One Woman’s Story: Surviving Danbury Federal Prison

I don’t think I could ever remember a time in my past life where I was truly satisfied or even happy with myself.  I had a continuing need to prove myself to my father, a constant need to please all of those around me and a desire to take care of everyone that I love.  I’m what the mental health industry calls a perfectionist.  I have a doctrine that the perfection of my moral character constitutes my worth, a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable.  With those expectations of myself how could I ever achieve satisfaction? 

With that in mind you can imagine that owning my own business employing my Father, Mother, Two Brothers, Husband, Niece and my Best Friend would have fulfilled me.  It did for a short time actually, until the mortgage industry imploded in 2008.  You see, I owned a Title Company and our business was directly affected by the massive hysteria of the Subprime mortgage market crash.  I was always taught in college that when business is down, it is the time to market and grow.   I definitely don’t remember which Professor drilled that one into my head but that is what I did.  I gave 49% of my business to the perfect partner, an attorney whom I admired and worked well with.   I marketed and grew my business, adding all mortgage services for a complete “one stop” shop.  We now had an attorney, we had a mortgage company move into our office adding to the existing Title Search Company and Notary Closing Company it was the perfect mix, or in my case I will say the “Perfect Storm”.   We even had commercials on TV!

But all the growing came with a huge price tag.  Financially we were drowning, and for a perfectionist this was unacceptable.  How could the company be drowning?  We were busy as hell with work, in fact I was working round the clock to keep up with the work we had.   Our office staff had grown, we were doing 100 title searches a day and over 30 closings.   One day our Office Manager came to me and told me that we didn’t have enough in our account to make payroll.  I thought how could that be?  But with all the growing and the constant working I wasn’t paying attention to our expenses and how high the payroll had gotten and our overhead had increased triple and of course those damn commercials! 

So I cleaned out my checking account and funded payroll.  I knew at that very moment, on that Friday when I finally sat down and payed attention to our profit and loss statements and balance sheets that the decision to grow at that time was nightmarish.  I panicked, I made this deplorable decision to grow when I should have downsized.  I thought I was invincible and I was finally getting noticed by people and I was respected in the industry.  In my mind, I was making my father proud, giving a living to my entire family and making my husband happy who so wanted to be inside behind a desk.  They were receiving very nice salaries and I was on top of the world.  How could I crash down their world?  I couldn’t bear to think that I would be responsible for all their unemployment. 

Over the next week I applied for every business loan I could think of and got denied.  No bank would give money to a company in the mortgage industry when it was crashing, especially a Title Company.  My partner was no help and he put it all on me telling me I would figure something out, I always did.   I had to make payroll again but I had gone through everything I had.  So I made the worse choice anyone could ever make and I sold my soul to the devil.  

I had just done a closing and the money had been wired into my account.  I figured I could use some of that to make payroll and when I could collect from the clients who owed me money I would pay it back.  It would be fine.  The person’s mortgage would get paid off later than expected but at least it would give me time to fix everything.  Because that is what I did, I fixed everything.  I made it better so no one had to ever worry.  But it only got worse from there because our largest client at the time closed its doors with a huge bill owed to my company.  This was the money I needed to pay back the funds that I used for payroll.

From that point on it was a domino effect, you know the chain reaction produced when one event sets off a chain of similar events.  I had to fix it.   I knew I could come back from this.  But how?  I couldn’t bear the thought of being a failure and being a disappointment to all those who I loved.

So, I took a mortgage out on my house without informing my husband, signed his name on the dotted line and funded the business with it.  One would think that isn’t illegal, quite immoral but not illegal.  Wrong, I failed to disclose to the bank my current mortgage on the house so the check would come directly to me as a wire into my title company.   I tried to actually reason with myself and tell myself that it was okay because I was paying the payment every month.   It fixed everything for a short time.

But time went go by and it wasn’t okay because after a time I couldn’t make the extra mortgage payment, I was slowly getting farther and farther behind.  I decided to tell my husband what I had done, I couldn’t handle the fact that I lied to him the first time in our marriage.  I expected him to walk out on me as I was slowly self-destructing.   He was rightfully angry to say the least, but after a few days he did something I never expected from any person in my life at the time.  He apologized.   He apologized for not seeing any of it, for not realizing the pressure I was under, for not realizing the salary he was drawing for being in the office was draining us.   His sympathy for me made me feel such guilt and shame like I had never felt before.  I didn’t deserve this man.

A week or so went by when I got a phone call from my Office Manager to inform me that the FBI was in my office waiting for me.  They wanted to speak to me and were questioning the staff.   I immediately headed for the office.  Knowing what was coming, I called an attorney I had done business with before that I knew did federal criminal work.  I went into my office and told the FBI they needed to leave and to call my attorney.

It was here, the end or as I would say today, the beginning.  The morning I will never forget the rest of my life.  The morning my bad choices would affect everyone that was a part of my life.  It was in May, 2010 when my kids got up and got on the school bus as normal and I got into the shower to start my day.   As I was in the shower I heard banging at my bedroom door.  I figured one of the kids missed the school bus as usual.  I yelled out that I was in the shower.  That is when my bathroom door was pushed in and there were about 15 FBI agents in my house with their guns drawn as I was standing in my shower naked.   I remember my husband yelling let me get her a towel at least.  I put on a robe and went down into the kitchen where I called my attorney.  The FBI had a warrant to search my house.  Apparently they were looking for files that were part of another ongoing investigation regarding my partner as well as seizing all my computers in the house.

What I later found out was that while this entire horrible thing was happening my neighbor who was my friend also worked for me was videotaping it all on her phone to share it with everyone that she felt needed to see what was going on at my house.   She also felt the need to call the local news station to hurry to film the fiasco.  Why not humiliate me more than I was?  To this day I don’t understand her need for doing that knowing what a small town we live in and especially knowing I have kids it would effect.

I let the FBI do their job, after about 15 minutes most of them left and there were a select few who did their job in searching.  I just sat there in a morphed state.   I couldn’t believe my life had turned out this way.   Me, who never even got a speeding ticket, I volunteered at the CT Food Bank, I ran my own food drives monthly, I was heavily involved in the school system.

That next week, I went into the FBI’s office with my attorney and confessed it all.  I blurted every single thing I did wrong since the day I sold my soul to the devil.  My thought process was that I was a mother first.  I needed to be strong and honest and forthcoming.  I needed to lead by example and seeing I was not doing that over that prior year now was my redemption as a mother.  I knew I couldn’t redeem myself to my peers and many friends and even family who all walked away but I didn’t care at that moment.  All I cared about was my children, the 3 innocent kids in my life who were going to be affected by their mother’s bad choices.  I needed to be perfect once again and fix this.

People make bad choices, every second of every minute of every day.  People are human.  I believe it is not the bad choices that determine our character but how we choose to handle those choices.  To me it was to teach my children that even as a mother I am human but when we make bad choices we need to look at ourselves and be honest with the decisions we made.   I took responsibility and full accountability for the bad choices I had made.  I plead guilty to 2 counts of Mortgage fraud.

What I didn’t realize, was that the Government does nothing in a timely fashion.  I waited for 4 years to be sentenced.  They claimed they needed to do all their research and investigate.   They investigated my business partner and I needed to wait for that to be done with for some reason.  So for 4 years I was placed on supervised release awaiting sentencing.   I obviously wasn’t a threat to society, I was never handcuffed or put in a FBI car.  I wasn’t even fingerprinted yet.  I had no restrictions.

I downsized my business, got rid of all the liabilities and kept it at just a small title search company.  We were busy, still having my father, 2 brothers, husband all working for me.  I moved the company to the basement of my house.  Got rid of all the employees and only had about 15 title searchers left all as independent contractors.  I retreated into work and for 4 years was embarrassed to go out ridden with guilt for what I had done to my family.   My family who stood by me and still looked to me to take care of everything.  My family who believed I would have a major restitution but would not ever go to prison.  I put myself in my own prison.  I felt like a failure, a disappointment and I lived every one of those days for 4 years terrified of what my fate would be.  I could barely function, I didn’t know how to right this wrong.  My husband and kids stood by me and were proud of me they said.  I didn’t believe them.

Then the day in August 2014 came where I stood in front of a federal judge who was a woman.  She would judge me and determine what my punishment would be.  My attorney thought I would get 6 months in prison he was asking for house arrest.  I have kids and ties to the community.  By this time my Son and Daughter were in college and my little one was about to start her freshman year in college.  They needed their mom.  I was optimistic, it seemed so long ago that I committed this crime.

My Children stood in front of this judge holding hands and they spoke in my behalf.  They spoke to the judge with hope and begging in their voice.  Next my husband spoke and he talked about all the good things I have done.  I had letters from the people that worked for me, begging the judge not to sentence me to prison as they would all be without jobs.

I then stood up and faced this stone faced woman who looked at me and said, “You have a wonderful loving supportive family.  You are a college graduate with a MBA and a MSW and have a prior history that is impeccable.  You have a home and so much going for you.  So shame on you for destroying that.  I sentence you to 1 year and 1 day in Federal Prison”.   Then just like that she got up and left.   I stood there and couldn’t move, my attorney was hugging me and all I could hear was my mother crying and my kids crying and then I heard my husband cry louder than I have ever heard a person cry before.  I couldn’t handle any of it.  I hated myself for what I did to these people who I loved so much.  I was numb, I didn’t understand.   I just couldn’t comprehend what was happening.

On January 5, 2015 I self-surrendered to Danbury Federal Prison Camp for Women.  My husband drove me after a long tearful goodbye to my kids and parents.  I tried to stay strong for my kids.  I kept telling them that it was a camp and it would be okay.  I told them to think of it that we were all away together.  They were at college and I was also away at a different kind of school where I could learn about myself.

I got to the prison not knowing exactly what to expect.   I said my goodbyes to my husband who was not taking this departure well at all.  I again, hated myself and was guilt ridden.   I deserved this, but my husband and kids and parents didn’t.  They did nothing wrong.  They were also being punished.  I didn’t and couldn’t understand how I was free for 4 years and then some judge felt that taking me away from my family and putting me at this “camp” for women was justice.

I was brought into this little room and everything I read about the humiliating strip search became a reality for me.  I was giving a number and a uniform and bedding in a bag and then was told the camp was up the hill.  I looked at this officer and said are you going to bring me?  And she said, no what do you want a Valet Miss Shoreline? She again pointed up the hill and said start walking there is a building at the top, go in the side and someone will help you there.

As I started to walk up this hill in the freezing cold morning, it all came gushing out.  The tears and the emotions.  I started shaking and I realized for the first time, I am in prison.  I was scared, I mean really scared.  I walked and walked and finally came to this small building and thought to myself this can’t be a prison.  There is no locks or bars, where the hell am I?  I walked into this side door and inside was complete chaos.  Someone yelled, “Another newbie”.  Where do I put her?  The woman took my bedding bag and brought me to room 10 where I would meet the 5 women I would be spending the next few months with until I went through processing and orientation and then assigned an actual room which consisted of a bunkbed and 2 lockers.   I was later moved to C Dorm and spent the rest of my stay in Danbury there.

I was released from prison July 22, 2015 and sent to the Hartford House a half-way house in Hartford, CT, run by a company contracted by the Bureau of Prisons called Community Solutions, Inc…  The first floor which consisted of 2 rooms, 4 beds were for Federal women.  The 2nd and 3rd Floors were State women.  I thought I was in prison when I was in Danbury.  What I was about to learn was that this half-way house was ten times worse than prison and it would be my home for the next 3 months.

I was finally released to home confinement in October, 2015 just before my birthday.  But I’m not free, I still have 3 years of Supervised Release in which I have a probation officer that determines how I spend my money and where I can travel.  I can’t visit my kid’s colleges without her authorization.   I can’t open up any new lines of credit over $500.00 without permission which means I cannot help my kids and co-sign their student loans.  Any money I spend over $500.00 I have to get approval first.   Plus I have restitution, which my family had to pay while I was in prison and now I have to pay every month.

The system changed me, my experience changed me, and my crime changed me.   I think I am a better person now.  My need for pleasing everyone and being a perfectionist destroyed my life.  I self-destructed.   I hurt the people I loved and I lost some people that I thought loved me.  I will live with that guilt the rest of my life.   The crime I committed of mortgage fraud will end up taking 8 years out of my life and financially ruined my husband and I.  Four years on Supervised release, 1 year in the prison system, and 3 three years on probation.  That is more time than some child molesters and rapists get.  This system is so flawed.

The things I learned in prison and about the Federal Prison System is something that I never wanted to learn about.  But I did and now that I have, I want to spend my life trying to change things.  I want to spend my life educating people on our broken system.  Helping nonviolent white collar offenders and women like me, who are facing a similar fate as mine.  I want to help women prepare for incarceration and work on re-entry, which there is so little resources.  We over incarcerate in this Country.  What good did it do society or anyone incarcerating me and taking me away from my family?  Imagine the good it would have done if I was sentenced to 5 years of heavy community service, helping those in need.

I am now branded with a scarlet “F” on my back as I am a felon.  I can never go back to my old life-style.  In an electronic world of the internet, I can never get away from this crime.  So I have decided to embrace who I am and let the world know that I am here and I will make a difference.

Jacqueline is a graduate of Southern Connecticut State University with her Masters Degree in Business Administration (MBA) and Fordham University, with her Masters Degree in Social Work (MSW).  She is an experienced professional with proven success in marketing, branding and mentoring environments.  She has demonstrated skills in building and leading teams that meet and beat goals and expectations.  She is an expert in investigative research with an extensive background in developing and executing processes and procedures that improve efficiencies.  Jacqueline currently lives in Branford, CT with her loving husband and 3 children.  On her off-time she enjoys playing her flute, playing tennis and taking bike rides by the beach with her husband. She is still in the process of healing from her incarceration and her plans consist of helping women like herself with the re-entry from prison into society.  She can be reached at jpolverari@evolutionreentry.com

es_ESES
Scroll al inicio