Skylights in the Hole
“Who gets the rare chance to really know somebody like Faye, a woman whose faith and grace created windows in her prison cell.”
- Barbara Stuber
January, 2020 : As we sit down for our conversation, Faye explains that her six-year-old grandnephew Jaiden - the older brother who visited during the summer - is now living with her. He is in the first grade and goes to a school close by her house.
*This was our last face-to-face conversation before Covid restrictions.
Faye, you are a collector of things… like people and pets!
I know I know. Right? He’s so obedient. A really good boy.
How did this development come about?
My niece was struggling. She and Jaiden’s dad aren’t together and there were issues of child support. She couldn’t care for him. So, she asked me to help. I said, “I don’t know. Let me think about it.” I prayed. I asked, “Lord, a child, is this you?” I felt the Holy Spirit give me comfort and within thirty minutes I called her back and said I would keep him. “Yes, I will.” Afterward I told my mom. She was so excited. That helped, too. It has been wonderful. His school is just five minutes away. The bus comes at 8:19 am. My mom is there when he gets dropped off. I drove to Arkansas and picked him up right after Christmas. His little brother is still with his mom. She gave me power of attorney to care for Jaiden but not parental rights. I am his decision maker. All his basic stuff like his medical card and paperwork were transferred over to me. I was nervous thinking maybe I am doing too much. But he has made it easier. He’s a typical boy. I gave him my old phone to play games on after he’s done his homework and he has to read to me. He asks me all the time, “Why do you want me to read so much?” I say, “Because I want you to be the president of the United States. You have to be very smart.” And he said, “I think I want to be a Judge.” So, I said, “Okay, you can be a Supreme Court Judge. You can be a Judge forever, until you die.”
I’m going to ask you something delicate you don’t have to answer. Okay?
You were in prison for so long - during your childbearing years. Does having Jaiden bring out mothering instincts, like a natural wisdom you have about what to do?
When I was incarcerated having a child was something I dreamed about - something I wanted so bad. I talked about it. I said I want a daughter first and her name will be Mercy. That’s how my new dog got that name. Mercy was going to be my daughter’s name… I always had it in me to be a mother. I even took parenting classes in prison hoping one day I would have a child. It was in a faith-based class called Growing Kids God’s Way. I was deep into it. Very involved. They’d ask do you have kids? “No!” I turned my attention to other young girls who were coming into the facility. Fourteen-year-olds in there. I took them under my wings to love and protect and care for them.
Were you in your thirties then?
Were these girls part of the general prison population?
Yes. They were charged as adults. I was very young when I got locked up and I went through so many things. I got taken up under people’s wings. The older women who cared for me left an impression. I vowed to do so myself.
What did they do? I remember you told me that inmates can’t touch each other. Right?
Right. You cannot under any circumstances. But… if an inmate gets bad news, the staff know which inmates will talk with them and offer genuine comfort - nothing weird. They knew me, so for me, hugging another inmate was okay.
What are things you and these girls need?
Personally, I needed a mother - the basic feeling of being genuinely loved and mothered. I was so lonely, missing holidays, missing my siblings. I needed guidance. Advice like - don’t hang out with those girls. And to be talked to and encouraged daily to keep me motivated. I mean who is going to do that every day for these young girls in prison? Who is thinking of that? I tried to turn a bad situation more positive. I tried to walk as an example. I steered other young ladies like me. They knew I had also come in so young. I said, “Don’t ever give up and know one day you will get out of here. If I can do it, you can do it.”
Creating a family in prison - like you adopting Mrs. Curry. Is that common?
Yes. I will pass my precious Scrabble Board to my nephew, my boy. He can keep it forever. So yes, we created family with each other in prison, especially for those with really long sentences like thirty years to the door.
Are people different about wanting this?
People with a short sentence say I don’t need a prison mom. I don’t want a prison sister.
Faye rearranges Mercy asleep on the floor.
I tell you… Mercy sleeps so rough. I don’t get much sleep. Maybe three hours. I cook, clean, do all the laundry. My mom can’t go in the basement. Jaiden is great help too. The man of the house. He sits beside me on a stool while I’m cooking. I’m teaching him how. And he takes out the trash. A great help. He wanted me to teach him how to clean the shower! So now I encourage and motivate him.
What do you imagine would have happened to Jaiden if you hadn’t been around? Or with your mom and stepdad?
I think about that a lot. What if I wasn’t home now to do this? I could have sat in prison another four or five years waiting forever for the US Supreme Court to decide on my fate. Who would be caring for my family? Jaiden could’ve ended up lost in the system himself - foster care. I tell him I love him all the time. He is so smart. I’m implanting a positive spirit in him. He can be anything!
What do you observe, if anything, in Jaiden as a consequence of his moving away from his mother?
They talk and Face Time every day. He doesn’t ask me when am I going home? He says, “I love it up here. The teachers here aren’t mean to me.” He’s up on it!
What are the developments in your exoneration case?
All the information, and letters like from the owner here and my supervisor have been submitted to the Parole Board in Arkansas. Then it goes to the Governor. I think he has four months to decide. I believe Governor Hutchinson will exonerate me. How could he not? All the evidence is there. My packet submitted to the board. Wow! Just to think I won’t have this on my record anymore. I can move up in my job. Right now, I can’t with a felony on my record. I can’t be a sales assistant because their insurance won’t cover me. When I am exonerated, my attorney will file suit for compensation. Missouri has great compensation laws, but Arkansas has no formula for it. No precedent. I don’t think anyone in Arkansas has received compensation. I mean maybe I won’t have to work. I want to be able to be free to go anywhere. I still don’t have that total comfort. I don’t want to rent a home; I want a real home with a mortgage. I want to be able to hang stuff on the wall without worrying about some tiny hole. I want to live free from worrying about a tiny nail in a rental house wall!
I hold myself back because freedom is not complete. I will feel complete and comfortable to travel the world.
I think about had I not got locked up… I mean, what would I be? You know, What? What?
Are you thinking more and more about this?
Yeah! I would have had a proper education. I’d understand tech. What would I be? I have these thoughts because I lack in so many things - experience and understanding. People get so frustrated with me because of all my questions. They’re thinking - why don’t I know this? And even with Jaiden going into his school and filling out the paperwork for his shots and teeth cleaning is a struggle. But I did it all by myself. I don’t tell people about my past. They wouldn’t be receptive of my situation. Everyone has their own opinion. I want to protect myself and also not make other people uncomfortable.
Sometimes you’re caught by not revealing the things you don’t know how to do.
Here at my job everybody rushes in to help me because they know about my history. I am so grateful for them.
You will make up for lots of things. Go to college if you choose. Of anyone I know, you can do it.
Yes. My determination.
You take such good care of everybody else. How is your health?
I have my own Primary Care Physician now. She has helped me with vertigo. She knows my history. I saw her yesterday. She hugged me. “I am so glad you are my patient.” She is doing labs and checking everything.
Do you ever take an opportunity to kick back and relax, recharge?
(Laughs) I don’t think I do. What is that? If the opportunity came, it would freak me out. I am on the go all the time. You know if I had someone waiting on me, I’d say, “Why don’t you help somebody else?” Having things done for me sounds good but, you know, I need to do this for myself. I truly look forward to making dinner and washing. It’s a sense of ability to do things I’ve never been able to do. I’ve been so restricted for so long. What will I fix for my babies today? My mom and dad are like my kids. I love it. I love it. Even if it wears me out. Such a pleasure. I’m like Meagan Markle – who married Harry. She just couldn’t get into having to make appointments just to talk to people in the family and having everything done for her. Now she’s free! She’s excited living in Canada. She still has bodyguards but she’s free to get in the car and drive herself.