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The Cracks and Crevices in the Criminal Justice System: A First-Hand Account

Kathleen is a freelance writer. She also has a felony record and has seen first hand how broken the system is, and it needs changing.

Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Receive $200, Go Directly to Jail

Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Receive $200, Go Directly to Jail

What My Life Was Meant to Be

I grew up in a white-picket-fence family; upper-middle-class income, the third of three kids to two married parents, both with good jobs. I went to Catholic school. I was a gymnast. I was a competitive cheerleader. In school, I got good grades and excelled profusely in both math and English (admittedly, I did not do so well in Science, History, or Foreign Languages, but alas).

It was my sophomore year when I discovered Fordham University in the Bronx. The moment I stepped foot on that campus, I knew it was where I belonged. I had found my home.

I immediately applied for early admission, was accepted, coasted through the second half of high school, and daydreamed about one day becoming the Editor in Chief of Vogue Magazine.

When college began, I knew I wanted to become a writer. I began as a journalism major and ended up dual majoring in both journalism and photography.

I loved college. I loved living on the campus. I loved meeting the people. Hell, I even loved the classes themselves. After a rather lonely life 18 years prior, college was a breath of fresh air where I had finally found my people, my calling, my purpose.

An Unbalanced System

An Unbalanced System

Life After College

Even my life after college followed the path I had expected my life would follow.

In my early twenties, I met an extremely nice guy who would wind up my husband, as well as the father of my son, Kieran.

When I met AJ, I had gone through my fair share of painful relationships (both physically, emotionally, and mentally abusive). AJ was nothing like any of them.

He was (is) a generous, kind-hearted, loving man who cared about me in a way I simply wasn't familiar with. He loved me. He truly loved me in the way that love is meant to be felt, experienced, and lived.

I didn't love him. I thought I could. How could I not? He cared so deeply about me. I just HAD to be able to develop feelings for him, right?

Wrong.

And Then the Rains Came....

It took me about two years (minimum), to come to the realization that I wasn't going to love AJ the way he loved me, and not only was that not fair to AJ, this wonderful man who deserves nothing less than to be loved in return the way he is able to show love towards someone else, it also wasn't what I wanted my son to think a marriage was supposed to look like.

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I decided to end my marriage.

Not long after, I entered a new relationship. This relationship was very different from my marriage. For the sake of anonymity, I will refer to my new boyfriend as Tom. Tom had issues. He had drug issues. He had early-onset Alzheimer's. The relationship was extremely toxic. He was violent; he was emotionally and mentally abusive.

In the end, this nearly four-year relationship ended up costing me almost everything in my life that ever mattered to me.

My Son, My Record, My Future

Throughout the course of my relationship with Tom, I had partial custody of my son. Because of the abuse, I ended up losing custody of my child.

Because of the abuse, I ended up with several misdemeanor assault charges, and an aggravated assault charge with a deadly weapon, which is classified as a felony.

Because of my record, despite holding two bachelor's degrees from a very well accredited institution, I was released from jail unable to find a job anywhere. I applied to over fifty jobs, from fast food chains to Walmart, and all turned me away after receiving the outcome of my background report.

We Need to Find a Better Answer

We Need to Find a Better Answer

My Experience with the Criminal System

I spent six months incarcerated for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a third-degree felony. My time in jail was spent during the peak of COVID, so we were quarantined more then even normal. We spent 23 hours in our cell each day and got one hour out. The food was inedible. The guards thought they were better then all of us, and boy did they make us acknowledge it.

In hindsight though, I think I would have rather stayed in jail then have to find a way to assimilate back into society after getting hit with a criminal record.

Nothing is easy. Not that it ever is, but after being locked up, life becomes about a million times more complicated. Housing becomes impossible to find, jobs are impossible to find, friends are impossible to find.

They like to claim that they put things in place for ex-offenders to help them assimilate back into society. They don't. There was no one there trying to help me find somewhere to live, no one there trying to help me find employment, there was no one.

I was completely left to my own devices, and still am. They tell you that they offer programs in place to help recidivism, but they don't. It almost feels like they want you to end up back in jail.

So here I am, with my back against the ropes, trying to survive with one person in my corner—myself.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 Kathleen Odenthal

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