Our star of the day is a gentle woman, a mom who’s been in prison for meth since 1997. She will remain there for another decade — until she’s 59 — unless granted clemency.
Let’s call her Angel.
Angel recently tasted freedom. She took a two-day bus trip, by herself, from a federal prison in Waseca, Minn., to a federal prison in Dublin, Calif.
In a little known, wise and fiscally prudent practice, the Bureau of Prisons lets trusted prisoners travel unaccompanied via Greyhound bus from one prison to another. Angel, dressed in civilian garb, got a bus ticket, meal money and an arrival time.
Imagine being institutionalized for 17 years, then dropped off at a bus stop in front of Casey’s General Store in Minnesota to begin an unsupervised 2,000-mile road trip in a foreign land — the United States, circa 2014.
Angel, 49, tells a fascinating story of her two-day taste of freedom.
* * * *
“No shackles. No correctional officers.”
“It was far more nerve-racking than I ever expected.”
“The money looked like monopoly money. I got $125 — five twenties, two tens and a five. I hadn’t seen cash for a very long time.”
“People were already on the bus when I got on. If any were prisoners, I didn’t know it. Nobody knew I was a prisoner either.”
“Eventually, I talked to a few people and told them. Everyone was cool about it, but mostly people keep to themselves on a long Greyhound bus trip.”
“I wore light grey sweat pants, a light grey tank top and black tennis shoes. I carried a gym bag with a sweatshirt, a long-sleeve T-shirt, a couple pairs of socks and some fresh undergarments. I also had a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, sun glasses and reading glasses.”
“The biggest shock came when I got off the bus for the first time — in Omaha, Neb. I walked a few blocks to get something to eat. By then, it was nighttime. I couldn’t believe how difficult it was to negotiate the world. I walked into a convenience store but found it difficult to make even the simplest choices. I walked out with a few random packs of gum and a sandwich.”
“I changed buses three times and had layovers in Des Moines, Denver, Reno and Sacramento.”
“One bus dropped me off next to a motel. We were told to go into the motel and show our ticket. The motel owner told me to go sit on a bench.”
“There was a fair going on. People were walking back and forth, laughing, holding hands, dressed in colorful clothes . The owner was charging fairgoers for parking. Cars were flowing in. The activity was dizzying to me.”
“I looked for a phone booth to call my mother, to tell her I was halfway through my bus trip to California. I couldn’t find a phone booth anywhere. A young man directing parking told me phone booths didn’t exist anymore.”
“I explained my situation to the motel owner and asked if I could use his phone. He kindly said ‘yes.” But I had no clue how to use the phone in his hand, so he dialed it for me.”
“I told my mother I was somewhere amazing, by a roadside, near a fair, with no walls around me.”
“I slept on the bus for two nights. It was fine. We don’t get money for hotels.”
“It wasn’t until Friday — a day and a half into the trip — that my stomach began to settle down.”
“I have heard about misfortunes other prisoners have had on their bus trips. Sometimes the bus gets so far behind schedule that BART is closed when they arrive. We have a toll free number to call if there’s trouble. Sometimes the prison has to send someone to pick you up in Oakland if you’re dropped off too late.”
“I needed to report by 3 p.m. Friday. I had 50 hours to make it from the prison in Minnesota to the one in California. My bus got behind schedule but made up the time.”
“I arrived on time, my two-day adventure over. I felt free.”
“I still feel free. Even here at the prison camp in Dublin I feel free!”
“I can walk in and out of the buildings. I can cross the parking lot where the staff parks. Visitors come on weekends. It is amazingly quiet. My stress level has dropped to zero.”
“I am so thankful for the bus trip and my new location. I am happier than I have been in a long, long time.”
Special thanks to Sally Swarts, public information officer at Federal Correctional Institution Dublin, for clearing this story.