“How should we like it were stars to burn
with a passion for us we couldn’t return?
If equal affection cannot be,
let the more loving one be me.”
- W.H. Auden
It’s noon. Faye’s lunch hour. It’s been about two months since our last conversation. She now works full time as a receptionist at a big car dealership in Kansas City. I arrive a bit early and watch her man the phones at her huge circular desk in the show room--skilled and confident. We are surrounded by shiny monster pickup trucks and SUV’s. I bring her lunch from Jimmy John’s. Her supervisor leads us up the back stairs to a small, unoccupied office for our conversation. Faye carries her tiny therapy dog, Bella, who sleeps all day under her desk. She settles Bella on the floor. I notice Faye’s elaborate, sweeping hairdo and makeup. I’m particularly impressed by her perfectly arched eyebrows. Her appearance reads... I like my new job.
I have questions but mostly I’m here to listen… let her tell whatever she wants or needs to say.
I comment on her new job in this sparkling place.
(Faye smiles and sweeps her hands.) Right! I know that if I can find a job, anybody can. My record says felony and not just felony - but murder! This is my fourth employment. First was Guitar Center, which is a factory. I worked the twelve-hour overnight shift. I stood the whole time and after two weeks I said that’s it! I can’t do it. My second was housekeeping at Marriott. Seven days a week they slaved me over twelve-hour shifts. My supervisor was not to be trusted--taking my tips. It reminded me of prison - working all the time. The third was Big Mama’s Bakery where they were super nice but it wasn’t nearly enough money to live. But now I’m here! Much better hours with better benefits. But I’d still like another part-time job… maybe Door Dash or Uber.
How’d you get this job?
Through a temp agency. They don’t usually allow felons but I worked around it. I learned how at Journey House. What I really need is to be completely pardoned. Totally exonerated. Off the record. It’s still in process but the Midwest Innocence Project is optimistic.
In other words - LaQuanda Faye Jacobs is not, and never was, a felon.
Do you still have good people supporting you and your future?
Yes. I have a monthly meeting with my caseworker at Journey to New Life and my attorneys and I have a GoFundMe page so I can buy a better car. My expenses are $1000.00 a month. My parents live with me now.
So, you drove down to Texas by yourself and brought your parents here?
About a month ago. It was a struggle. But you know how you can get determined to do something. I was determined to get them here. I rented a car for that. They are seventy-seven years old. My mom has medical issues. I wasn’t aware of all the care they’d need, like having to help my mom bathe. I am going to look into home health care or in-home care. I applied for Medicaid this morning.
So, I see you are now bringing Bella to work.
Yep. Everybody here loves Bella.
Now for some questions. Okay?
How would you begin to describe the massive contrasts you’ve experienced in life out here after twenty-six years locked in a cement box? I’m thinking even of the different sounds - constant prison alarms and announcements, the smells, the food. Whatever you might think of…
Yeah. Well, me living out here is as different as night and day. After the rigid structure that I was accustomed to, it’s been a major struggle. For example, I didn’t even realize that I have issues after being confined for so long. To be free is a massive adjustment. Nobody in prison helps prepare you for this. Like the PTSD. I didn’t even know I had that. I thought I was fine. But no. It’s like I said - it is so, so different. Truly a daily struggle.
How did they determine that you have PTSD?
The day I went for my mental health evaluation at Truman Medical Center I was very emotional sharing my story and explaining the adjustments, you know. That struck them. Putting two and two together brought the diagnosis.
Does the adjustment include feelings of panic and paranoia… maybe somebody watching you?
Yes. I have bad anxiety attacks. I don’t like to be alone. I’ve always been crowded in with people. I was so anxious to get out of prison. I mean I thought I hate this place I cannot wait to get out. But…
What did you hate in that place?
I witnessed how officers treated inmates, abused them mentally and emotionally. Why are the CO’s (corrections officers) doing this?
Like calling someone out for nothing. For example, we had to walk down this line in the hall - left side, right side. If you step over the line the staff says get back over the line and someone would say I am on the line so they’d snatch them up and put them in the hole - solitary confinement. I hated that.
If someone gets put in the hole what’s the minimum time in there?
I think the minimum is seven days.
Were you ever in solitary?
Talking back. I didn’t think it was attitude but the staff called it that and the staff is always right. They say you can “catch these cuffs” and I said what did I do to get locked up and the officer said, “You think you’re smart. You think you better than everybody. Better than staff.” They thought I was sarcastic. You can go in on just an investigation - say someone accuses you of stealing their stuff or planning to escape or something so you get put in hole for sixty days. Just an accusation takes forever to investigate. I know one girl who was in the hole for five years. She stabbed another inmate.
Are the cells on the mental health ward similar to the hole?
Yes, same kind of cells. In fact, they used to be right together, but they changed that because the Department of Justice said you can’t have them right together.
Could you say some more about the differences inside and outside prison?
Getting out was everything that I wanted but I didn’t expect this. If police come around, I panic. It scares me. Freaks me out. If I am at a store and a policeman says “Ma’am” I panic. I get really scared. I think it is because the police locked me up. It triggers something in me. I want no encounter because they might falsely accuse me again. I’ll get swept up again.
How is it with regular people?
I am very leery of people.
How would you decide if someone seems trustworthy?
What has helped me is… well, the lady who brought us to this interview office is my supervisor here. She and I talk a lot. She reminds me I am not in prison anymore. (Smiles.) I am accustomed to my saying yes, ma’am and no, ma’am. But here they think I am treating them like old people!
Why do you think your supervisor hired you here?
I am genuine and authentic. Open and straightforward.
You told me that you want to treat people like you were treated - but look how you were treated! How do you manage feelings of bitterness and anger?
Bitter? I adopted an attitude against being bitter. It is my faith. I tell people God favors me. I am one of God’s favorites. Everything has a purpose and a reason. I talk to Him and ask why am I not angry? Why am I not bitter?
What do you think it would do to you if you thought that way?
It would ruin me. I see people who are released and are so bitter. Many who weren’t even in prison as long as I was. I don’t understand it. It grieves me that they are so horribly angry. You must let things go. You can’t hold onto that.
What’s a vision you have for yourself a year from now?
I hope I will not be paranoid and afraid to be totally alone. I want freedom from those feelings.
It’s interesting because to see you sitting here at your desk all efficient and talking to people, someone might not realize what’s going on inside you.
How do you do that?
I think it’s that higher power on the inside. Also, I am very observant, like when I am sitting here on the job and someone comes in wearing a hoodie and dark shades, I kinda clench.
What is your reaction?
Well, I got it at the bank. The bank has a sign that you can’t come in here with hoodies and dark shades. Huh? It stood out to me. I asked the bank lady why. She said those are indicators somebody was gonna do something in the bank. She planted that seed in me. Oh, God. I hope no one is going to harm us. My mind leaps ahead. I am learning things all over…. and I don’t really know…. Unless somebody has heard my story, they don’t know I’ve been in prison. They naturally expect me to know things that I completely don’t know.
What are some other things like that?
Like so when I started here, HR said I had to go online for my check stub. What’s online? I don’t have a computer. I need help setting it up. I need a laptop. Technical skills.
When you were in prison was the outside world pretty much closed off to you? Innovations? Technology? World events?
Yes. Totally. It wasn’t that way with every inmate but it was with me because I had Life Without Parole. Lifers and death penalty aren’t allowed opportunities to take courses in prison or get college credits. You can do it through correspondence courses, but you can’t get access in prison. I was stripped of so many opportunities to learn. They didn’t think I would ever be out in society, so why teach me anything? Let’s not waste our time. I was refused a lot of things, but I did get a GED.
But you could not take any of the other vocational classes? Nothing to prepare you for the outside world?
I did take cosmetology. It was a voc-tech class. The prison wanted to get some grant money, so twelve lifers were allowed to take a one-time course in 2000. I applied and got it. I was keen on doing hair.
Did the staff and your fellow inmates know all this time that you were innocent?
Yeah. When you first arrive during the intake, they ask you to tell your part of the crime. From the jump I said, “I am innocent. I do not know anything about it.” They typed that down. You tell staff and officers and they say, ”Everybody says that”. Some inmates who befriended me knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was innocent.
How did you get connected to the Midwest Innocence Project? How did it change attitudes towards you in prison?
I want to say first off, that people still believed that I was guilty. Staff had their talk - everybody’s guilty. It’s their mindset. I had filed an application with the Arkansas University Innocence Project in Fayetteville.
How did you know to apply at all?
The library in prison has a bunch of Innocence Project applications, so I wrote to every last one of them. Fifty-two in all. Literally. All across the country and I would get back that I am on the waiting list. I am probably still on some waiting lists. They don’t know I’m out. Arkansas accepted me and started the process, but after two years they did not have the funds to continue. They mentioned Midwest Innocence Project so I got an application - just a small one page. Then they sent me another application - a hundred pages! I thought oh, my God. But when you are innocent and determined it doesn’t matter. I filled it out. On the very front it says - if you are guilty in any way. If you had any part in it, don’t waste our time or your time. It took me a week. In another week I heard back that I was accepted. I mean… accepted? Accepted! A month later they visited me. Private investigators started coming down. People at prison asked me, “Faye, what’s going on?” I said, “Midwest Innocence Project has got my case.”
Do you mean they literally came here and…
Yes, they were just like you and me talking, but it was in the prison visitation gallery. They had papers and recordings. They asked about the night of the crime - where I was at, what I was doing. After that they interviewed my family, went to my neighborhood, the school I attended. They were thorough private investigators.
No. They used private investigators.
I heard you had had an interface with the person who had committed the crime you were accused of. Is that true?
Yes. Actually, before I ever went to prison her and I were in the same jail together where I was being held before going to prison. We both went to prison on the same day but she went in for a different crime.
But she was the one who had actually killed this person you were supposedly guilty of murdering?
How did you know this?
I found out later. My attorney and the private investigators showed me a packet of information and asked me - do you recognize this girl? I said yes, we were in jail together. They call her Blimp! She’s a gang leader. They said, we know 100% that she is the person who committed the murder. I was in total shock. She had actually befriended me in jail!
So, she let you sit in there with her knowing that she was the guilty one. That she had done it. Where is she now?
Little Rock somewhere.
Do you know the crime she was accused of?
Selling drugs. She was a big dealer.
So, you were put in jail and she was put in the same jail and you are accused of murder and she is in there on a drug-selling charge and she knew she had committed the crime of killing this young man in the car that you were accused of killing. But it wasn’t until later that the MIP brought this to your attention. They were 100% sure it was her? Is Blimp still in prison in Little Rock for her drug crimes?
No, when I say in prison I mean in her own mind. Not physically in prison. She only had a three-year sentence and she did like 6 months on it and went home!
She never confessed to the murder.
Right. She is in prison for life in her mind. I could never wake up knowing I had done this. Someone sitting in prison in my place. How could you let your conscience do that? I couldn’t live with myself. I can see her face. And you know I pray for her now that God would turn her heart and make her come forth and confess. But I don’t think Arkansas would even take it now. That system is so horrible. So bad. All they want is - “case closed.”
(Faye’s phone alarm goes off. Her lunch and our conversation are over.)
So wonderful talking with you today! Thank you.
We can do this again any time you need. Thank you!