Lori Newhouse is why The Clemency Report exists. She is an example of a complex human being, unfairly labeled and stereotyped, then sentenced to many years in prison based on a sentencing concoction, brewed by prosecutors, that may be formulaically “legal” but is, in fact, nonsense that misrepresents the real world.
Lori’s case is powerful because U.S. District Judge Mark W. Bennett of the Northern District of Iowa took the time to write an amazing 68-page decision explaining who Lori was and what she did. The decision is radical in form because it uses everyday language and compares it to legal talk, detailing how she was classified falsely (but legally) as a “career offender” and how that label auotmated an unfair result. In a future article, we’ll write about the judge’s sentencing opinion.
First, let’s hear about Lori, 35, a mother of three, serving a 96-month sentence at the federal prison in Waseca, Minn.
“My entire life I only dreamt of three things — being a teacher or a veterinarian and being a mom,” she writes (in beautiful penmanship) in a thoughtful eight-page letter.
“My addiction took me to a place where I didn’t put my children first. My three sons are my whole life. I miss our day to day life more than anything else — waking them up for school, cooking and sitting down with them every day to eat, bathing them, reading with them, brushing their teeth. So many little things that at times felt mundane.”
Lori’s children are Tyson (age 8), Dylan (10) and Talon (16). They are among the 2.7 million children who have a parent behind bars. Inappropriately long sentences harm young innocents, not just the parents in prison.
(Tyson is dealing with anger issues over the loss of his mother, reports Marilyn Ferguson, Lori’s mother. “I just want to see my mom. I just want to see my mom,” he demands.)
How did Lori get to where she is today?
“I regret ever letting myself experiment with drugs. I was lost before I ever had a chance. I started using meth at 15 years old.”
Her arrest and imprisonment forced her to get sober. “First and foremost, (I had to) come off a very serious addiction to meth. It took a couple of weeks to start feeling ‘normal’ again. For the first time in years, my head cleared and I had a huge dose of reality. I was not just facing serious legal charges. I was in a state of major depression mentally and I had to come to terms with all I had now lost.”
Lori’s oldest son lived with his father, but her two youngest lived with Lori until she was arrested. How did mom/meth addict function?
“I maintained the household as best I could, living almost a double-life. Mom by day, meth addict by night. It was a horrible struggle within myself that eventually led to this conviction. No matter how desperately I wanted to get sober and get my life back together, I just couldn’t quit using. That’s what meth does though. It’s an ugly vicious cycle of behavior that always ends tragically.”
“I’ve been blessed that I didn’t damage myself mentally or physically but I’ve lost the most cherished people in my life…I’m missing my oldest son’s high school years, dating and driving and making his plans for the future. I’m missing my little ones first says of school, reading, class trips, baseball games, bike rides and everything in between.”
“Sometimes to survive inside these (prison) walls, it’s easier to just block out the world because the grief and the guilt and regret is so much to process. The ones I love more than anything else in life, my children, are the innocent ones I have hurt in ways I will probably never fully understand. That makes me more sad than I could ever find words to describe.”
Lori has become very religious in prison but, as a sober meth addict, possesses a worried realism about what life may bring.
“I have found peace and strength in my newfound relationship with Jesus since I’ve been incarcerated. Some people find God in jail and lose Him again in the world but I’m praying that I have found my place with him where I finally belong.”
What would she do if released? Small things. For those in prison, smelling the roses is a gift, not a cliche.
“I look forward to sitting down and having lunch with my grandma, drinking coffee with my mom, helping my dad around the house and just being a part of my children’ say to day lives. Schools and sports and friends.”
She’d like to work toward an associate’s degree in federal prison, but it’s more expensive than she can afford. Instead, she’s applying for vocational courses offered at the institution.
Once released, she has employment waiting for her at the telemarketing company where she worked for five years before coming to prison. In the longer term, she dreams of getting a bachelor’s degree and perhaps a master’s degree in addiction studies or human services.
“I never ever want to see my children go through the struggles I have gone through. The prison-rehabilitation thing is not effective.”
Lori Newhouse is scheduled to be released on February 7, 2021.