2 Jun 08

Women in Prison: From Lifer Renee (Letter 1)

As a teenager, Renee received a sixty-year sentence from a judge in Pima County. Fourteen years into her sentence, she is writing from Perryville prison in Goodyear, Arizona.
The voices of women prisoners are seldom heard, and I am unaware of any blog posts by females inside. I’m hoping Renee will continue to provide insight into her own life and the lives of women prisoners by becoming a regular contributor to Jon’s Jail Journal.

Dear Shaun,

Hello. How are you doing? I hope all is well for you. I have thought about writing for your blog for a while. I was/am shocked and a little scared. I have attempted several letters to you, but I felt I didn’t know what to say. It felt planned. Not natural. So instead of trying I am just writing. With time, maybe I will feel a little more comfortable.

Yes, the woman prisoners are in orange. I’ve been down a while. 14 years. I’ve seen and experienced a lot. I feel as though I have been prison raised. I was 18 when I hit the yard.

You want to know what it’s like in a women’s prison? A dog eat dog world and you’re wearing milk bone underwear, and either going to eat or get eaten. The women are different from the men. The men are more physically violent, whereas the women are more mentally, emotionally and verbally vicious. While there are the few who will duke it out, the majority will just talk badly about you and try to turn the masses against you. I know because I live this on a daily basis. Even the officers get caught up in the ebb and flow of the never-ending drama.

When I speak of individuals that are legends in their own minds, I speak of individuals who believe they are “the ones,” the leaders of the people, the ones you should bow down to, run or fetch for, do this, do that. The ones that proclaim everyone fear them. They run the weak by playing on weakness, claiming to bring them up, but when their ass is in a sling you’re the first person to get thrown under the bus. The ones that will not fight their own battles when called out, but will slither around filling people’s minds, recruiting others to fight their battles, all the while claiming deeds they never really did. All just to feel like they are someone. When in reality no one can stand them. They are only legends in their own minds.
Most of the women suffer from something I call “princess syndrome.” They feel they should be catered to and everything is all about them.

The medical here is a joke. A couple of days ago I was at work (I have worked maintenance for 8 or 9 years now) and we were trying to repair the showers on 26 Yard (that is the close custody yard). We were replacing the moldy/mildewy shower tiles with stainless steel. We had three showers to do. Things were running fairly smoothly. We completed one shower and I was getting ready to cut the steel for the second shower.
Our boss came around the corner of the control room, yelling, “Wrap it up. Someone broke something on 30 Yard.” 30 Yard is supermaximum custody.
So we were rushing to put everything up. We loaded up my ten-foot sheet of steel. I saw the copper pipe lying under the truck, so I bent down to retrieve it. I came up and I ran right into the corner of the sheet of steel. My hand went to my forehead. The blood was running down my face. I called for Cletis my friend and coworker. I removed my hand. She saw the blood running down my face and started screaming.
“Oh my God! Oh my God! Somebody help her!”
My boss led me to the shower bleeding all over the place.
Somebody gave me some rags and paper towels for the gaping wound on my forehead.
My boss said, “Let me see how bad it is.”
So I removed the rag.
“Oh, you need stitches. Let’s go,” he said. He got on the radio, notified the sergeant and medical.
I went to medical with paper towels pressed to my forehead. The nurses cleaned the blood off, slapped a big piece of gauze on my head and taped it on. They asked me if my head hurt and sent me on my way. No instructions on how to take care of it. No tetanus shot. They did not even butterfly it with a bandaid. Mind you, I still hadn’t seen it.
I got back to my room and removed the gauze from my head. My stomach turned. I almost threw up. The gash was about two inches long and about a quarter of an inch wide.
I showed the yard officer.
“You need at least butterfly bandaids,” he said, and called his LT.
The LT called medical.
Medical’s response was they had done all they were going to do for me.
I was traumatized – this is my face.
A friend came over and taped my forehead together and told me the best way to take care of it.
It is healing now but without the help of someone off the yard I would not have known what to do.
Everyone was freaking out, but medical didn’t care.
I picked a piece of aloe vera from the U-gate to apply to it to help it heal.
All I could think of was, I have so many scars that run so deep. Now I have one that people can see.

Thank you for the pictures and the biography. It is so tempting and easy to get caught up in the drug world but the price that is paid at the end is not worth it – but we never see that tollbooth coming.
I am really glad you are not a perv looking for a hottie. That is so old and worn out. I can tell you after 14 years, I am tired, drained, beat. Yet I get up every day and try and start a new day. I continue to educate myself. I want to learn as much as possible. I try to grow from my mistakes. I try to be a better person. I lost my life but not my will to live. Although I feel beaten and battered I am not quite broken yet. The sad part is the fact I may never get to prove I have changed and have learned from my mistakes. I never really had a chance.

I love yoga. When I first came down I still did drugs to numb the pain. Then I started corresponding with the Siddha Yoga Foundation. I quit drugs and realized I really needed to take a good look at myself. I did not know who I was, who I wanted to be or what I was about. I couldn’t figure it out. I meditated on it for a while. I couldn’t figure out what it was I wanted, but I knew for sure what I did not want and that’s what I started with. The pose I am trying to master right now is the peacock. I love yoga. It feels as though it saved my soul. With yoga I am humble, centred and aware. I am thoughtful in my words and actions.

I hope to hear from you soon. Take care.



As this is Renee’s first contribution to Jon's Jail Journal, your comments and feedback would be greatly appreciated and shall be forwarded to her. If you would like to write to Renee email me your name, address, and a few sentences about who you are.

Email comments to writeinside@hotmail.com or post them below

Copyright © 2007-2008 Shaun P. Attwood


Anonymous said...

How does the prison system explain not having a human level ??

Anonymous said...


If two women want to fight each other, what is the procedure there? Do they go to a cell or a shower room like in the men's prisons?


Sue O. (aka Joannie, SS) said...

Thanks for having the courage to write, Renee. I know it's hard for women. I'm a volunteer in a county prison and unless a female inmate feels very safe, she will not confide. It's too dangerous. The ones that do and sincerely want to change I give huge credit to. Please continue writing.

Sue O. (aka Joannie, SS) said...

I wanted to comment to Joshua-how does the prison system explain not having a human level?? They don't have to. We were promised the world by a psychiatrist treating my son before he was incarcerated...he'd get the care he needed, he'd get meds, he'd be safe.

Our first visitation on the phones behind the glass filled me with such terror as a mother I wondered how we were going to live through it. My son is strong, he's a big man, intelligent, street smart-and seeing him on the first visitation I thought we'd lost him. The look in his eyes said everything he could not-I had never seen him cry as a young man, and he could not stop the tears.

You learn to expect nothing from the prison system. This can ruin a person, or it can be a rallying cry to the soul. I eventually realized I needed to achieve the grace that brought humanity into that place. But it took understanding that inmates and their families alike are not spared...it doesn't matter who you are, and to not be stopped by that.

Anonymous said...

how on earth does a teenager get sixty years? is Renee a serial killer?

ghost writer said...

about the statement on serial killers, most of them don't get caught. I've known the sweetest people go to prison for a very long time after a drunk driving accident and killing their own girlfriend not only was it punishment losing your high school sweetheart but then you have to spend time in prison forever over a harmless high school party not that I think getting behind a wheel is smart while intoxicated!whatever renee has done is not what is not what the real point is here, it is that if the gov. wants to put so many people in jail with all these strict laws, then treat them like humans not like an animal.

Anonymous said...

no matter what sh'e done, she was a youth when she did it,

who isn't a different person after so many years? why should she have to continue to pay such a high price when it's obvious she could be a productive member of society as an adult? the justice system in this country is ridiculous, any judge who gives a teenage girl 60 years needs shooting

shaun, do you know the name of the judge?

keep writing Renee, the world needs to hear your story


Anonymous said...

I agree that unless she ate some babies or something then 60 years seems a tad excessive, However, out of interest, how can you come to that conclusion about Renee after reading one blog entry?

Chris H said...

Shaun, Shaun....

You posted my previous comment! You like me, you really like me!

How are you these days? Not heard anythign about YOU for a while, just the coolio people you met on you're adventure holiday at the US's expense.

Hit me back - Love and kisses to you BIG DAWG!

Chris H

Anonymous said...

i think the use of all these letters is really powerful. the blog has shifted again and become something else - a voice for all the forgotten people inside.

i want to know more about renee - i nearly cried reading her letter. how did you get in contact with her?

i'm dying to know more as i'm sure are your readers


Anonymous said...

Excellent first post Renee. My question to you is, do you have any family to support you? Are you eligible for parole? What level yard are you on? Thank you and we look forward to hearing from you. -Jose in San Diego.

btowndweller said...


Your first blog entry was very well done. Even though you struggled to feel natural, your thoughts came together to tell a powerful story of your current situation.

It is vital that you give incarcerated women a voice - keep writing, as long as it is safe for you.


Andi said...

Hi Shaun, I started to leave a comment but realized I have a lot to say. So I'm just going to email you. ~Andi

Anonymous said...

Just as Shaun found, Renee, you have to look within to find the power to self-heal.

You cannot change the world - you can only change yourself.

There being only One Mind in the Universe, it knows when you move forward, and marks it with an experience that is good for you.

And so you DO change the world.

As you build trust in the process, you will grow ever-stronger in confidence.

And just as Shaun has found a role in life that is fulfilling him deeply, so will you.

Good luck. Zen :-)

Anonymous said...

I hope it all works out for your Renee. It is not an easy life by any means. Hang on there, and try to hold onto your dreams. You have the right attitude in trying to take positive action and educate yourself. Don't let the bad days get to you, but look to the future.
God bless. TerryB

the_skyisfalling said...

Renee -
Thank you for your entry. The way you write is undeniably painful, but some of the most honest, beautiful work I've been graced to read in a very long time.
I've never been incarcerated, but I can certainly understand what you have to say about scars. I too have many, many scars that run deeper than deep--but none that the world can see.
All the best to you, and you will certianly be in my thoughts and in my prayers. Please keep writing!
Love and peace,
M. Satyro

P.S. Shaun--your blog has changed my perspective on many things.
Thank you for using your right to write.

Anonymous said...

I go by Renee too.
My prayers are w/ u kiddo, I hope u get a chance.
Enjoyed your blog post.

Unknown said...

Hey Girl,

If you write how you think, then we know who you are. Don't change that. It works for you.

Heather said...

Joshua, you put into one sentence the whole nutshell. That is 100% on the money in laymens terms!! Thank you.My dearest friend I met thru a pen pal (when I was incarcerated) we've been writing and now talking since I got out, for over a year now. I was unaware of the details of his crime yet I knew he was in for Murder on a plea for 70yrs. He is 29 now and has been incarcerated for 12 yrs..yes he too was 17 at the time and was tried as an adult along with 2 others. A vicious fight resulted in a mans death, a horrible death (Beaten) My friend is genuinely remorseful and won't forgive himself yet. He is in what they call a faith pod for the past 9 years in a private prison due to yet another state with an over crowded prison system. I love my friend he's kind, gentle, caring and has done more for me emotionally, spiritually and yes at times believe it or not financially from in prison than any man has ever done for me outside of those walls. People change, horiffic things happen and my heart goes out to the families and the victims of such crimes but each case is so delicate that each one should be handeled as such. I believe in punishment( I did 2.5 yrs at PerryVille myself)but like Renee 60yrs or 70yrs is such a long time especially entering as a CHILD if we have to continue to call our state run Prison a "Correctional Facility" than by all means allow that to occur rather than hinder an individual the way they do now by(as Joshua so eloquently put it in a nut shell" "not having a human level" Renee it doesn't matter why or what you did to deserve the 60 yr sentence its what you've taken resposibilty for by changing, learning, growing, accomplishing against GREAT ODDS and the fact that you will be heard and you will have made a voice for all of us as one post described us
"unstable dangerous inmates etc" yet what some don't realize is you and I are someones Mother, Daughter, Sister etc just as anyone else involved and someone loves/loved us too and many lives are destroyed by sequence of events that most if not all would change in a sec if given that chance. But unfortunetly that can't happen. the best you can do is Just be the best person you know how to be thats all god asks of any of us.. Be Blessed Friend.

Jamjar said...


No one will ever understand you're position, no shrink nor doctor, not even someone who is in prison or has been in prison themselves. You have to make this as brilliant a lesson and make the most of it. I know that it isn't very comforting, but everything happens for a reason. You were put into the prison for a reason, whether it's to help someone whose in there, or inspire people who aren't. Just think, people all over the world are reading your life and are in awe of it. People from all walks of life are listening to your voice and loving everything you say. Keep writing on here. Whether you've done wrong or not, you're in prison and you're making the most of the opportunities given to you. You're off the drugs and you are a wonderful human being, don't let anyone tell you differently. This is your story, make it matter.

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Unknown said...

Renee, I hope you are still writing and that this reply to your very first letter to Shaun reaches you. I can only hope you are not in prison anymore as it is 2020, but who knows. I've been to jail, but never prison. Jail is similar but no where near as bad as prison I'm sure. I'm glad you found yoga to center you and help you. Good luck to you and stay positive.