There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you. Elie Wiesel said that “whoever survives a test, whatever it may be, must tell the story. That is his duty.” In the telling of my story, I am giving you my most vulnerable self.
My name is Taylor. I am 36 years old and have been incarcerated for the past 17 years. How had I come to commit offenses that brought such a lengthy prison term? I courted danger.
I courted danger because danger was one of the few things potent enough to make me feel~ when no one or nothing else could. No one but myself can be blamed for my fall~but at 19 years old-«you couldn’t tell me that.
I was born in St. Joseph, Missouri in February of 1982. I grew up outside there in a little farming town called Lathrop. I have one older brother, his name is Derek.
My mother and father married in 1975 and divorced in 1985. Fortunately theirs was an amicable divorce. To be quite honest, I don’t remember a lot about my early childhood. After the divorce~my brother went with my father and I stayed with my mother. I do remember having spent months/ years at a time without having any contact with my dad or my brother. I thought that was how divorced families worked. ‘
My mother was a severe alcoholic. At the ages of seven and eight, I vividly remember my mom drinking before work, after work, before bed, and little did I know, she was drinking at work, too. To me, this was normal. I didn’t know or remember a “sober” mom. It was typical for her to miss work, forget to feed me, not speak or interact with me for days~but she was my mom~this is how everyone’s moms were, right?
All of the memories I have of my mother smell like alcohol~even the good ones. Like when she would bend down to kiss me goodnight or even when she was helping me pick out a graduation dress. Her disease was a perfume, one I used to lean into when I was a child and one I would grow to despise as I became an adult. If you ask,me for fiveconcrete recollections from when I was a kid, chances are that at least three of them will involve some situation based on my mom’s drinking. As far back as I could remember, alcohol was a form of self~ medication that quelled my mother’s inner scream but amplified her outer crazy.
I loved my mom to the moon and back and in my eyes she could do no wrong. Her drinking would only continue to get worse. I began to ask myself, was having an occasional mother better than not having one at all? I would gladly take a mother with faults over not having one at all.
In grade school I was the “fat” girl who always had her nosetstuck in a book and I was okay to be alone. To other kids I guess this wasn’t normal. To me~being by myself was customary.
Why would I think that anyone would want to be around me?
This continued on into junior high and when I was around 12 years old I remember refusing to go to school. When my mom asked me what my reason was~I didn’t have a sufficient enough answer for her. How was I going to tell her that I didn’t like getting undressed in the locker room for gym class because the other girls stared and ‘made hurtful comments? How
Taylor Huey-Choices was I going to tell her that I was tired of eating lunch by myself and getting laughed at in the process? How do you tell your mom that you get made fun of for you clothes not fitting properly because you can’t afford new ones? I couldn’t. So I didn’t.
When I was 13, my grandparents sent my mom to treatment for her alcoholism. I got up for school that morning and my mom was gone. I ran to her bedroom and she wasn’t there. My grandparents tried to calm me down but they just didn’t understand. They didn’t understand that my mom was my one “constant”~that steady person who I knew~no matter her drinking~ was always going to be with me. What was I going to do without her. I-felt devastated and alone.
I walked around at my grandparent’s farm feeling like a leaf, knowing I could crumble any second. It may have took a while, but my grandma and grandpa make me feel not so alone. I was with them for a little over a year~the time my mom spent in treatment. They would take me to see her on weekends for these “family” therapy sessions and the doctors would want me to tell my mom how her drinking and behavior impacted me. Did I even know the answer to that? Did I have any idea my mom was that sick? All my mom would do is cry and cry. I couldn’t grasp how any of that was helping her. I didn’t realize or understand that her behavior wasn’t typical. So I stopped going to see her.
When my mom got out of treatment and back on her feet, I was 14. She asked me to come and live with her. Sometimes looking back, I think she was lonely, too. We seemed to be doing okay until she met a man what would change all that. They dated, she seemed happy, he seem nice, and eventually he moved in. He ‘had a bit more money than my mom was accustomed to and I think that was it for her. For her not‘ to have to worry about money was something she’d never known. '
I saw what money did to her. I saw how he made her smile and laugh when he bought her nice things. I saw how her happiness was directed at him and not me. I started getting jealous and angry. jealous and angry that this man could just come in from nowhere and take my mom from me. How could he make her happy in such a short time andhere I have been the whole time and I’d never seen her this happy.
I just didn’t understand. I came to realize that she only needed me around so she wouldn’t have to be by herself~but when she found someone or something that could easily take my place~I soon found out that I was replaceable.
So I did what I knew how to do. I retreated into a solitude~into a darkness so thick that I don’t think I came out of it fully until six or seven years ago. I existed in a darkness of loneliness, obliviousness, and finally, criminality.
In the meantime, at school, I meet a girl who is a year or so older than me. We become fast friends. I wouldn’t find out until later that she and her boyfriend used and sold meth
(methamphetamine). I was introduced to something I never even knew existed. I started using meth in 1996. I didn’t know anything about it. What I did know was that it made me not
Taylor Huey-Choices want to eat, it made me lose weight, and it made me have instant friends. I wasn’t alone and that was all that really mattered.
My drug use and “friendships” lasted well into my sophomore year of high school and me turning 15. But ultimately, like everyone and everything else, one day my friend didn’t show up for school and I never saw her, her boyfriend, or meth again. I thought it was something I had done, not knowing at the time that it had nothing to do with me at all.
Back on the home front, my mom’s boyfriend asks her to marry him. She says yes. I say no. I refuse to go to the wedding. My mom just didn’t get it. She thought I didn’t see the bruises on her from him snatching her around. She thought I didn’t see them snorting cocaine off the kitchen table. So I pretended to be oblivious. . .it’s seemed to work thus far, right’?
Well, a few weeks after the wedding my mom sits me down and says that my dad, my father, was on his way to pick me up. I asked her what for? Her reply is that her and her new husband have decided to move and they need some “alone” time. They decided that I was no longer going to live with them and that it was my dad’s turn to take care of me.
I couldn’t believewhat I was hearing. She is leaving me again, but this time by her own choice. I was not only angry, but heartbroken. And to top it off, her new phone number and address weren’t going to be something I was privy to.
As far as my dad goes, I hadn’t seen or really heard from him in many years. With him and my brother~well~they didn’t talk too much to me and neither Ito them. Things weren’t bad, but they weren’t good either. '
My dad had some simple rules~and if I wanted to stay there I would have to abide by them. I had to get a job~he’d get me a car in order to do that~so I got a job. I started working and if I wanted clothes, shoes, etc., I was to work for them. If I came up with half the money for something I wanted, he would pay the other half. I thought that is what he did with my brother. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The unbridled favoritism my dad showed toward my brother was not only humiliating, it was hurtful.
I could tell that he and my brother were used to each other and I really didn’t factor into their life. I’d never felt like more of an inconvenience than when I lived with them, point being, I didn’t even have my own space, I slept on the couch. '
I was like a shadow, only moving in the background. I shut down. I was over being alone. I ceased to be emotional. I started smoking weed and isolating myself even further than before.
I studied hard, worked harder~I was breathing but not living.
At 16 suicide seemed like the perfect solution. I thought about it all the time. Would anyone even know I was gone? Would anyone care? I was slipping down into a darkness that I couldn’t get out of. All these years, just going along, I was finally registering my own pain and with that came something I never knew was inside me: rage.
For the next year I worked, went to school, and then I would close myself of and wait for the time I could escape~not knowing when or how I would achieve that.
During this time, as I later found out from my mom, she and my step~father were harboring a severe cocaine habit. Not only was he beating her, he controlled her every move. She ended up leaving him after a very violent altercation, one in which she still has the scars, and not just the ones on the inside.
She divorces him but he just won’t leave her alone. By this time my grandparents have taken her home to the farm to heal, but his harassment knows no end. a
In May of 1999, I am not 17. My mom reaches out to me and asks if I want to start over with her? If I want to move away with her? I am wary. . .but this is my mom... she needs me, right?
I say yes. Come to find out, I thought she was talking about moving to adifferent town, but no, she was talking about a different state. *
She and I packed up our meager belongings and we get ready to head out to Virginia. The good~byes between my dad, brother, and I weren’t emotional. I felt that I’d never belonged there~something they both never let me forget.
My mom chose Virginia because her sister lived out there and was going to help her get back on her feet. When we arrive there, my mom gets a really good job and I get enrolled for my senior year in high school. I also get a waitressing job and try to make friend and learn my way around.
At work I meet this guy who asks me out but he is adamant that I know it is business only. My curiosity is piqued, so I meet up with him. He asks me if I know anything about running guns?
I don’t even respond because I have to earthly idea what he is talking about. He smiles and starts laughing and says he knew I’d be perfect. Perfect for what I ask? He goes on to explain about his “enterprise” and how I would be the perfect person to work for him. I say how so?
He responds with your white, school~aged, cute, a woman who the cops‘wouldn’t pull over thinking she had a trunkful of stolen firearms ..... ..and a lO% cut on every successful delivery.
I could do the math and the math was pretty good. I took the job. I started making drops down in South Caroline and back up into D.C. and Maryland. Crazy thing was, he was right.
No one ever looked twice at me and I was making more money than I had ever seen in my life.
I continue this second job for the next few months and I am still waitressing part~time, too. I can’t hide all this money from my mom so I tell her the truth about what I am doing. She wasn’t too optimistic about it, but I also remembered money made her happy and I ended up giving her a lot of it. In the end, she told me to just be careful.
Right before my senior year is about to start, I begin talking with a co~worl<er at my waitressing job. I am a virgin at the time and he and I have unprotected sex. I get pregnant.
The saying is true, one time is all it takes.
With all that has been going on I figure I can tell my mom that I am pregnant, right? Wrong.
My mom didn’t talk to me for days. I felt like I had let her down and disappointed her but at the same time I needed her. My heart was hurting and I was so confused about what to do and the choices involved. When she did speak to me she asked me the normal questions of who is the father, do I love him, etc. I answered all her questions and she told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to figure out what I wanted. I went to see the guy and I told him I was pregnant. He laughed at me, said I was just like all the other girls. I didn’t know what he meant by that, I wasn’t just another girl. I remember him throwing a couple hundred dollar bills at me and telling me to take care of it or he would.
My final decision, one that I made on my own, was to get an abortion. I was underage at the time and needed a legal guardian with me for the procedure. My mom treated the whole thing like a dentist appointment, that was how nonchalant she was. I would never see or speak to the guy again and ended up quitting my waitressing job, too.
My mom and I didn’t speak about this subject again until many years into my incarceration.
To this day, it is still a part of my life that is confusing and continues to haunt me.
I continue on into my senior year. Everything is good, really good, until I meet up with Mr.
Gunrunner to do business and meet my soon~to~be co~defendant, James, Mr. Gunrunner’s nephew. '
James soon becomes all I can see. I couldn’t believe this tall, good~looking guy even saw me. A nobody. A nerd.
Thinking back-I felt like James recognized this in me, too. Like he knew I was struggling inside myself to belong, to be noticed, to not be alone. He put me on such a high pedestal, that when I fell, I fell hard. yourself~let alone anyone else love you~you begin to look for love and accepta ce from anyone or anything willing to give it. ~
I was suddenly not alone. When you grow up believing and thinking you’d n:,réi~ love
The feeling of being wanted~not just physically, but emotionally~ takes a hold of _me and doesn’t let go. This I’ve come to realize was my “aha” moment. The moment in knowing I’d do and be anything he asked. No matter the cost. ’
I graduate high school with honors in June of 2000 and immediately start planning on my move to college. I was accepted into the University of Virginia~Charlottesville and was looking forward to college life. James is supportive and we start spending more and more time together.
On my 19”“ birthday, halfway through my freshman year, James commits his first armed robbery with me sitting in the car, none the wiser. I think he is going into this place to pick us up dinner and about 90 seconds later he jumps into the car and tells me to hurry up and drive.
I pull over a bit late and ask him what that was all about and he pulls roughly $1200 out and says “Happy Birthday, baby.”
From that point on, my life will forever be altered. In a thl”C€r-1’1101’lth period, him and I committed 17 robberies, ranging from little mom and pop places to car dealerships, from insurance companies to credit unions. Once this lifestyle of crime started, I never went home again, I never go back to school, and I never lay my head to sleep in the same spot twice.
On May 215*, 2001, I turned myself in to the Hampton, Virginia FBI. This was after having fled the state due to the police pressure being so great. '
I was indicted on 21 federal counts ranging from conspiracy to commit robbery, the Hobb’s
Act of interfering with interstate commerce by robbery, firearms charges, aggravated assault, and a host of other charges.
As I sit in a holding cell, I am thinking to myself that this is all for nothing because I didn’t even get to spend all the money. THAT was GREED speaking. My emotions became so conflicted. Did I really know what was about to happen? When given the time to think did I see or feel the torment of what I’d done and what I’d become? The pain. The fear. The waste.
When I committed these robberies I put fear in people. from that time~even as I did the crimes and on into my prison 1ife~fate has put fear in me. My nights became soaked in fear. . ..and the fear I’d put into others became the nightmares filling the longest and loneliest nights of my life.
Why robberies you ask? We thought about it, a lot. I know there was nothing brave about it, scaring people with guns, threatening their lives, physically doing themharm to bend to my demands. . .at the time it seemed the bravest way to get fast money and gain the respect and acceptance from those who didn’t think me capable. On a deeper level, after years and years of inner searching and healing, I believe I did this to be noticed. To make people see me~ especially the ones who had overlooked me and ignored me all my life.
After all the meetings and debriefings, I was looking at a life ‘sentence plus 32 years. I was so numb by this point that I didn’t even care what happened to me.
My father hired a lawyer who managed to get me a deal of 25 years~no ifs, ands, or buts. My parent’s begged me to take the deal so one day I would be able to come home.
On January 6, 2002, I was sentenced to 292 months or 24 years and four months in federal prison.
I had never been arrested before, never done jail time, hell~I’d only had a couple speeding tickets. I was about to enter a new terrifying world. The first time I walked through prison gates, I thought serving out my sentence was going to destroy me. A
I have witnessed the ugliest side of what prison life can be like: the fear and the mistrust, the violence and the chaos, the isolation and emptiness. . ...that hollowness of your spirit that makes you think about killing yourself over and over again. _
Standing before you today how do I convey to you what it feels like to do more time in prison than you had been alive?
My first few years of prison life were a blur. I had so much anger, hatred, and bitterness in me, so much so that if you breathed wrong in my direction, we were going to have problems.
I fought all the time. No matter the cause. I made friends with the wrong women and didn’t much care about anyone or anything, myself included. I dabbled in prescriptions drugs, tried to find acceptance and love with other women. Nothing seemed to fill the void~I was still so empty and alone. The time between going to bed and falling asleep was the worst of the day for me. The past would come back with a vengeance~the mistakes, the could~have and should~ haves~—try as I might, I couldn’t simply close my eyes and go to sleep.
My dad soon became my best friend. Ironic, I know. He stood by my side throughout my court dates, jail, sentencing and my incarceration. That man didn’t miss a Christmas or Birthday with me. He told me that I didn’t deserve to be alone anymore.
The one day, about five or six years ago, I realized that this is my one and only life. I don’t get all this time back. It was now my obligation to be true to myself, my soul, and my family. I cleared a space from society’s rules and admitted who I was. . ..to my mom, my dad, my grandparents, even my brother.
I opened up to them and told them everything I had been holding in and I asked for forgiveness. Asked for help. Asked for acceptance. The results I received from my family was unbelievably heartbreaking. I started to mend relationships I thought to be long over.
My mother and father eventually remarried, bonding over my revelations and realizing that they still cared for and loved one another and their family very deeply.
As I got closer and closer with my father, he never failed to tell me that it wasn’t completely on me that I was here~he said these were his felonies, too, and ever since I got locked up, he was doing time, too.
My grandparents, after almost ten years, came to visit me and embrace my willingness to smile again. Sadly, I lost my grandfather to cancer in March of 2011. That is still an experience I am still bearing to this day.
You can never tell what a person has in them until you start taking it away, one hope at a time.
This I found out when my dad had a massive stroke on Tuesday, April 5”“ of 2014 and died on
Saturday, April 9”“. How do you deal with death in prison? Was this my karma~my payback- for finally having a loving, open, and accepting relationship with my father? To have him ’ taken so suddenly? Thinking of my dad dying while in here. . ..
When we truly love someone~ our greatest fear is that the loved one will stop loving us. What we should fear is that we won’t stop loving them, even after they are dead and gone.
One of the last conversations my dad andl had, face~to~face, was on Christmas in 2013. He said to me, “sis-please whatever you do~if you can help just one other person from making the same mistakes you made~wouldn’t this all have been worthwhile?”
Four months later he was dead. I still love him so much, with all my heart and sometimes the love I have and can’t give him crushes the breath from my chest~sometimes my heart is drowning in a sorrow that has no stars without him.
My father made me see that there are people whose feelings and well~being are within my inﬂuence and I cannot escape that fact. I came to see that there can be a more satisfying life that resulted in reaching out and helping other people with no thought of gain or reward.
Generosity became a tangible road map towards a sense of self~worth for me. Teaching and helping other women became my avenue for advocacy. *
After all the time I‘ spent wanting to die~trying to die~it took prison to make me want to live.
To someone who hasseen thousands of people frown, scowl, or turn their faces away. . ...your smile can be like the sun breaking through the clouds.
There are so many things I want to do with the knowledge I’ve obtained while incarcerated. I want to write. I want to travel. I want to show everyone that I am the exception to what society calls “criminalistic.” I would like to be one of those people to change minds and open eyes to what society has been blind to. People from established society could learn so much from women in prison. We have so much to teach, so much to tell, I only wish people would listen. I want to help women, as well as society as a whole, understand the severity of prison.
If I can help bring into light what has for so long been snuffed out, Iywant to be there.
To close I want you to think of your life as an hourglass~there are thousands of grains of sand in the top~passing slowly through the narrow neck in the middle~there is nothing you or I could do that would make this process any easier without iinpairing the hourglass.
You and I and everyone else is like this hourglass. . .when' we get up in the morning~there are hundreds of things going on and weighing us down~if we don’t take each of those “things” one at a time and let them pass through the day slowly and evenly~then we are bound to break our own mental and physical structure. . i
To someone like me~that becomes the difference between looking out of barred windows and seeing either the mud or the stars.
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