My name is Heather Jarvis. I’m calling from Marysville, Ohio at the Ohio Reformatory for Women. This is called “Dear State of Ohio.”
Dear state of Ohio, everything inside me wants to scream, cry and bang my head off the bricks I’m trapped inside. Why don’t you see me? I’m a person. I’m a mother, a daughter, and a sibling. I’m more than the number 93371. There have always been a lot of things on the other side of the fence waiting for me: a family, a steak dinner, a shower without shoes, a loved one’s sentimental touch, but most importantly, a future. That is what has always got me through, knowing this isn’t where it ends.
But now it’s different, things have changed. Life is rearranged. It’s a pandemic of sickness, fear, and a profound reference of the unknown called COVID-19. It hardly helps the good people of Ohio who are themselves coping with the pandemic to release the violent offenders into their midst during this crucial time was their response to my early release. I screamed inside my head reading the prosecutor’s words. You’re wrong. You don’t know me.
I’m a woman caught in the masses of the state’s criminal justice system. I’m no victim. I committed my crime. So I’m doing my time. I am however, a believer in redemption, grace, and the power of true courageous, personal self discovery and change. I came into the system a 22 year old addict facing a life sentence after being dramatically over indicted. My case was serious. I was complicit and I do regret every bit of it, but I have accepted the consequences of my actions and I put out. I was promised a fair chance at early release with good behavior. I was eager to take responsibility for my actions. I wanted to be fixed. I wanted to come out a better person.
I thought the courts would recognize my attempt at a personal reckoning. I was naive to believe in a system that will never believe in me. “Having committed numerous felonies the defendant is unlikely to follow the milder requirements of social distancing and stay at home orders and it would be naive to think otherwise.” Dear state of Ohio, why don’t you believe in me?
Why do you see me as a monster? Why don’t you see my hundreds of hours of community service or my 25 certificates for groups? Why do you refuse to read my letters of recommendation or see my nearest spotless conduct report? Why, why won’t you let me redeem myself? Why don’t I get a chance?
The world outside is in a state of emergency. The time is now. See me I’m here. I’m a first time felony offender marked by the scrutiny that is the term violence. I’ve learned that means I have a fight in me. Like so many others right now, I’m fighting the catch, my breath. Every time the virus count rises, I’m fighting for a future I’ve yet to live and I’m fighting for my chance at redemption.
I see on the news, people in the world are protesting to let the inmates free. They’re fighting for us. Dear State of Ohio, do you see them? Are they important enough? I’ve done everything the courts could ask of me. Every day I follow the rules, every day I fit the mold of model inmate, I’m the creme de la creme of offenders.
Why is the person I was, more important in your eyes, than who I have become? Why does one mistake outweigh all these years of atonement for the system? Not to believe in me, means it doesn’t believe in itself. It doesn’t believe someone could walk out changed. However, I have changed. Something has happened to me in here.
I can never go back to who I was. So dear state of Ohio, I don’t need your validation. I don’t need your early release or your stamp of approval to tell me I’m worthy because I know my heart. I know I’m a good person. I know my past does not define me and I know one day I’ll be free.
The state prison system wasn’t ready for the caliber of chaos that is the Corona. The virus is rocking the max masses. We have no visits and we’re constantly locked down, but the system isn’t ready for the caliber of resilience that is going to be me. I’m going to rock criminal justice reform efforts. So for now I’ll wear my mask, wash my hands, write my dreams and make my plans.
Dear state of Ohio. My name is Heather Jarvis. You’re going to meet me soon. I’m part of the masses locked away. I’m part of the forgotten many. But I’m writing to tell you I’m going to be part of the movement, part of the reform and part of something bigger. I’m going to make you see me, make you listen, and I’m going to rock perception.
You think I’m a monster. You just don’t know. The only thing monstrous about me is my pen.
These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.