effect yet where you are? do they offer the programs you have to do as part of your sentence?

i'm glad to know you are reading and not having too, too many issues with your cell mate. i'm curious about the programs the state brags about----are you at a facility that has the horse/ animal rehab thing? or the choir that just released a cd? do many people actually get to participate in those things or how does that work?

sorry to inundate you with so many questions!

Anonymous said...

welcome to blogging, Helen!!!!!!!

i'm looking forward to reading more of your prison stories and finding out more about what its like in there


Anonymous said...

For the second time in 2009, Joe Arpaio has been invited to speak at the ASU campus.

Arpaio targets and violates the human rights of the Native and Latino communities. We are students who come from those communities that are under attack by Arpaio and MSCO.

We will not allow this event to take place without expressing our concerns against Arpaio. We will unite to protest Joe Arpaio and allow him to witness OUR 1st Amendment right to protest a racist sheriff.

To be clear: We are not trying to silence anyone - including Mr. Arpaio. The point of this protest is to voice the counter-opinion, not represented by the forum, and to hold the University and Cronkite School accountable for an irresponsible choice of speaker.

Seating & space is limited. Please arrive early to ensure a seat during the forum.

The First Amendment Forum
Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication
555 N. Central Ave.

Matt said...

I'm sure you're not alone in getting the short end of the stick from the legal system....20 years sounds like a very harsh sentence if what you say is correct. None-the-less, our thoughts and prayers go out to you. Keep the faith, and remember that there is a peace and satisfaction found only in the savior Jesus Christ...No prison, guard, or unruly inmate can ever take that from you if you seek him.

Anonymous said...

Helen, welcome to JJJ. We look forward to your future posts and we are happy to offer support. As is the customary introductory post, I would like to solicit a bit more information. What is your level of classification? As Leigh stated, are you eligible for parole? Are you in the middle of appeals or have you filed? If possible, would you mind sharing the details regarding the crime without jeopardizing and legal issues? Thank you for your time and best wishes. -Jose in San Diego.

leigh said...

i'm just guessing, considering her sentence of 20 years a charge of murder (and also knowing how many issues related to indigent representation exist in GA) that Helen may have taken a plea. GA loves to execute. this pressured plea is something i'd say happens to many people currently incarcerated in GA and probably throughout the country. so if this is the case she would have only had 4 years (i believe) to vacate the plea.

she says she's been in for 9 years and it sounds like she means that she's been in the prison system for that time and that she's not been waiting a handful of years in county jail prior to a trial and then going on to prison (this happens particularly in areas outside Atlanta where only a couple of superior court judges preside over all cases in two or even more counties----doing criminal and civil stuff like divorce and adoption----things get backed up a ton).

if she were going to vacate the plea she'd probably have to prove something unconstitutional happened or her constitutional rights were violated during the process. i THINK that she'd then go back to the same judicial circuit which would have those two (or whatever number) judges. this may all be wrong mind you----i'm not at all an atty and also not familiar with this case.

i just can't imagine having that to do without having support!

Robert35 said...


This is me who wrote you letter and got this whole thing started trying to help you. Please please write me. I love you and desperately want to talk to you.

Anonymous said...

keep writing and I will pray for you. I hope for truth. I await it in my life as well, not from prison but from outside. There are other prisons people put you in with lies.

Robert35 said...

Helen, please write me. I wrote you 3 letters last year around September and sent you a birthday card in February. I have heard nothing since then. IF I don't hear from you soon, then I must think it's over. I think about and pray for you daily. Things for me is hard right now. Everything is slow. I hope you are doing okay. Please tell me how you are doing/feeling? mental health? Sister? anything!

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Stranger said...

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Thanks again.