Janny's story

Janny Sumnall was raised in Veneta, Oregon. Growing up, she was never in trouble with the law. She stayed in school and got her high school diploma. When she was 16, she got a job at a fast food restaurant and worked there for nearly a decade; doing well and being promoted to manager. She was a responsible young woman who later worked in a bank and was trusted to handle other people’s money.

Janny was married for eight years and had two daughters. Her marriage broke up about a decade ago and she did most of the child-raising after the divorce. Her third child, another daughter, was born seven years ago. Janny took care of all three children herself and was a good mother.

When Janny was growing up, she knew a boy in the neighborhood called Sam. Years passed before they saw one another again as adults. They became reacquainted and became involved in a relationship, starting to live together as a family. Although he had a history with drugs, when they got together, Sam had been clean for six years and hadn’t had any trouble with the law.

Janny’s health was not always good. Since the age of 15, she has had a health condition that causes a lot of pain and confusion. While she was experiencing a bad time with her health, Sam helped her with everything: taking care of the children, making sure she got her meds, taking her to doctor’s appointments.

Everything was going well until Janny began to suspect that Sam was taking drugs again. He was staying out at night. Finally, she confronted him about what she suspected. He responded with violence, hitting her in the face and dragging her upstairs. Janny called the police and made a report about the incident. That was the first time he ever hit her or physically or verbally abused her. After that day, the abuse continued.

Despite the abuse, Janny didn’t feel like she could leave. She loved Sam and she felt like she was responsible for his relapse. Her health wasn’t good. He had taken on a lot of responsibility for her and her children when she was sick – maybe too much responsibility. She tried to help him because she felt bad about relying on Sam so much. Anyway, Janny didn’t know how to leave.

Life continued to get harder. Sam started being involved in thefts. Janny knew what was happening, but when she asked about it, Sam became violent. She felt trapped. She loved Sam, but she was also afraid of him. She didn’t know how to get out, or how to leave him. She didn’t want to call the police and get him into trouble.

Under pressure from Sam, Janny started helping him with his thefts. Once she started helping, he made her keep going by threatening to call the police to report her if she didn’t. He was stealing from abandoned homes and she would help him find places that were empty where there might be something to take. She didn’t realize that helping him in this way meant she was also guilty. Sam kept asking her to agree to take responsibility if they got caught. He said she’d get a lighter punishment than he would because she had no criminal record.

One day, Janny got stopped by a police officer who thought she was scouting houses to burgle. She was actually looking for Sam because he had her car. Janny ended up being prosecuted for the thefts, along with Sam. She is serving nearly a decade in prison for her involvement.

Janny was sentenced under a repeat property offender law that was originally promoted as a way of ensuring people who commit property crimes multiple times don’t evade serious punishment for repeatedly breaking the law. Her experience shows how this law is now being used against people who have little or no criminal history. She feels prison is used as a warehouse for people. Most of the women she encounters on the inside are sorry for what they’ve done. But they aren’t given the opportunities they need in prison to better themselves.

Janny feels that the way Measure 57, the law under which she was sentenced, is structured removed the opportunity for her sentence to reflect her situation. She feels like she was sentenced as if she had been breaking the law for long time. But she had actually lived a clean life until her circumstances changed and she became involved in an abusive relationship with a person with drug addiction problems. She made choices she wouldn’t otherwise have made due to the strain. While she knows she did wrong, 98 months for a first-time offender is the result of Measure 57.

Without Measure 57, Janny could have received a suspended sentence, probation, and/or a much shorter sentence in recognition of being a first-time offender. She believes that without this law, more women would be offered rehabilitation and community service with access to treatment.

Looking back on what happened, Janny wishes she had left Sam on that night when he first hit her. She feels terrible about the impact her actions have had on her three children. They have lost their full-time provider and parent for nearly a decade with no period of transition because of her actions but also because of Measure 57. Janny “never dreamed” that she would find herself in her present situation because of helping Sam with his crimes. She knows it may be very difficult for her and her children to have a healthy relationship after being separated for so long.

Janny knows that life after prison will be hard. The biggest adjustment will be not being the main parent for her children as she always used to be. She’s expecting to feel lost at first because of being out of the community for so long.

Janny plans to go back to school and major in sociology. She wants to work in human resources which she thinks she will be good at. She knows that with her criminal record it will be hard to get a job working with money again.

Janny’s goal is to be the mother her children need her to be. To her, this means being strong, resourceful, and using her present experience in a way that will teach them something useful. Janny knows that prison can damage people and hurt their self-esteem. She doesn’t want to live in fear, being afraid to cross the street. She wants to be a mother her children are proud of.