Family by Proxy - Love, Marriage and Family in Women's Prison

Life in prison for women can be just as violent and deadly a place as it is for men. Women with life sentences know that prison is their home for the rest of their lives. Others will come and go, but they will remain. With this knowledge and ultimate acceptance, comes the need to nest, adjust, acclimate, and make the best of what is now their forever home. While male lifers go through the same process, women do it in an entirely domestic way. Males tend to become more isolated as years go by. Women do the opposite. They form families by proxy and each member fulfills a vital, and oddly colloquial, role within the family unit.

Women who have a life sentence to serve start out like everyone else. It is after the years accumulate that she begins to take a place of honor among other long-term inmates and the newbies quickly learn she is the one to respect. Some women take on this role with a firm hand and hard line. Others are more soft and motherly, keeping to themselves and imparting their wisdom when called upon. Which route they take depends solely on their personality. These lifers with time in, are the most schooled on prison life and so they take on the role of mother or father in a prison family, depending upon their sexual orientation. The mother/father will often choose a mate and the couple will live together in prison as if they were a married couple in the free world. 

These families by proxy are pieced together in every way an actual family can occur. Sister, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins. The roles they take on in the family they join determines the responsibilities they are accountable for. Household chores, shopping and errands usually fall to a sister. They clean cells and take care of the parents but also help bring in money and necessities. Parents bring in the largest part of the money, largely through running businesses of some sort or even through less wholesome means like theft or intimidation.

Income in prison is surprisingly like any other type of society. Inmates can hold jobs for the prison, such as laundry, library and cafeteria, for menial pay; a few cents a day, but the majority of their income often comes from their own family hustle. Seth Ferranti, inmate turned bestselling author of the true crime Street Legends series, explains it this way;  

“In prison there’s a barter system and prisoners use stamps, mackerels, or cigs to trade for whatever. Some people smuggle food out of the kitchen, sell exclusive pens or white-out or tape, some do braids or tattoos, or even have stores in the unit, cleaning services, food they made for sale. The hustles are endless.”

Seth built a writing career after landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list. While serving an LSD kingpin conviction, he earned a Masters degree from California State University. His raw portrayals of the New York crack era gangsters gained the attention of Don Diva and VICE, who he began writing for from behind bars. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher with books like Street Legends and Supreme Team

The services themselves are even used as a form of barter. Prisoners trade their own services to work off drug debts or trade for sex. Fallon Tallent, a Tennessee woman serving two life sentences for the murder of two policemen she hit with her car, has seen every business venture possible in the 14 years she’s already spent behind bars.

 “Women get creative when push comes to shove. I’ve seen people charge for everything from calligraphy and origami to personal training and maid services, all to bring money home to their family.

Just as in life outside, some of these families are of the rough and tumble variety and just as in the male prisons, violence is prevalent. Some families make their money selling drugs. Enforcements, retribution, and punishments for non-payment are doled out severely.

These make-shift families are just as real as any blood-tied family outside the prison walls and taken just as seriously. They often last for the entire duration of an inmate’s sentence. It is possible to find a family and stay with it for years.  It is a way to survive in a world as alien as Mars to many inmates.

In a very unexpected way, it also serves to rehabilitate the inmate. Living in a family of any sort that functions well is a lesson in personal survival. It may not be the most academically sound of programs, but sometimes it is the only option available for rehabilitation on the inside. 


Jennifer Morrissey Called Her Victim to Say She was on the Way to Kill Him

A 64-year-old man found shot to death in his home on the Delaware River last month was killed by a woman who'd lived there and manipulated the crime scene to make it look like a robbery, the Bucks County District Attorney alleged Friday.

Jennifer Lynn Morrissey, 33, is charged with criminal homicide, burglary, a gun charge and tampering evidence in the death of Michael McNew, a pharmaceutical manager.

Authorities found McNew dead in a chair in his River Road home Aug. 8, shot in the face, and a bullet casing on the floor nearby, the office said. He'd been killed two days prior and one of his registered guns was missing.

In a statement about the arrest, and court documents, the district attorney's office said they built a case against Morrissey through her cell phone and four confidential informants.

Morrissey and McNew had a prior relationship, but he'd ordered her to move out of his house.

A search of Morrissey's iPhone found user-deleted text messages that showed the two argued on the evening of Aug. 6, hours after McNew's family member last saw him.

McNew texted that he was boxing up her belongings putting them into storage for her to pick up. "McNew further texted that Morrissey was not welcome at the home and that he would defend himself if she came into his home," a probable cause affidavit says.

McNew had two registered firearms in his home, the office said.

Morrissey responded threateningly, typing, "get the gun ready cause I'm coming, I already told you that I'll be there tonight ... guess you're just gonna have to shoot me," the office's statement said.

She also texted: "I'm gonna stab ya" and "I'll gut you like I'm field dressing a [expletive] deer."

When first interviewed by police, Morrissey tearfully blamed her current boyfriend, and said she hadn't been to McNew's house since July 31, and had not resided there for several months, the district attorney said.

Cell phone records, though, told another story, the office said.

Morrissey's phone connected to cell towers near McNew's home between 9:34 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. on Aug. 6, and it auto-connected to a wireless router inside McNew's house at 9:37 p.m. that night.

Police did not find McNew's cell phone, but through cell phone records were able to show it was stationary in his house from 9 p.m. on Aug. 6 to about 1 a.m. on Aug. 7 - when it began moving away from his home.

It last connected to a cell network at 1:34 a.m. Aug. 7 near Yardley Borough ND close to the Delaware River.

Detectives spoke with four informants, the statement said.
One told investigators about an argument between Morrissey and McNew in which McNew threatened to go to the FBI about Morrissey's boyfriend.
Another two said Morrissey told them she'd gone to McNew's home to confront him, wrested away a gun he held and accidentally shot him. Those two said she went back to the home to stage a robbery scene.
And the fourth said Morrissey was concerned about a burglary she had committed and was worried that her phone and smart watch might put her at the crime scene.
Morrissey was denied bail during a court hearing Friday and sent to the Bucks County jail.
McNew graduated from high school in Maryland, graduated from West Virginia University and worked in the pharmaceutical field, including positions at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Solvay Pharmaceuticals and recently at AbbVie.
He is survived by a grown daughter and son, and two grandchildren, his obituary said.
Kevin Shea may be reached at kshea@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter@kevintshea. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


Sabrina Limon's Love Triangle

My dad was often involved in illegal activities and as a result we moved a lot during my childhood. Only once or twice were my brother and I ever at the same school for two consecutive years. One year in the late 70's, we lived in Portage, Indiana in a duplex. Our connecting neighbors changed several times in the year or so we lived there. The ones who stayed the longest were a couple, Zina and Dave. They buddied up with my parents and spent long nights drinking and playing cards. I remember Zina the clearest because Id never heard that name before and she had a huge dark gold Afro, bronze skin, and a loud laugh.

A few months into the friendship, I noticed things had cooled off a bit. No more card games late at night or bottle rockets in the yard. My dad was a notorious abuser and one night I awoke to him throwing my mom around the room. He was accusing her of being an accomplice to Zina, who had apparently been caught in a set-up trying to find a hit man to kill her husband. My mom knew nothing of it but it was the talk of the town for a few days, both my mom's beating and Zina's murder shopping. 

Robert & Sabrina Limon
Sabrina Limon has found herself in the same position except her husband is dead. She and her husband Robert decided to become swingers. It wasn't long before the marriage began to deteriorate and Sabrina found herself a boyfriend 10 years younger, Jonathon Hearn. The two decided it was inevitable that Robert had to die for their relationship to continue, or so he said in court.
Jonathan & Sabrina

Its been three years since Robert was found shot to death and Hearn has plead guilty to shooting him but says Sabrina was just as complicit. She was found guilty of murder, conspiracy to commit murder and accessory to murder but says she only cheated on her husband and didn't know anything about a murder despite mounds of evidence against her. 

Sabrina put me in mind of Zina and I wonder what happened to her. I had forgotten about her and how fun and lively she always was. All the while plotting murder in her heart. 

Alyssa Bustamante Update