Coffee in my Cup
by Natalie (Neco) Haviland
I have always believed that without adversity we would have no victories. When challenges arise in our lives, it is yet another opportunity for a victory. The greater the challenge, the greater is your victory. I learned this the hard way, and am hopeful I won’t need many more lessons on this matter.
It was these lessons and challenges that taught me a unique lesson in gratitude. Up until ten years ago, I lived a fairly normal life. I went to college and studied biological sciences. I raised my children on my own, working full time and hustling cars on the side. I made a fair living, between middle and upper middle class. My family wanted for nothing material, and our activities included camping, fishing, and traveling through California on various adventures. My ultimate goal was to create as many good and wonderful memories for my children as I possibly could.
As a family we did a lot of cooking, baking and canning of our own fruits, salsas, jams, jellies and chutneys. We would scavenge yard sales for mason jars, and assorted treasures, and really enjoy all life had to offer.
In one brief moment, my life changed. One bad decision, or perhaps a series of bad decisions, led me to a prison cell. It appeared to me that my life had pretty much ended at age forty. Because of California’s Three Strikes law, I faced a sentence of fifty years to life, because I had a past felony conviction when I was eighteen. Because I faced so much time in prison, I was held in a lockdown cell for security. I would exist in this cell 23 and a half hours a day for a period of 14 months. I was allowed a daily shower, a phone call, and on only a handful of occasions I was led to a concrete box without a roof for yard time. I was blessed just to go to court. As I was transported from the facility holding me to the County Superior Court, I was able to look around and see things such as trees, plants, streets, cars, an occasional dog, tract of homes. Just stuff, anything but the concrete walls, metal doors and wool blankets.
Inevitably, depression and a sensation of low self worth were a constant struggle during this time. I was mourning the loss of my family. While I felt very guilty about what I’d done, I also mourned my life in general. I would no longer be able to go out back and have a cup of coffee in the morning air, or eat ice cream in the evening before bed. I couldn’t see my children off to school, or share a meal with them and tell them I loved them every day. I missed my minivan and the music I’d listen to as I drove around running errands. I even missed washing dishes, folding laundry, and vacuuming. I missed my life.
My mind was spinning at about ninety miles per hour, while my body was pretty much shut down. I sought answers, hope and wisdom from the scriptures. I begged God to help me, to save me, and not to let this terrible thing happen to me. I did not realize that it had already happened, and I was in this. I’d one day learn to suck it up, and keep pushing. It is what it is, and I would learn to accept life on life’s terms, and pray continuously.
It took a little time, but I learned to acquire little things. I bought from the commissary, and had coffee in my cup. To sit and enjoy a hot cup of coffee is a good thing. It is a moment in time to be savored, and held onto for as long as it lasts. A good book is something to be experienced and cherished. Just to have the time in the day or evening to read something I relish. Those times in particular were very special, as I would get lost in the story. I traveled to countries I may never see in my physical life, but I’ve been there and I watched as story after story unfolded before me. I walked in the sand on beaches in Mexico and even sat in the mess hall of a nuclear submarine. I escaped my harsh reality and lived a little. The self-empowering books written by ministers, professors, doctors and psychiatrists helped me to establish some coping skills.
In all that was happening, I learned to be so very grateful for everything. I did have my prayers change from please God help me, to sincere gratitude that I still had eyes to see the good in all things and most people. The unique circumstance of living with absolutely nothing completely changes one’s perspective of things. Everything people take for granted every day has become cherished and valued in such a dramatic way. Living in a concrete box with very little human contact will lead you to a greater appreciation for anyone, even your coworker who simply never shuts up, or the family member who is always so critical and discouraging. Even they all have qualities you will miss. You can only sit staring at a wall for so long. One can only enjoy the quality time alone, briefly, before you begin to overthink things and become hypercritical of yourself. I spent a lot of time thinking, oh I should have done this, or I shouldn’t have done that. Situations repeated over and over in my mind, continuously reminding me that I’m not exactly the sharpest tool in the drawer. I learned I lacked some basic life skills, mostly in communication and managing my emotions. While life was beating me down, I’d managed to find ways to beat myself up emotionally even more.
During this time, I was also being sexually harassed by one of the officers who would somehow find time alone with me. He took full advantage of my low self esteem and broken spirit. He’d have his way with me, and then let me shower before locking me back in my cell. My head, and my heart were too far gone to even think of reporting him or realizing the severity of the situation. Every day during this trial, I would consider, plan, and contemplate suicide. I saw no possible way to recover and had no desire to awaken each morning.
One morning I awoke and decided I just couldn’t do another day like this. I took several razor blades I’d been collecting and began cutting. It was so gross and messy that i decided to swallow all the blades and start doing jumping jacks to get them moving to do their damage. I ate 12 in all, snapped them in half and downed them with a cup of coffee. I told God I was sorry but I gotta go. I started doing jumping jacks over and over. I did sets of 50ish until the cops came over the speaker in my cell telling me my attorney was there to visit me. I was kind of stunned by the visit and the timing. I went in and saw a woman who represented my court appointed public defender. She claimed she was there to get me out of that place. I was again stunned. My public defender had told me I was going to do life in prison. She now had hope to offer. I told her it was too late. I already got myself out. She asked me to explain myself, and thinking there was nothing to be done, I told her straight up what I’d done and that I was really okay with it. She pretty much freaked out as I calmly explained this. She ran for the officers to get me medical attention. I was stripped naked and placed in a rubber cell with a blue quilt cover to hide my nakedness. The rubberized cell contained a hole in the floor for restroom use. Again I did my jumping jacks. I kept wondering, and worrying, if perhaps I were going to hell for taking my own life. I kept waiting to feel something other than cuts in my throat or on my arm. I expected blood from my rectum or mouth or something. I waited for the pain. I was exhausted from the emotional drama and the jumping jacks. A doctor came to the door to see me. Everyone wanted to know why. My simple reply was, “Duh! My life sucks!” It was a matter of choice, fifty to life or razor blades for breakfast. Well pass me another shaver please. The taxpayers should be pleased. I saved them close to half a million dollars. I can rationalize anything.
Needless to say, I’d hit rock bottom. The doctors said that I’d be fine, and I was. I was devastated that nothing happened. No internal damage, no cutting, no bleeding, nothing. The razors had processed through, and even x-rays revealed absolute nothing. I lost a few pounds from the jumping jacks, and a lack of food, however, I was completely normal.
My public defender took me to court to tell the judge presiding over my case that he no longer wished to represent me. I was given a court appointed attorney and remained in isolation until I showed some signs of life. It was these severe circumstances that fostered a unique perspective in my life. I still believe that I have seen the worst moments in my life. I have been through hell on earth and I have experienced life’s worst. Praise God that no matter what life may bring from here on out, I should be able to endure it easily. That is a truly wonderful experience to have. Nothing much could be worse than what I have already endured.
I praise God daily for everything. In the mornings I praise God for another day of life. I should have been dead. I’ve had a dozen encounters with near death experiences and yet I am alive and well. I am healthy and strong. I celebrate life and have truly learned to live, not merely exist.
I have a job to go to every day. I praise God for that. I didn’t enjoy the sewing factory job here very much, but I still prayed and praised God for a chance to get out of my cell and do something productive with my time. I was grateful to earn 40 cents per hour to help pay for coffee, hygiene products and goodies. At the end of the month I receive 60-75 dollars. Mind you, I don’t pay rent, utilities, phone, cable, water, etc … I have humble needs and my meager wages cover that. Thank you, Jesus!
My cell has a window. I can not only see outside, but I can crank it open, and get fresh air. I praise God for my window, air, and even the harsh metal screen that keeps the insects out. Most prison cells have no window, while others may have a four foot by eight inch window with chicken wire. All air is recycled and pumped through vents that are not cleaned and maintained regularly. Some people live year after year in such conditions.
I figure if I had to go to prison and serve so many years, that I am so very grateful I came to this place. This is the best of all California women’s prisons. I am blessed beyond words to have come here where I see, and can walk barefoot on grass. Trees, flowers, bushes, and animals surround these grounds. In the other women’s penitentiaries I saw, sadly, very little signs of nature. I am grateful to see a dog walk by and see cats hunting squirrels and gophers. I find all these things to be peaceful and fulfilling to my soul. For these things I give thanks unto God.
I praise God for sunshine on my face. After months and months of dark, dank cells, I can appreciate sunlight and even a cold overcast morning. After so many months of darkness, I was sentenced and transported to the State Prison in Chowchilla, California. It only took three hours of sun exposure for me to get sun poisoning. My face became swollen and distorted within eighteen hours, and I was taken to the medical clinic for observation. I had up until that point never heard of sun poisoning. I’ve always loved my fun in the sun, regardless of the many warnings of harmful effects of excess sun exposure. Despite the slight scarring from the burn I received to my forehead that fateful day, I still relish my moments out in the sun. I love that I can go outside daily. I hardly notice that I am in a large cage. I’ve been so grateful to just not be in a cardboard box all day, every day.
My heart aches for those men and women who still live in such a way. Our men are treated so inhumanly. They live up to 10-20 years in such conditions.They are taunted and tormented by many of the guards and fellow inmates, given a cold shower two or three times a week, and their mail and phone privileges are used as forms of torment. Bear in mind that after this is done, these men are given $200 and released back into society, expected to become productive, successful citizens.
My heart truly bleeds for my fellow human beings, and this knowledge brings me to my knees frequently. Not just for mercy for them, but in the most sincere and reverent appreciation for my own circumstances.
No matter where my life may take me, nor what may come and go in my path, I will always remember that it could be worse. I could be in prison in Indonesia, Mexico or some other country where rape, starvation, and harsh weather are the norm. I thank my lord Jesus that I am here. Praise God I have a parole date. Glory be to God the Father that he poureth out wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars. He reveals deep and mysterious things, though He Himself is surrounded by light. (Daniel 2: 21-22)
I will always lift my cup towards heaven and praise God for coffee in my cup, sunshine on my face, fresh air in my lungs, and all the good things in every circumstance and every person.
I can honestly say today that I’m grateful to have had this experience. I’ve learned so much about life, God and myself. I’ve experienced the worst of life, and circumstances, and seen the worst of humanity. The Jesus inside of me taught me to learn, to see, to believe, and now to write, to share these experiences in order to inspire others.
I am currently working on a manuscript called, “Prisons are a Crime.” It details the injustices of our current justice system, however, it speaks even more of worse prisons we experience in our lives. Prisons of depression, anger, addiction, poverty, and so much more. It should go to print in 2014, as I am still housed in a physical prison and am property of the State of California.
I wish to help anyone stuck in prisons. Any form of prison. I will seek and fight for freedom and justice until I leave this earth, all the while with an attitude of gratitude, sunshine on my face, and coffee in my cup.
I am humbled that you took the time to read my little story. I am thankful to and for you. God bless you abundantly.
Natalie (Neco) Haviland
Natalie may be reached at Natalie Neco Haviland #X00256 DOB: 4/17/61
16756 Chino Corona Rd EB 526 Corona, CA 92880-9508 and looks forward to reconnecting with her family, continuing to write, advocating for others, and celebrating the great outdoors upon her release.