The author, Gina Autrey, was born in a small town in South Carolina. She grew up in a loving home with her parents and her sister. Throughout her childhood she was never problematic or in any trouble, she was an honor student at a private Christian school from grades 6 - 12. She got married at the age of 18 and started her family soon after. So how did this good, wholesome, caring mother of two end up in prison? This is the story of one woman's painful journey from the lowest depths of imprisonment to a life of renewed determination and independence; finding within herself the strength to overcome the betrayal and abandonment by those whom she thought she could love and trust. She rose from the depths of imprisonment to become an independent, hard working, loving mother who still takes time to help and encourage those who are incarcerated. She has become an advocate for those who are too afraid to speak up for themselves and a friend to those in need. life changing experience, keep in mind that there are many others just like her who are still behind bars.
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The Open Book
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I had to market this as a fiction in order to protect myself against lawsuits, due to some of the information contained in teh book.
Being in prison changed me in more ways than I can even say. It changed some fundamental values of mine. It changed how I think. It changed how I live. It changed how I view the world around me. It changed how I view other people. Some of these changes have been for the better, while others may not be. But the experience shaped me into the person that I am today. And I am still growing and learning and experiencing new things each and every day. I am like a bird that was caged and not allowed to experience the wind beneath her wings or the glorious sunshine and now she gets to experience it all. But along with the sunshine there must be rain and clouds. Along with the wind comes the stillness of night. I still struggle, but I know that it is all working for my benefit and for my growth as a person.
I have a hard time trusting others. My friendship is not something that is given freely. I can count on one hand the people who I truly consider to be my friend. These people have earned my trust and my respect. And they have my loyalty. I would go to the wire for each one of them. I am not judgmental and that is a good quality I believe that I have. I don’t judge a person based on the color of their skin or on their past or their financial status. I look at how they conduct themselves and how they treat others. I look to see if they are kind and caring. Everyone makes mistakes and we all have our crosses to bear. Thank goodness I finally took mine off my back and shrunk it down to fit in my pocket. I still know it is there, but it doesn’t drag me down.
I think of the people I left behind. The ones who were truly my friend. I have kept in touch with several of them and it is like they are amazed that I kept my word. So many people leave with promises to keep in touch and yet they are never heard from again. It is like they want that part of their life to disappear. Not me. I don’t want to forget. If I forget then I didn’t learn a damn thing. I pray for my friends that are still in that hell. That is no way to live. It is an existence, but not a life. The girl who called me mom, Shay. She does not max out until 2022. And as long as I am physically able she will get at least two letters or cards from me per month until that day. The same goes for Kassie who has a life sentence. The same goes for Belinda who gets out in 2008. I won’t forget.
I remember the people who never made it out. The women who died while there. I think of Tracy P. She died due to the neglect of a lieutenant. The LT wouldn’t let her go to medical until count cleared even though she was having a severe asthma attack. She died waiting on count to clear. She was in there for a petty crime. She had a child. But she never made it out. We mourned for her. The night after she died we pulled the fire alarms on every building and went outside and raised hell. We wanted them to know that Tracy did still have a voice. We were pepper sprayed and locked down, but it was worth it. At least they knew that we knew the wrong that had been done. We yelled for Tracy. We yelled for God to please listen to our prayers and to change the way things were for us.
I think of the elderly lady who died. She took care of the cats on the compound. She loved those cats. They loved her. She was in her late 60's. She had a heart attack and died. Did you know that when you die in prison that your body is sent out in shackles? It is true. They shackle you in the box and ship you to your family. If you don’t have a family there is a cemetery on the SCDC property that you are buried in - still in chains. Why does a dead person need chains? One final indignity that person must bear, with no respect given to them even in their death.
I am fully aware that there are people who deserve to be in prison. There are evil people in the world. There are people who deserve to be there for the rest of their lives for the crimes that they have committed. I met those type of people, too. I lived with them. I suffered at their hands. There are people there with no conscience, no soul. But there are people there who are good people. People who made one mistake, married the wrong man, hung out with the wrong crowd, got addicted to drugs, people who defended themselves against an abusive husband or father or lover, people who wrote bad checks to the grocery store to feed their kids, people who needed psychological help, there are all kinds of people there. Not all of them are bad or evil. A lot of them are just like you. They just made a mistake.
There are mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, daughters, wives - they are all there. Black, white, Latino, every color of skin. Some of their families have forgotten about them or turned their backs on them. Some of them have no one. That is so sad. You can’t understand unless you have been through it. To hear mail call each day and your name is never called. To not have anyone to call because your calls are not accepted. To not have visits. To be cut off from the outside world completely. It is a horrible, lonely existence.
I wanted to share my journey in the hopes that I can help someone know that even if you screw up in the worst way – even if you make more mistakes than you can count – even if you lose it all and have to start over from nothing – you CAN MAKE IT. Everyone deserves another chance. Everyone can change their lives for the better. We all fall down, it is how you get back up that counts.