My name is Sandra and depending on when one has known me, my nicknames are either Alek or Sandi. I think my story conveys that even the most privileged, educated, and religious folks have emotional and relationship issues that can derail their lives and lead to incarceration. I think it’s clear from my story that competition with my mother, materialism and co-dependency derailed me.
I grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, which is a small suburb approximately 60 miles south of Cleveland and 45 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. I was immersed in Christian faith because my father was a Lutheran Elder in the church and my brother Norman was the choir director. Since the age of 13, I was a soprano in the adult choir and played in the hand bell choir.
My mother was raised a Roman Catholic and I longed to be one because that was where all my cousins attended and my aunt Rose made pizza every Friday (so delicious!). Except for my father, all of my father’s relatives in Europe and America were Catholic.
My dad was born in 1910 In Trieste, Italy, and was totally amazing! He was unlike any other man I ever met. He could read, write and understand English, German and Italian as well as Yugoslavian. He was soft spoken and philosophical. There was a time in my life when I doubted the existence of God, and to humor me, he said to enroll in philosophy and tell him how things came to be. I ended up with a Bachelor of Science in Philosophy and Religion with a minor in Psychology. I took it all for fun and came away with the strongest conviction and faith in God than ever before. I went on to obtain a double major in chemistry and biology with a minor in mathematics
He once told me that to be happy meant to be content with what you have even if you have nothing. That brings me to my current state of happiness. Materialistically speaking I have far less than I did 10 years ago; however, I am far more content and have far more peace. I am totally ecstatic because I finally know what it takes to embrace happiness—I need the Lord to be happy. I gave my life to God about seven years ago and decided that I needed to give it all to Him– good, bad, rich or poor. I am learning to let God handle everything instead me trying to be Ms. Fix-It.
I did not get into any trouble until later in life. I had a good life. I lived in a basement apartment. I was considered a neighbor. At the age of 30, I moved out to go to graduate school and started to make bad decision after bad decision. I think I was so happy to be out and be free I just forgot to think slowly and wisely and trust in God. Much of my erratic behavior stems from my mother being in competition with me. No matter what I did or bought, my mother had to be rewarded, and if I bought a new dress she had to have two new dresses. This sick thinking got me into some real financial pickles. I did go into therapy and I did improve, but other areas of my life were chaotic.
My Godfather passed away in 1996, and my dad had passed away a year later in 1997, and I started dating Mark one month later. Two months later I got engaged. I got married to what I thought was a real dream of a man I was his third wife, but I thought he was the answer. I was promoted and moved from Columbus, Ohio, to Cleveland, Ohio, where he moved in with me because he was evicted. That was the first warning, but I put on blinders. We moved into a cute condo, and I had my new job as a systems analyst and network engineer which entailed a lot of travel. I loved it because I had a lot of freedom. On the weekends I would come home, I would see Mark, and things would be wonderful. He worked for Wonder Bread and played drums on the weekends. I liked his entertainer personality at first. He was the life of the party.
With my dad’s passing, my mother’s house in Youngstown was too much for her to handle, and she bought a small condo near us. Although at first, I believed Mark was jealous of my relationship with my mother, he seemed to like her being so close. Even though my mom and I fought a lot when I was younger, she became a different person when my dad was gone. Circumstances in my marriage were amplified when my husband increasingly stayed away from home to the point he just didn’t come home.
Now I know that I spent many years and hours searching for what was right in front of me. That was the Lord. All I ever had to do was to trust in the Lord and give everything to Him–all my worries, all my troubles. I finally discovered all of this after ending up in prison in January 2011. Losing practically everything, I hit rock bottom. I divorced, and my husband made sure I had no monies in any accounts he knew anything about.
Amazingly, I was relieved. I spent all of 2010 in jail. Did the judge have other options? I am sure he did. Do I blame him? Absolutely not, and in fact I wrote a letter thanking him and told him I intended to stay until I could stay no more due to sentencing laws. Because I felt I had lots of work to do on myself, I stayed in prison until they MADE me leave!
I finally joined the Catholic Church and completed my sacraments on Easter in 2012. The main difference is that for myself, catholic means universal. When I was in prison, I spent a lot of time singing in the New Beginnings Choir and alone at the Catholic masses. As most of us Catholics know, unless there is a choir, most Catholics will not sing. I was even asked to sing for the bishop one Christmas and was able to reach younger people at DOC. Catholic Mass and the music was the one common thread we had no matter what other kinds of music we liked.
Today I am blessed to stay at The Reentry Initiative housing unit. The TRI program is amazing and has many wonderful offerings and opportunities. On my birthday I received an Edible Arrangement, a giant edible fruit cup with a giant birthday balloon. I felt so special. Also, Kristi, David Chaffee who is a TRI Board member, and I were invited to CU Boulder to participate in an open forum discussion on criminogenic thinking. It was so enlightening. My thinking sure has changed since my college days, and it has inspired in me the desire to make a difference in the prison setting and the mindset of the general public.
When people ask me how I changed, I say that it was a God moment or a God intervention. On my own, there is no way I could have changed from the materialistic, self-centered, ego-driven barracuda I used to be. I think I will always need to be mindful of the tendencies that landed me in prison, but I am not going back. I am free, spiritually, physically, and emotionally, and that allows me to live abundantly.