“There is not an issue that a woman cannot bring a perspective to.” (Eddie Bernice Johnson)
Speaking of perspective, here’s more of mine: Life teaches you lessons you don’t anticipate; you learn things you never, in your wildest dreams, imagine you will learn.
I’ve been exposed to things in my unexpected life I never expected–like crime, divorce, and prison. I’ve learned things I NEVER imagined knowing anything about! Like aspects of the justice system, jail and prison.
After my then-husband revealed his criminal activity to me on March 18, 2009, and told me he anticipated being incarcerated for 5-7 years, I could not wrap my head around any part of it. I’d never stolen so much as a grape from a grocery store without paying for it, and my husband had stolen millions of dollars and was heading to prison? I was shocked and in shock. I didn’t know everything it entailed or what was coming to any of us. I’d never known anyone in prison, anyone with a relative in prison and had never been involved in breaking the law beyond an occasional speeding ticket while driving. My only education about any of it came courtesy of Hollywood, and based on everything I’d ever seen about prisons in t.v. shows and movies, they seemed like the ultimate horror. And then the man I was married to told me he was heading to one.
What do you do when you find out your husband of 20 years is heading to prison? If you’re me, you worry and wonder. Then you google “jail” and “prison”, read and research and try to learn anything you can. That’s what I did anyway.
I tried to find out anything I could about prison and what to expect his living conditions, life, and incarceration experience would be. I didn’t have a lot of luck, as a law abiding citizen I didn’t even know where to look, but I did learn some new things. The little bit I found was just a tiny taste of what was to come. Despite everything he had done, and all his selfish choices had thrust upon his victims, me and my children, I was scared. For him. And that’s really all I knew of the prison experience until that day in late August 2009, when my former spouse went before a magistrate and was charged with a crime, pled “not guilty” to the charge and was taken into custody.
Besides his sentencing day last month, March 18, 2009, and July 13, 2009, that day was one of the worst for me.
I was at work all day in Utah, trying to get a lot done and keep busy with projects so I wouldn’t worry or wonder about what was happening in Denver, CO. I didn’t know what to expect, or how I would know what happened in court that day, since no one considered me a victim and I was no longer married to the criminal. I knew of no one who was going to get me word of what transpired, so I checked online media sources every hour or two throughout the day, anticipating something would be mentioned at some point. Yet as much as I had waited for it all morning, and expected it, I was still shocked when I entered the words “Shawn Merriman Ponzi” and up popped stories about the events of that day.
I sat there, at the computer monitor, frozen. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was real. (I still couldn’t believe it.) I really wasn’t going to wake up any time soon and discover I’d simply been experiencing the most real-feeling nightmare of my life. It truly was more than a bad dream. It was the worst of the unexpected life. The day I had anticipated for months had finally arrived and the wheels of justice were turning. I couldn’t believe a man I’d loved and lived with, and had chosen to be the father of my children, was actually going to prison. But somehow I kept it together; finished my work day; drove home to my children, and no one was the wiser about what had happened in my life that day.
Everything about that event made me sick to my stomach–the “last phone call” Shawn made to talk to someone, me, that morning before he headed to the courthouse and embarked on the rest of his journey and the additional consequences resulting from his crimes; reading an email he sent that a friend was driving him to the courthouse as he was “a bit distracted and didn’t want to drive himself;” seeing video of him walking through the glass revolving doors of the courthouse heading to his hearing; reading of a courtroom packed with victims and how “more than 20 of his alleged victims stood up and applauded…Most were smiling.” (Miles Moffat, denverpost.com, 8/20/2009)
I don’t know how I’d feel if someone took MY most important possession, any one of my children from me, so I don’t judge the actions of those in attendance that day as right or wrong. I simply offer my perspective that it made me sick to see others exult in the demise of another, regardless of what that person had done. I hoped within my heart that regardless of what the future held for me, I would always choose to be strong enough to refrain from exulting in the downfall of another.
It also bothered me to read about myself in the stories about Shawn Merriman. Despite the fact I repeatedly asked everyone involved not to mention me or my children, they always did. That day, the magistrate referenced my children and I in a confidential, pre-hearing document, so it became part of the record, and was reported. And of course the reports were never accurate. That day it was, “his wife and children have moved to Utah…” There was no “wife.” We were divorced! (You might have to be the innocent ex-wife of a criminal to understand my perspective–absolute distaste for anything attempting to link me to the man, the crimes he committed or the media coverage about any of it.)
It was a welcome relief to actually laugh at one thing I read: the part about how Shawn Merriman was considered a flight risk so he had been taken into custody at the courthouse. That wasn’t quite accurate either, but it did make for more drama in the reporting! The reality is that Shawn Merriman did not have a passport–that, and his guns, were taken from him immediately upon turning himself in to the authorities. He had no money. He had no vehicle. No family. Only a handful of friends. And nowhere to go. He wasn’t going anywhere but prison, and he certainly wasn’t a flight risk! In fact, as I understood it, it had been Shawn who requested he be taken into custody as he wanted to get the clock ticking on the time he had to serve.
Well, he got what he wanted. He was taken into custody. That day, the clock began ticking. And for the first time since 1989, I had no idea where Shawn Merriman was, or if he was even safe. He seemed to just drop off the face of the planet into the deep, dark recesses of the criminal justice system and a jail somewhere. I didn’t know where he had gone; I didn’t know where he had been taken. There was no way to contact him. I was afraid for him, not for the first time, since beginning my unexpected life.
His incarceration had begun.
“That hunger of the flesh, that longing for ease, that terror of incarceration, that insistence on tribal honour being obeyed: all of that exists, and it exists everywhere.” (Ben Kingsley)