#FreeBlackWomxn: Darnita’s Story
For Mother's Day 2021, Michigan Liberation and the Advancement Project National Office launched #FreeBlackWomxn campaign, a photo and storytelling project that elevates the voices of Black Michigan mothers who have experienced incarceration. Read Darnita's story below.
I was a prisoner. I wasn't no ward. Ward gives you lenience, guardianship, someone can intervene. I was a straight up prisoner, and I did 30 years. They gave me 160 to 360 years. To be honest, I was already institutionalized. My mother gave me and my sisters and brothers up when we were kids. I was a ward of the state. And when I caught this case, I was still a ward of the state. I was in homes, girl’s homes, DJ Hilly, Demby Home, Barret House, Marlow house. I was in all these girl’s homes, so I was already institutionalized. So, me going into it, I was gonna easily be able to adapt 'cause I was already in it.
When they came to take me down to 1300 Beaubien [Detroit police headquarters], I told them I was a minor. I did not know what they were talking about. They told me they just wanted to ask me some questions because they felt like I knew something, but they believed I was not involved, and a grand jury hadn't made a decision if it was going to trial. This was the whole conversation they had with a 15-year-old child without her parents. They kept me for three days. They wouldn't let my grandmother come see me. They wouldn't let nobody talk to me. They wouldn't let me see nobody. And then the lawyer they gave me, he just got out of law school, not even months before they gave him my case. There was no chance he could have won that. There was no chance I could have won.
The worst of the worst is when they started letting officers do surprise shakedowns, and they used to make us stand naked in the middle of the floor when we were on our periods. They'd lock the unit down, lock the grounds down and if you were bleeding or something like that, and they would actually take your pad off or they wouldn't give you one. They would give you tissue or something like that, just make you stand there bleeding. That was the worst thing they did to me.
Man, let me tell you about when I got released. So, I had a friend that I thought that was really cool in prison. I thought me and this lady was like older auntie, younger niece. When we all got that lawsuit money, it brought the worst out of everybody. Those that had it, and those that was trying to get it, and those that was gonna creep up on it and get yours if you let them. She introduced me to her nephew. Her nephew was handsome, he was cool, always said the right things. Oh, he was just everything. Only thing different was I was in prison, he wasn't. We talked five and six zhours a day. Wrote cards, big cards. Anything I needed him to do or whatever, he would do it. Everything that a woman would want while she was incarcerated. But it never dawned on me that it was always my money doing it. I was so engrossed by him, I didn't pay no attention to the obvious. We decided we was gonna get married, all that good stuff, yadda, yadda, yadda.
When he picked me up, he picked me up in a raggedy… one side of the car was gone. He told me that he couldn't find no place to live. So I'm asking him, where is the money that I gave him to find us a place? He couldn't find no place, he messed that money up. We stayed in a hotel for four months, two weeks, three days. He raped me, beat me, tied me up, took everything I had. I left prison with $279,000. When I ran into him, he took everything. It was all a ploy. He waited two years and seven months to get everything I owned and left me with 5Gs to my name.
I did 30 years, but they gave me 160 to 360. I was 15 when I went in. I was 45 when I came out. I didn't know nothing. I didn't even know my own body. I didn't know when someone was insulting me or hitting on me. You know, because in prison there's a certain way we talk to each other. Somebody had to tell me, ‘Darnita, you're not in prison. That is disrespectful.’ There was just a lot of things that I still didn't grasp at all. When I used to go to a restaurant, I'd be too ashamed because I didn't know how to order. The phones, I'm just learning. Computers, I knew nothing about them. I didn't know anything because I had nobody to show me how to use a computer, how to open one, how to do your Gmail set up. When I came out here, I was dumb as hell.
If a women gets parole on the 25th, and she leaves out two months later, two weeks before she leaves out that institution, she should know where she's going, what job is set up. That's the way it's supposed to be. Because otherwise you're throwing us out here to the wolves.
I have not been able to get a job simply because I was a felon. Now one organization I will not name wanted me to get one year of another job under my belt. And then I could’ve come back if my performance was what they needed to say, ‘Okay, well, let's take a chance with this one particular felon.’ But what they don't know, sillies, there's a tax deduction. Why wouldn't you wanna help a felon? You can help them get back on as well as help yourself. I just didn't understand why they would refuse that.
I was on two years parole, and I couldn't do absolutely nothing. I've been locked up so long, I was too scared. I didn't even know how to drive, ride a bike, or roller skate. So, I didn't care about not being out here. And then when I started seeing different people doing things on Facebook that was locked up with me, and things in the news, that two years went by like that. I didn't get in no trouble, didn't get arrested, never been stopped, went on seeing my agent when I was supposed to. There was things I had to change in my life that was gonna benefit me and what I wanted to do with my life. Two years ago is when I made the conscious decision that I needed better. I deserve better. I'm a star.
I caught a case for something that I had nothing to do with, nothing. I did 30 years. I lost all them years. I can't get them back. I can't have no kids or nothing. But I refuse to let any of that deter what it is I want for me. I love me now. So, I think that's where a lot of issues came in, that I didn't know me. I didn't know my value, I didn't know my worth. I know what it is now. I can't settle for just anything