Isabelita Duran, 57, knows exactly how much time she spent in federal prison for drug trafficking.
“Twenty years, one month and seven days,” she says.
In that time, her oldest brother died of cancer. Other family members also died.
“I had three aunts die of a heart attack while I was in prison,” she says. “My cousin died.”
Her biggest fear was not getting out in time to be with her elderly, ailing mother.
“When my mother was sick in the hospital,” she said, “I couldn’t do nothing for her.”
Thanks to the retroactive changes in federal drug sentences, Duran is now with her mother. She is on home confinement at her mother’s house in Zephyrhills, wearing an ankle monitor until Feb. 3, when she will be released on probation.
“God answered our prayers,” she said. She says she’s profoundly grateful to be released well before the end of her original 35-year sentence.
She has learned her lesson, she says. “You never should take the easy way out,” she says. “If I see somebody in my ex-life (selling drugs), I would tell them don’t do it. In the long run, it’s not going to pay. You’re going to end up in prison, and that fast money is going to go like water. Nothing is worth it. Nothing is worth losing your family for all those years.”
The sentencing change took 10 years off her term for drug trafficking. The rest of the reduction came from good time behind bars and a year off for completing a drug treatment program.
She was originally arrested in 1995 and prosecuted as part of a ring that trafficked large amounts of heroin and cocaine from Puerto Rico to the Orlando area.
“It was a conspiracy to do drugs,” she says. “It was my first time. There was no violence.”
She says people higher up in the organization received much lesser sentences by pleading guilty and cooperating with the prosecution. “I chose not to cooperate with the government,” she says. “I chose to take my rights and go to trial.”
She says she’s not sure what she thinks her sentence should have been, except it shouldn’t have been more than 10 years. “If you don’t learn in 10 years, you will never learn,” she says. “Prison isn’t going to change you.” That has to come from within yourself, she says.
“I learned my lesson. I know I did wrong and I repented of it and I asked forgiveness to the Lord, you know, and I know I did wrong. I know I didn’t deserve so many years.”
She says she did her time in prisons around the country, frequently applying for transfers so she could take advantage of different programs. In a federal medical center in Texas, for example, she had an apprenticeship as a nurse’s assistant. She participated in a drug program in Connecticut.
She also attended a program on changing her ways and had a quality control apprenticeship in an inmate factory that made military cables and radio mounts. She said she obtained her GED degree and took business classes, too.
“I tried to make it a positive, but prison is never good for nobody,” she said. “But I kept thinking positive. I just worked, went to church — God kept me with a sound mind, sound spirit — did exercise.”
She was released Oct. 7 to a halfway house, but they needed her bed, so she was put on home confinement on Oct. 21. She leaves the house to attend mandated programs, such as a life skills class, and to report to her case manager.
After 20 years behind bars, she has trouble with sensory overload. Crossing the street or taking a bus are overwhelming experiences, and she doesn’t know how to use a smartphone.
One of the first things she wanted to do when she got out was eat some traditional Puerto Rican food — roasted pork and arroz con gandules, or rice with pigeon peas.
She said she loved the nurse assistant training, which gave her skills she is using now to care for her mother. She hopes to find employment along those lines when she is able.
How did she get involved in drug trafficking?
“I’m not going to blame anyone because I had a choice,” she says. “I met this man and he introduced me to it. It wasn’t his fault because I should have known better. I grew up in a Christian home with my mom. ... He showed me that kind of life, and just greed.”
Duran stresses she is not blaming the man who introduced her to drug trafficking.
“I needed money, and I got blind and I said, oh well, and I just did it. But I was young and I had a child. I needed to pay rent. I should have known because I have family that had done everything the right way. They got everything the honest way. I learned my lesson and I paid my time.”
Tuesday, November 03, 2015
The Tampa Tribune has this nice piece about some of the relief people are getting from Obama's new drug laws. Here's one story: