The Worst is Yet to Come

Photo By RDNE Stock project

            I looked up from my book to watch my new cellie lazily drag in a mesh laundry bag full of her allotted state issue. Young and dumb, sporting messy bed-head, dyed white blonde on the ends with dark greasy roots. Typical for girls who have spent months in county jail. I’ve lived with thousands of girls, and I could immediately tell that she didn’t look promising, but I always try to give them the benefit of the doubt. Everyone looks rough upon arrival, so I smiled, “Hi.”

            “This paper says I’m in bed 3 bottom.”

            “Right over there. The last girl was a one-twenty and filthy, so you will want to get some disinfectant from the rotunda.”

            “No, it looks good to me. I’m a one-twenty, too, but I’m sooo tired.”

            “Tired? It’s 8:30 in the morning.”

            “Yeh, I’m pregnant.” While rubbing her round belly, she continued, “Katie. They call me Katie.” She smiled showing a mouth full of June bugs, as my old cellie Amy used to say.  Meth mouth.

            “I’m Patty. When’s the baby due?”

            “In November. Do you have any coffee?”

            “November? Did you get pregnant last week? Is this your first?”

            “No, silly. This is my fourth. What about the coffee?”

            “Fourth? Then you know that your baby is about the size of a lima bean… Oh, I don’t give out coffee.”

            Why new girls think that we are happy to offer them free food and drink, I’ll never know. I turned back to my book. While pouting she angrily dumped the mesh bag on the thin plastic mat and crawled onto the wad of dingy sheets, old holey grey fleece blankets, and flat over-used pillow plus some stained and perma-wrinkled khaki uniforms. When I looked up, I saw that she was fully clothed still in her state boots and already snoring. Katie never did actually make her bed, shower, or change her clothes although she nested on that bunk for nearly a week.

            We seem to be inundated with girls who have been sentenced to 120 day shock probation. Judges can give petty felons a chance to do just a little prison time, a taste of it, then return to their communities and do good. Sounds great, but the vast majority come right back to do their back-up. A girl up the hall initially came in with a one-twenty. Since she’s a drug addict, she came right back and is now serving a big ass 15-year back-up. The prison doesn’t help them. Their communities don’t help them. Addiction is a disease that no one with the state actually tries to cure. Many stay high while locked up. Drugs are easy to get. A guard was caught just last year selling Fentanyl, and the only reason he was busted is because four or five girls ODed and had to be Narcanned back to life. That kind of publicity looks bad. These addicts are victims of our apathetic society, while those of us serving decades consider ourselves victims of these stupid one-twenties who stop up the plumbing with sanitary napkins, overload and break the washers and dryers, never clean up behind themselves, won’t work, aren’t here long enough to take helpful classes, and don’t really give a damn about anything but themselves. And here I’m saddled with yet another one.

            We take turns cleaning the common areas of our wing. Yesterday while I scrubbed the tile wall behind the toilets, a curly-headed one-twenty gasped, “Wow! I’ve never seen anyone do that before.” I straightened up, turned to her, and snapped, “I’d sure hate to see the bathroom in your home.”

            Katie was a champion sleeper, but she rose up when chow was called, although she couldn’t possibly roust herself out for breakfast. I call the inmates who sleep in their uniforms fire fighters, because they are ready to jump up and exit at a moment’s notice. The rest of us pee, wash our hands and faces, brush our teeth and hair, and change clothes before we run out.

            The stench coming from her and her bunk provoked me into offering her detergent to do a load of laundry. She refused, making her the first one in all these years to turn down such a generous offer. Detergent is so expensive that many inmates use a squeeze of shampoo or no soap at all in the washer. Katie was too tired to pretend to launder anything, not even her own ass.

            A few days later, a rare wide-awake but chatty Katie asked how long I’d been in prison.

            “Thirty-seven years.”

            “Thirty-seven years! Wow! That’s longer than I’ve been alive—by a lot. My mom is 33, I think. She wasn’t born either when you came in. Wow. That’s a long time. Have you thought about an appeal? Really. You should file for a sentence reduction and go home.”

            “Gosh, I never thought about trying to get out.”

            The cellmates snickered, but Katie was serious. Does this triflin’ ho really believe that this white-haired old lady hung around in prison for all these years and never tried to go home?

            The facts are that on February 18, 1984, an evil man broke into our rural home and murdered my sleeping husband. To this day, I don’t know why. This man also brutally raped me, but because I was in shock and no one asked me if I was attacked, I didn’t tell about the rape for months. My first priority was moving my children to safety while getting help for Bill. I didn’t realize he was already dead. Since I was the wife and wives always kill their spouses, or so the officer declared, I was charged with the killing, fingerprinted, and booked. The female deputy who strip searched me was shocked at the horrific bruises on my body from the attack. I was then sent back home on my own recognizance to await trial, which occurred in April of 1985. I’m innocent and naively believed in our justice system because I’d never had any dealings with it, so I rejected the plea bargains offered by the prosecution. When Bill and I lived separately years before his murder, we both took lovers. Because of rampant redneck sexism and the gender discrimination of the eighties, I was branded with a scarlet letter.

            Before we went to trial, the prosecutor, who honestly didn’t think I killed Bill, ordered Bill’s body to be exhumed for a closer look. Because Bill’s front tooth was missing, the pathologist, decided that Bill had committed suicide, “eaten the rifle” is how he so delicately put it. He called my lawyer, who in turn called me. If I’d kept my mouth shut, I’d never have gone to prison, but I’m an idiot who believed that somehow the real murderer would be found. When asked about the missing tooth, I explained that Bill had a cap on that tooth that didn’t fit well. During a high school basketball game, it had been knocked out. Because of my dogged honesty, the prosecutor was forced to proceed.

            During the four-day trial, no evidence was presented to deem me guilty. I hadn’t kept up on Bill’s life insurance payments, and a gun powder residue test of my hands and wrists proved that I had not fired a weapon, but the jury ignored those facts, judge me as a scandalous Jezebele, and returned after only a few hours of deliberation with a guilty verdict. Thirteen-year-old Sarah ran screaming out of the courthouse and down the street while the family followed. My family and friends learned the hard way that juries pretty much think defendants did the crime if the cops do.

            I spent that night in jail then was freed on an appeal bond. I returned home to the farm with my kids to discover that a neighbor had observed a strange man in a light-colored sedan on the back road watching our house during the stormy night of Bill’s murder. She had told the Sheriff about the stranger the morning of the crime, but he hadn’t passed that information on because it didn’t fit the scenario they were creating. When she read about the trial in the paper, she wondered why that man hadn’t been mentioned.

            We took this exculpatory evidence back to the trial judge who promptly decreed that witness information, that the sheriff hid from us, placing an unknown man near our house, stalking us, during a thunder storm on the very same night my husband was killed would not have changed the jury’s verdict. We were stunned. We had testimony placing the probable murderer at the scene, evidence that the cops withheld, and the judge refused to even consider it or chastise the sheriff for illegally concealing this important information. In those early days we still believed that finding the truth was the role of the justice system, comprising the police, prosecutor, and judge. A year later, I lost the direct appeal and had to abandon my five half-grown children and go away to prison. Over 37 years of missed graduations, weddings, funerals, births of thirteen grandchildren and two grandsons later, I’m elderly and still locked away with no end in sight.

            As soon as I was locked up, my parents and siblings designed a petition and walked all around Jackson County getting signatures of citizens who agreed that Governor Ashcroft should commute my prison sentence of Life with no Parole for 50 Years. Bless their hearts. After months of hitting grocery stores, malls, parking lots, and every other place where humans are known to traverse, and buoyed by high hopes, they priority-mailed their petition to the Capitol. A local newspaper wrote the story of our family seeking justice. I don’t believe the governor’s office ever acknowledged receipt of their hard labor.

            At the same time that the petition was circulating, my father hired a lawyer who took a lot of money and filed another appeal. That post-conviction relief was denied a few years later. We have appealed and appealed to no avail. Every single governor of this state has been petitioned. Some governors have flat out denied our petitions for clemency. Some just ignore us entirely. The one common denominator is that men who hold the power to free me never actually look into the facts of the case. Judges and governors can’t seem to be bothered, except for one. Governor Mel Carnahan, during the late 90s, actually met with my kids and with state legislators who were behind me. His chief counsel interviewed me in prison and investigated, which prompted the governor to promise to commute my sentence. That governor died in a plane crash not long after that declaration. Our high hopes died with him.

            In 2010 my most recent clemency application was filed. Thus far we’ve heard not a whisper from the governor’s office, and he has refused to meet with my family. I’m in my mid-seventies. I won’t be eligible for parole until I’m 86, and I seriously don’t think I’ll make it that long. Medical care in prison is minimal at best. The food is far from nutritious. Sleep in a loud overcrowded prison is a catch as catch can situation. Unrelenting stress is always woven into the penal decor. These ingredients constitute a recipe for early demise.

            About six or seven years ago, an NBC TV show called Final Appeal with Brian Banks aired a story on me, and their persistent investigators actually located the evidence box with my pajamas from the night of the murder. We had been trying to secure it for years, but the police always came up with one lame excuse after another as to why it was lost. We were ecstatic about this find until two separate courts refused us permission to test the DNA. There are thousands of wrongly convicted prisoners in our country, but the justice system loathes to admit that fact. Judges go out of their way to prevent DNA testing or any other avenue that might prove that the wrong person is locked up. These stories are in the news every day, but most citizens don’t pay attention to the fate of so-called criminals until they are directly involved. I admit that I didn’t give prisoners a thought before my husband was murdered. I never even knew anyone who had been arrested.

            Although all her people are criminals, barely-pregnant teenage Katie doesn’t yet know the full truth about the sticky web of deceit spun by the judicial branch of the government.

            One day I mentioned to her that she should sign up for the Story Link program so she can read a book on CD that will be mailed to her kids. My family and I love Story Link, and I have been sending books on CD home over 25 years. I now read to my great grandsons. I told her exactly what to write on the kite and that the deadline was this Thursday. A day or so later, when I asked if she had dropped the application, she confessed that she didn’t have contact with her kids. She didn’t even have addresses for them, because they were in the wind. My kids mean the world to me, so I was sad for her but also realized that maybe they are better off. I was afraid to ask what her plans were for her current lima bean.

            Within the first day, the longtimers on the wing noticed that Katie took neither toilet paper nor soap to the toilet.  Both are provided free by the state. When flushed, these industrial toilets spray urine from the previous user all over the seat, so we must wipe the seat before sitting, then wipe our own asses. Hand washing is an important priority in communal living.

            As the senior member of the cell, I was elected to address the unhygienic and odorous situation, but I may not have been the best choice. I tend to be direct and asked her, “Hey, girl, why don’t you use toilet paper or soap?”


            Undaunted, I calmly continued, “Katie, we live in close quarters, to put in mildly, and the toilet paper and soap are free. There’s no reason to stink like you do.”

            “I don’t giva shit whatya fuckin’ think. I got two fuckin’ sugar daddies and a fuckin’ boyfriend. I got all da fuckin’ money I want!”

            And she did. On canteen day, she returned triumphantly dragging a heavy bag containing two bags of high-dollar instant Folgers, two cases of assorted soda, two bags of drink mix, and an array of snack cakes, candy bars, and bag candy, but not one hygiene item. She spent the next two days in the dayroom as Princess Popular surrounded by poor kids who slurped down her “racks.” (For the uninitiated, racks are made with sugar, soda, loads of instant coffee, drink mix, more coffee plus more sugar. They think they are getting high on this mixture, but these are the same dummies who smoke dried green beans and potato peelings for a high.) When they had swigged through all the special recipe, Katie returned to crash in her filthy bed.

            We have not just worked on the judicial and executive branches of government to find freedom, we have tried passing legislation. During last few years, we have found legislators who file geriatric bills that would make parole possible for elderly lifers. Statistics prove that inmates over 60 are incredibly less likely to re-offend. Like zero percent. Many states have passed these types of bills to allow expensive sick old inmates to exit prison and make room for much less expensive healthy young ones, but Missouri’s General Assembly has yet to see the economic value in this. Saving taxpayers’ dollars is not a priority.

            Poor pregnant Katie also farts like a mule, but this is normal for prisoners. When a mammal’s diet is changed drastically, bad things happen. I used to teach exercise classes for R&Os (Receiving and Orientation, aka new girls), and the farts were nearly visible in density and strength. If the odor took over, I would take everyone down to the floor to do mat work in hopes that their hot farts would rise. There’s something about prison food that messes with digestive systems causing abdominal bloating, gut pain, and explosive burps and farts.

            My daughter Jane is teaching herself how to make TikTok videos to advertise our plight. She’s becoming an expert at social media. We will do podcasts, radio and TV shows, newspaper stories, and anything to spread the word that I’m wrongly incarcerated. In fact, I have a website,, that I’ve never seen. We don’t seem to know how to give up.

            After dinner of the sixth day of Katie, I was brushing my teeth at the bathroom sink when she came in with empty hands and went straight to a toilet stall. When she emerged and headed back out with not so much as a glance at a sink faucet, I quietly observed, “I see you’re still not using toilet paper or soap.” My short security toothbrush was in my foam-framed mouth. I’m talented that way and can brush my teeth while being a smart ass.

            Anyway, Katie exploded in a loud tirade of expletives, calling me all manner of bitches and hos, as she stomped to the door of the rotunda. While I rinsed and spit, I heard an officer attempting to calm her down. I work the evening shift in the chapel, so I had to leave. As I walked to the rotunda, one of my cellmates informed me that an officer had put Katie in the back hall for creating a disturbance. That officer stopped me at the door. I told him that I had to go set up the chapel for service, but that I’ll be back at eight.

            I didn’t think a thing about Katie’s outburst until I returned to the house after church to discover that Katie had pc’d (pc stands for protective custody, which means she voluntarily went to the hole). She told the guards that I threatened to kill her baby, the lima bean. The guard who packed her out told me that the only hygiene item in her locker was an unused intake toothbrush, but he collected a whole trash bag full of wrappers and empty soda cans she was hoarding or simply too tired to discard. As he walked away, he correctly predicted that our cell should smell much better now.

            Last year we did a Dr. Phil show to bring attention to my plight. My oldest daughter, her husband, and my friend Mary flew to LA to help present the evidence, or really lack of evidence. My longtime lawyer Brian, who took my case as homework when he was a Georgetown Law student and has never given up on me, and two advocate state legislators appeared via Zoom. I was impressed that Dr. Phil’s crew thoroughly investigated and came to the conclusion that I was not guilty and should never have gone to prison. He was strong on that point, and the PR helped get more signatures on our on-line petition, but if the governor or his people saw that episode, we may never know. What can we do now? How do we right this wrong? That’s the conundrum I go to bed with and wake up wondering.

            About a week after Katie put herself in the hole, my one cellmate and I were called to sign “enemy waivers.” These are contract-like forms we sign indicating that we have no beef with the person we have a beef with.  If you don’t sign the form, you are deposited in the hole, so everyone signs.  These forms are used to cover the butts of the prison. If the “enemy” attacks, they are not liable. It only makes sense when you look at it from the point of view of the prison. They are only worried about legal ramifications. They are never concerned about inmate safety. If they were, they wouldn’t cram six women, with at least eight diverse personalities, in a tiny cell with little to no supervision.

            Usually the problem child is brought right back to the bunk she left, so we cellmates dreaded her return. But she was assigned to another wing. Yeah! Now we await the arrival of the next one-twenty. When I think that the one we just had is the worst possible, I find out I’m wrong. The one who had Katie’s bed before her was semi-clean, paranoid, and strange. The morning after the first night with us, she asked me if the resident of that bed before her had been pregnant. I told her no, then asked why she’d asked. She said she felt like she woke up with amniotic fluid all over her. WTF!

            The worst cellmate may not be born yet, but she’s coming. I can smell her.

Missouri inmate Patty Prewitt has been in prison for almost 40 years. She is serving a life sentence for the murder of her husband, Bill, in 1984. The conviction, however, is problematic. The prosecution’s case relied upon slut-shaming Prewitt and questioning her fitness as a mother based on relationships that took place five and more years before the murder, a time when the Prewitts were separated. The prosecutor did not share with the defense evidence that established a strange car was seen parked around the corner, a significant omission. A pathologist, brought on only weeks before trial was discredited in a number of trials where he served as a witness for the prosecution. Prewitt is not eligible for parole until 2036, when she will be 86 years old. Maintaining her innocence, she declined a plea bargain that would have made her eligible for parole after just seven years. Had she taken the deal, she would have been released many years ago. Former Missouri Department of Corrections Director George Lombardi who, during his 41 years in corrections, has never recommended anyone for clemency supports Prewitt’s release. In light of “the long sentence she has already served, the total support of her children and grandchildren, and her unprecedented contribution to the culture of the prison and to her fellow offenders,” he recommends that “Missouri Gov. Parson take the just, responsible and compassionate action and grant Patty Prewitt clemency

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