Domestic violence

The Good Teacher - Zuleyma's Story

Zuleyma was known as a “good teacher” to her students and colleagues during the years she taught K-12. But her career in education came to an abrupt halt when she was arrested for selling drugs. An abusive partner had gradually come to have more and more control over Zuleyma, pressuring her to do whatever it took to keep her partner happy. That included selling drugs and becoming cut off from family and friends. In this video, Zuleyma explains what happened next.

Interview and videography by Greta Smith.

The Good Teacher - Chapter 4: Making a Positive Life

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Upon my release, I started to contact Portland State University and advocate for support to get in the counseling program. I really wanted to get back into school but wasn’t successful in getting responses, so I started looking for jobs in the trades.

I was released from Coffee Creek on May 20, 2016 and did not have a place to go. I ended up living in a halfway house until my parole officer would approve the housing situation with my family. I started to look for work and got temporary jobs as a labor worker. I also completed the Oregon Tradeswomen program. I bounced around from one construction site to another for about a year and now I have a permanent position. This is a physically demanding job and I always do my best and appreciate the opportunity. I support these trade programs unconditionally because women are very capable of doing these type of jobs in our industries in Oregon.

More importantly, I see the world differently and want to share this experience with others and try to tell my story to help others feel supported when facing drugs and violence in their lives. I feel it is my responsibility to help reduce domestic violence and help people facing mental illness and addiction in the community. I also want to be an advocate for those considering suicide.

The Good Teacher - Chapter 3: Lost and Healing

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For the first two years, I was angry and bitter and refused to accept that this had become my life. I especially resented the fact that I had become a felon and was sent to prison for something I felt I wasn’t at fault for. My world stopped and I lived in shame and embarrassment from my name being in the news on local channels as a drug dealing teacher gone bad. In addition, my friends disappeared and did not want to be around someone who was in prison.

I lost my house and material possessions. My family members helped me with everything they could, but some of them lived in Canada and it was difficult for them to keep in contact with me. Eventually I felt so lonely and lost and didn’t know how to begin confronting my situation. I was scared and trying to figure out how to survive in prison. My friends disappearing was a hard lesson because I thought people would care about me, but life showed me that people will fail you when you face difficult situations.

I arrived at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility for women in June 2012. I went through intake where women are separated and classified. The ones with less severe crimes and a release date of four years or less go to the minimum-security side. The ones with more severe crimes and life sentences go to the medium-security side. After spending a month on intake, I was finally sent to minimum where I was given a bunk with a thin, crappy mattress, a pillow, one blanket, one thin bar of soap, a small cheap bottle of shampoo, a small toothbrush, and some baking soda that I was supposed to use for toothpaste. The space in the bunk areas are very restricted. About three feet away from each other. You need to have money on your account to buy canteen, which are approved items of food and hygiene products.

I started to work for the canteen warehouse at the Salem headquarters. I learned how to operate a forklift and to unload pallets of canteen items for all the prisons in the state of Oregon, men and women. I did inventory of items, and entered information of popular items sold in prison such as shoes, clothing, makeup, food, and drinks. I worked Monday through Friday from 6:30 AM to 3:30 PM and was paid $72 a month, which was the top pay in the prison. I did this for one year.

In the afternoon, I would help women prepare for their GED test and felt very grateful that these women are now getting a basic education to better their future. My contributions were very worthwhile because I knew they were going back to their children and would be able to get better jobs to support them.

I worked on myself as well and got into a few coping skill classes to help with my codependency issues. I also managed to get some therapy regarding the psychological abuse that I had experienced in my relationship. In addition, I found running to be very therapeutic and got very good at it. It also helped me release a great deal of stress and worries. I took every class I could to better myself so that I would have an opportunity to work upon my release outside. 

I never wanted to know anything about my ex partner.  I had finally felt free from her control and free of being scared. One morning I woke up and said to myself, “What was I thinking? I lost everything and I am in prison.” This actually made me work harder to become a better person. In fact, I took trainings for certifications like CPR, food handlers, hazmat, forklift, facility maintenance training. In addition, I was part of physical activities such as the 5K marathon and creating physical circuits to help other women find healing through physical fitness. I meditated about my life in prayer and gratefulness, becoming more humble and appreciative of the world.

After a year of working for canteen, I applied to physical plant where women are trained for trades such as electrician, welding, carpentry, landscaping, and painting. I was part of the electrician’s crew and work in this for the remaining time at Coffee Creek. I met so many women in bad circumstances that sent them to prison, like domestic abuse, being homeless, and mental illness that had caused addictions to drugs or alcohol. Many of the women genuinely had remorse for their crimes.

Zuleyma’s story continues in an upcoming post - Chapter 4: Making a Positive Life

The Good Teacher - Chapter 2: Control and Abuse

By Zuleyma Figueroa

READ CHAPTER 1: ROLE MODELS AND SUCCESS

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Suddenly, in June 2010, I was caught selling drugs and went to jail. I lost my teaching and administrative license. After serving three months in jail, I got a lawyer and managed to get out. I was devastated. I still had my house and decided to rent out a couple of rooms for income. I got a job and began to work in a Mexican store. Not planning to continue my relationship with my partner.  

Suddenly, one Friday morning, she turned up at my front door asking me to let her in my life again. I said no and I asked her to leave.  She left, but she began stalking me and sending people to my house to spy on me and what I was doing. Then she showed up again and this time she got into my house and put a gun to my head. She told me that if I said anything, or called the police, that she would make me or one of my sisters disappear in an instant. I was terrified! I had been kidnapped in my own house. And the threat was real because her brothers are sicarios, contracted hitmen. These guys would make you disappear and no one would ever find out where you were or what happened to you. I was so scared for my life and the life of my sisters. 

This woman took over my house and my possessions. She used my name to do a lot of different things. Including opening up an automotive shop where her brothers were acting as mechanics. My life was a living hell. I became her maid and I would never talk to her in a way that would make her mad or upset. I told my sisters to not visit me or contact me because I didn’t want them around me or these dangerous people. I wanted to commit suicide several times. I didn’t have a phone because her phone was the main contact for everything.  

When the shop was opened, it was with money that I did not know where it came from but I am sure it was drug money. She ordered me to be in the front office to run the business because I spoke English. I never knew what she was doing in the shop, but I assume it was bad things because of what she was doing to me. I was a scared woman with nowhere to run to and nowhere to turn. If I said anything, I knew that I would end up in a grave. I slept in a room by myself while she slept in a separate room with her guns, vigilant of anything I did. She put up cameras in the back and front of my house. 

Eventually, the DEA showed up to the shop to perform a search and I was arrested. Again she seemed to have escaped justice. I was charged with possession and delivery of drugs and although the DEA knew I wasn’t their suspect, I was the only one they had in their custody. I was interrogated and told them several times I didn’t know anything. It didn’t matter and I was convicted of charges that sent me to prison for four years. 

Zuleyma’s story continues in an upcoming post - Chapter 3: Lost and Healing

The Good Teacher - Chapter 1: Role Models and Success

By Zuleyma Figueroa

“Good teacher.”  This is how my students and their parents would describe me in the schools that I have worked in. I was a teacher for over 15 years in bilingual programs, K-12. I have always had a passion to teach and serve the children and youth in our community. Indeed, I was happy. I had a house, a nice car, wonderful teaching job, friends, family, and most of all I made my mother proud for having put my degree from higher education to work. My mother was my hero and my older brothers were great role models in my life. Even as I came out, revealing I was gay, I had a great deal of support from my parents and family.

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It was winter 2007 when I met a woman that I fell in love with. We were happy and things were going well for a couple of years. Then I started to notice that my income from work was not enough to cover the life of luxury that my partner wanted. She began to invite people into our life and into our house, and suddenly there was a world that I never asked for. Reluctantly, I began to get involved in this lifestyle in a desperate attempt to keep my partner happy. Eventually I would succumb to her manipulation and eventually found out that she was heavily involved in a family drug dealing business. In retrospect, I now see how love can be so blind.

Gradually, I began to start selling drugs for money to keep my partner happy.  I also started to have fear as she began controlling me by yelling and hitting me. She had also drilled in my mind, because of my standing, that I would never have consequences behind my actions. She also promised me that she would always have my back and the police would never suspect me. I believed her and did whatever she wanted. I ignored the realization that I was contributing to a drug problem in my community and was destroying people’s lives, including my own.

I also did not realize the degree of psychological manipulation that was being inflicted upon me and all the strategies and tactics in which she was controlling my life. She gave me constant reassurance that everything was going fine. Certainly, domestic violence can take many forms and it was not fully apparent to me at that time. I was completely brainwashed.  After all, money did not seem to be much of a problem as she traveled back and forth to her family, buying expensive cars and have parties every weekend. Doing drugs was not the addiction, but selling drugs and getting money were. I lost my identity and I started to be very codependent of my partner. I stopped living my life and started living her life instead. I stopped seeing my family and friends too. The world that surrounded me belonged only to her.

Zuleyma’s story continues in an upcoming post - Chapter 2: Control and Abuse

Shaping a Future - Life After Prison - Dawn

On Sunday, October 29th, 2017, nine individuals told their stories in a performance titled: Shaping a Future: Life After Prison. The performance was the culmination of writing workshops sponsored by the Regional Arts and Culture Council.

The project was conceived of and organized by writing teacher, Carol Imani. The performance was held at the First Unitarian Church in downtown Portland and was directed by Chris Karczmar.

Each of the awe-inspiring participants read a monologue they wrote over the course of the workshops, they told stories of redemption, grit and determination centering around their reentry to society after time spent in prison.

The monologues were broadcast in a series of three shows by the Portland radio station KBOO. With kind permission of KBOO, we are sharing their broadcasts here. This show is part two of the series and features a monologue and interview with Dawn. Dawn's monologue begins at five minutes, 22 seconds.

To hear this program at the KBOO website, click here. The show was hosted by Amy Johnson and produced by KBOO for Prison Pipeline.

Karen's Story

Karen's Story

Karen grew up in Eugene, Oregon, with parents who were violent to one another and with a mother who abused alcohol. She spent time in foster care and a girls' home and started using drugs including heroin as a teenager. Addiction and bad relationships eventually led her to burglarizing homes for which she is now serving time in Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Oregon.

Janny's story

Janny's story

Janny's story: how an Oregon woman who had never been in trouble with the law before found herself being sentenced as a repeat property offender under Measure 57. Janny Sumnall is serving nearly a decade at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility for her role in a series of burglaries of empty homes. She became involved in the crimes as a result of her relationship with her partner who was violent toward her.