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Post-Prison Education Program - Providing Hope & Opportunity Blog

A Student Story: Jillian Hammond
Mon, Apr 30, 2012 - 10:15 AMPosted by Jillian Hammond
Student Jillian Hammond

Just one year ago, I was sitting in the Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women finishing a five year state sentence.  I was also facing sentencing on related federal charges.

Today, I am reunited with my family, have healthy friends, and I am in my second quarter of college with a 3.74 GPA!

In the last year of my sentence, I was clean and sober and ready for change but I had no idea I could be in college and doing well.   Then I met Ari and some of his co-workers and students when the Post-Prison Education Program came to Mission Creek for a presentation.  They spent three hours talking with 80 women like me about post-secondary education and answering questions.  

One of their handouts had a picture of a graduate of the Program, Chris Jones.  He was pictured graduating from North Seattle Community College with high honors.  The article talked about how far Chris had come, and how in his not-so-distant past he had been homeless and near death from an overdose living in an abandoned house with a girlfriend.  That girlfriend had been me!  Seeing Chris in his blue and gold graduation gown really opened my eyes.  I realized if he could make it out of our old lifestyle, I could too.  I hung around at the end of the presentation and approached Ari.  He was surprised and taken aback that I was the girl mentioned in the article, and he encouraged me to stay in touch.  I decided to apply to the Program even though my release was uncertain because of the pending federal charges.  

Ari has told me I was one of the most persistent applicants … ever!  After I had applied, I was waiting to find out if I would be released, and I would call the office just to talk.  The staff really made themselves available to talk with me.  This was very helpful when I was dealing with the stress and anxiety of not knowing whether I would be transferred to F.D.C. SeaTac or released before federal sentencing.  My lawyer, Catherine Chaney, had told me that it was a really long shot asking the prosecutor if I could be released from state custody.  In the end, in part because I was working with the Post-Prison Education Program, the federal prosecutor, Kathryn Warma, agreed to support me being in the community while awaiting sentencing.

I was released the day before Thanksgiving.  First thing the next Monday morning, my parents and I met with Ari and Shima Houshyar at the office.  I wanted to start college right away.  I was late for enrolling for the winter quarter, but Ari helped me to enroll at Bellevue College.  The Program even covered my tuition until my financial aid came through!

My first day of school felt like a new beginning.  I was so nervous. Bellevue College seemed like a scary labyrinth.  I felt like I didn't really belong at first, like there was a big “F” for felony stamped on my forehead.   I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and before I knew it I was more involved in my classes than I had ever dreamed possible.  Being in college has challenged me to let go of the past.   There were moments where I could feel my past pulling me back and my future pulling me forward.  My future is winning.

Of course, I still had to worry about how my federal sentencing, scheduled for April 19, 2012 would go.   When the day arrived I was fortunate to have many people, including my family and Ari, there for support.  Ari even wore shoes and a suit!  Wish I had a picture of that one.

I had been told that Judge Jones, who presided over my case, is one of the toughest in the federal system.  Right off the bat, he denied all of my lawyer’s motions related to lowering my sentencing range. Then Kathryn Warma got up and talked about the severity of my crime and how it is something that should definitely not go unpunished.  However, she also told the Judge about all of the "remarkable and outstanding progress" I had made in the community and argued that when an individual makes such a turnaround it should not go unnoticed.  Then my attorney got up and talked about all of my progress in detail.  She highlighted my high grades in college, my involvement in the University of Washington Honors Program class, and the recent "People with Convictions” event.  

Judge Jones started by telling me that he sees people in his Court do well and put their best foot forward before sentencing and that is usually where it ends.  Along with everyone else in the room, I thought he was going to send me back to prison.  He talked about my sentencing range and explained that he could sentence me to 54 months in prison.   At the end he told me that he knows that I am an extremely intelligent and bright young lady.  After all, he said, the crimes I committed take a lot of work and creative thinking.  He told me if I could apply that to something good there is no reason I couldn’t be a successful member of society.  He sentenced me to five years probation and then had me look at my family, friends, and mentors and told me that if I ever went out and used meth or heroin again those people would most likely not be there for me and that I would face even more time for ruining the chance they were all giving me.  Finally, even this very stern Judge wished me luck.  

That is a day I will carry with me for the rest of my life.  I never want to forget how close I was to losing all of the people and things I have worked so hard for.  Thank you all for making this possible with your support of the Post-Prison Education Program.  

Jillian Hammond

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Tags: Spring 2012 Newsletter, Student
Comments:
Mon, Apr 30, 2012 - 08:54 PMcomment from Gillian
Jillian you are such an intelligent and caring person and I am so proud of what you have accomplished. Your strength is very inspiring and I am honored that I have the opportunity to be your friend. You have a very story and I hope that it encourages others to follow your example and shows the criminal justice workers what positive opportunities and a good support system can accomplish.

Sun, May 20, 2012 - 12:50 PMcomment from Jodi Cabell (Miller)
You are amazing. I too have a past that I left behind and college is one of the positive ways to do it. You also have a amazing family. Your brother is my sons friend. My son is in prison right now. Your brother is one of the few real friends my son has. I know you will continue to do great things with your life. We met once a long time ago and I have thought of you often. I'm so happy for you and your family!!! Take care. I am printing your story and sending it to my son. Jodi

Fri, Jun 22, 2012 - 01:22 PMcomment from Pam Johnson, RFI Mentor
Hello Jillian: I am a volunteer mentor at Mission Creek. I help women like you while they are inside and once they are out. I am blessed by your story. I have girls who have begun their new life transformation like you did. What was and is your source of strength, courage, focus and dedication? Some gals are trying to get involved with PPE and we need your assistance and encouragement. Please reply

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 - 04:58 PMcomment from Lisa
Youre awesome!!

Wed, Aug 8, 2012 - 07:59 PMcomment from heatherheaton@rocketmail.com
Please consider introducing Heather’s story, a series of ebooks entitled “Her Letters from Prison”, to your readers and followers. Heather Heaton's new ebook series ("Her Letters from Prison") is an inspirational resource for reading pleasure, review, contemplation, and discussion. Heather's own testimony: "God changed my life in prison!" "Her Letters from Prison" (Parts 1 & 2) will validate your inquisitive thoughts and doubts about what goes on in women’s prisons (It is what it is!); and it can justify the efforts spent toward women’s prison ministries. These two ebooks can be a motivational (tell-it-like-it-is) resource for drug rehab/prevention and reentry programs, especially when combined with "Her Letters from Prison – Part 4: Recycled – Second Time Around". "Her Letters from Prison" is a non-fiction, inspirational, romance ebook series; with Heather's original letters (with prison art) included as images for authenticity. Heather's story describes how female offenders are perceived and handled (often abused) in the criminal justice system. The story continues (Part 4) to describe Heather's first two years of re-entry back into the real world and how she ended a destructive narcissistic-codependent relationship. "Her Letters from Prison: Women-in-Prison" (Part 3) contains two PowerPoint presentations prepared for the University of Alabama/Women's Studies "Women in Prison" conference. Both presentations are based on Parts 1 & 2 of Heather's story; and they are entitled "Women-in-Prison (Almost Invisible)" and "Women-in-Prison (Facts/Myths)". Also, Heather's personal testimony is included in the Part 3 publication. You can go to http://www.heather-heaton.com, and click on a direct link to Heather's Amazon.com and/or Smashwords "book pages" for “Her Letters from Prison”. Alternatively, you can visit Heather’s author pages: 1. http://www.amazon.com/author/heatherheaton 2. https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/heatherdh Heather’s ebooks are also available in paperback format. The paperback book ("Her Letters from Prison") may be obtained by contacting Heather through her website "contact" form. The paperback book contains Part 1, 2, and 3 ebooks. "Her Letters from Prison - Part 4" will be published as its own paperback book soon. Thanks for your time and consideration. Heather Heaton




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