I remember driving down the road a few years ago and thinking, after a tough day at least I'll never be in prison for murder. Because, in comparison, nothing I was going through at the time could be worse than that. I suppose being in prison was the worst possible scenario I could think of.
Before this place I was a stay-at-home mom and Air Force wife. My biggest concern was whether we would go to The Olive Garden or Texas Roadhouse for dinner. I was on the PTA and couldn't have been prouder of my kids and the fact that I was their mom. I had everything I'd ever dreamed of having.
Prison was hardest in the beginning, but somewhere along the way I stopped noticing the fence that keeps me in, the uniform clothing we all try so desperately to impart our own style upon (we go so far as to paint our favorite things on our socks, bras, and panties), the less than amazing food, the timed water allotment for showers or washing your hands, the locked doors, the lack of light switches, a set bed time, and the constant counting of our bodies. The things I once hated about this place seem like normal everyday occurrences to me.
The hardest part isn’t being locked up. It's what you're missing while you're here that pulls at every one of your heart strings. Baseball games, dance recitals, zoo trips, Christmas squadron parties, family filled holidays, food, affection, and every other thing we so easily took for granted.
When exactly does prison break you? Is it when you're stripped naked in front of the officers? Or when you squat and cough, blowing every ounce of your dignity out with your breath? Is it when an officer talks to you like you are nothing? Or is it when your friends and family finally just give in to their guilt and give up on you? After all, it isn't their fault you're here, they didn't put you here. Whatever the reason, it happens.
Despite being warned not to, I have lost myself in here. I lost my sympathy and empathy. I lost my trust, hope, faith, and genuine love for others. I lost my kindness and willingness to help out a neighbor. I've replaced these characteristics with resentment, anger, bitterness, and skepticism. I don't trust anyone, and I think everyone is a liar. The once social Kyla has turned into someone who is happiest when not being bothered.
This place is fueled by drama. Gossip. Secrets. Lies. Hustles. Drugs. And sex. It's like being forced to live in a college dorm with 1190 women you don't like and a rotating 10 that you do. Only you don't always leave with a degree. Some don't leave at all.
The best piece of advice I've been offered since being here is, "These people are not your friends, Kyla." And, sadly, that is true. I've been used for money, and taken advantage of because of my once overeager desire to help. I've been made fun of, called out multiple times because of my crime, and the worst part was I let it happen. Because I despise confrontation and public scenes, I tend to let things go and that makes me look weak. Because of my overactive tear ducts, I seem like a cry baby. But I'm neither of these things. I cry, we all cry. But I cry for reasons that I hold dear to my heart. Most of the time you won't find tears coming from these eyes unless it has to do with my children.
Before this place I had everything I wanted. Within this place I found things I never knew I needed. Nothing will ever take the place of my children, nothing will ever stop me from crying over the years I'm missing with them, but I try to make the most of it. Despite being in prison this is still my life and we only get one shot at it. I want my shot to count for something and when I'm 90 years old I know I'll be able to look back and be proud of who I was before this place and who I'll be after.
Kyla Ziegenhagen #1655594
P.O. Box 1000
Troy, VA. 22974
My name is Kyla Ziegenhagen and I have been incarcerated since 2014. I'm currently taking college courses through PVCC to earn my associate degree, paralegal correspondence courses through Blackstone University, and I work full time as a muralist. When I'm not painting murals, I spend a lot of time drawing, writing, and reading. My latest release date is in 2027 and when I leave this place, I'd like to get a job as a paralegal and do volunteer work in a women's prison. I want to make a difference in at least one person’s life.