Yesterday, December 1, 2023, became another milestone on my life’s journey. It was my sentencing day. It marked the 758 th day since my arrest on November 4, 2021—the day I became justice-impacted.
The past 758 days have been filled with anxiety, fear, shame, guilt, and dread. It has been an incredibly stressful time. However, I cannot downplay the tremendous amount of good that has also come about during these 758 days. It took this arrest to make me finally realize I need to take care of myself, not just devote my life to taking care of others. Through individual and group psychotherapy, psychiatric help, and taking an active role in a 12-step program, I am not only learning so much about myself and how I got here but am learning the tools needed to face life on life’s terms, so that I can truly find happiness and serenity, and to make sure I never, ever become justice-impacted again. I am learning to make lemonade from lemons. It took a traumatic event, my arrest, to finally get me on the road to taking care of myself and to heal. I am forever thankful for that.
My journey since November 4 has been very convoluted, legally. At first, I was in the state system. I was charged by the Los Angeles County District Attorney for my crimes. For almost a year, I complied with their evaluations and treatment. I followed all the rules and regulations imposed on me. I was exemplary. I was offered probation as a punishment for my offense and was about to sign all the documentation when the case was taken over by the US Government. To my understanding, I was collateral damage in a sting operation on a law-enforcement official in another county. The government filed new charges and the state dropped its charges. My journey into the federal system began in November of 2022. I quickly learned that things are a lot different in the federal system. It’s very empiric, rather than individualistic as I had experienced with the state. Each crime gets a certain number of points, and each number of points corresponds to a sentencing guideline range. Judges are free to follow the guidelines but are not obliged to do so.
My crime corresponded to a suggested guideline range of 78 – 96 months. I had an interview with a probation officer, and in the subsequent PSR (Probation Sentencing Report), it was suggested that given I had no prior criminal history, and taking the totality of my life into consideration, that I receive a lower sentence than the guidelines suggested—that I receive a 60-month sentence. In the plea offer that I subsequently accepted, the government would seek a 60-month sentence and my attorney would ask for 48 months or fewer. Sentencing was scheduled for Friday, October 13.
October 13 came, and the sentencing hearing proceeded as planned. The judge seemed very complimentary to me, praising me for all the work I had done over the past two years to help myself and to help others (such as my volunteer work). Everyone in the courtroom, including the US attorney thought that the judge was going to give me a lenient sentence. However, after the recess that the judge called, she came back and rejected the plea offer and stated we needed a different one. She gave no indication as to what she did not like about the plea agreement.
The plea agreement did not have any prohibitions on appealing the judge’s ruling, either by me or the government. It was postulated that this is perhaps what the judge was looking for. A new plea agreement was made. The prosecution would still seek a 60-month term, I would argue for nothing less than 48 months. Neither I nor the government could appeal the judge’s decision provided that the sentence was at the maximum guideline range of 96 months or below. This new plea agreement was submitted, and a revised plea hearing/sentencing date was set for Friday, December 1.
The period between October 13 and December 1 was very difficult for me. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the judge was considering a sentence longer than the 60 months the government was seeking. My anxiety skyrocketed during this time, and I was using my new-found tools to help me cope and get through this difficult time.
December 1 arrived. I was blessed to have the support of so many friends and relatives. Just thinking about that makes me tear up. Two of my cousins from San Diego drove up to attend the hearing. My two best friends were there—one from San Diego, and one who flew in for the day from Tucson. Two dear friends and former colleagues of mine were present. Two friends from the LA area came, and surprisingly, so did my long-time psychotherapist. The love and support they provided me was overwhelming. Of course, Sandy, my husband, was by my side, as always. I would never have been able to get through this without him.
My friends and family and I gathered outside the courtroom just prior to the hearing. My attorney explained to everyone what would happen and what to expect. The hearing proceeded as scheduled. The US attorney spoke, my attorney spoke, I gave my new allocation statement (which I’m told later left my audience in tears) and the judge called a 15-minute recess after which she stated she would give me my sentence. The 15 minutes seemed like an eternity to me. We were called back into the court room.
My judge read me my sentence. 90 months. My audience was stunned. Surprisingly, I felt a sense of peace come over me. It was very strange. As I’ve been able to process this a little more, I’m left with this feeling that there’s a reason for this unexpectedly long sentence. Whether it’s that I need that time to continue my healing process, whether it’s to use my knowledge and skills to help people in prison, I’m not sure. But I’m convinced the reason will come to me. That’s not to say I’m not worried about the impact this long sentence means for my relationship and future with my husband and all the complications that this long sentence can cause, but for whatever reason, I must believe this sentence is right. All those around me
feel the sentence is unjust and unfair. Perhaps it is. That’s just not what I’m feeling right now. A 12-step teaching that tells us nothing happens in this world that isn’t God’s will. That’s what I am feeling now.
In my allocution statement to the judge, I promised that I would accept her sentence with dignity and grace, and that I would use my time productively. I intend to keep my promise to her. I plan to be of service as much as I can while incarcerated. I have the education and skills to be able to help other incarcerated individuals. I plan to take advantage of any mental health services available to me. I will come out of prison at the end of my term a better person—emotionally, physically, and spiritually–enabling me to enter re-enter society as a productive, helpful, law-abiding citizen.
Two people were given a long-stemmed rose. One person stated, “I don’t like this rose, it has a thorn on it”. The other person stated “Oh, my goodness! This thorn has the most beautiful rose attached to it”. I strive to be the second person.