“"Smartest Girl in the Jail" - Interview with Stephanie Hohn”

📷Amanda Peterson

Free from jail at 16, Stephanie faces a corrupt system and overcomes an inept foster parent. Stephanie calls her story “The Smartest Girl in the Jail”. Stephanie told her story live on stage at The Top Hat Lounge in Missoula, MT back in October of 2012. The theme that night was “Forgiveness”.

📷Amanda Peterson

 

We also talk about her band, her podcasts, and how things in the system don’t seem to have changed much since she was 16.

Stephanie Hohn, raised by wolves, is an activist, artist, and traveler. 

I caught up with Stephanie in July of 2020.

Transcript : "Smartest Girl in the Jail" - Interview with Stephanie Hohn

Marc Moss: Welcome to the Tell Us Something podcast, I’m Marc Moss.

This week on the podcast, I sit down with Stepahnie Hohn to talk about her story “The Smartest Girl in Jail”, which she told live onstage at The Top Hat Lounge in Missoula, MT back in October of 2012.

Stephanie: I’ve just had unusual experiences or, you know, bad experiences that people would like to pretend aren’t something happening in their community.

So I kind of wanted to tell that just to be like, Hey, just so you know, like, this is, this is what’s happening, you know, here that’s, this is what it’s like for people.

Marc: The theme that night was “Forgiveness”.

We also talk about her band, her podcasts, and about how things in the system don’t seem to have changed much since she was 16.

Thank you for joining me as I take you behind the scenes at Tell Us Something — to meet the storytellers behind the stories. In each episode, I sit down with a Tell Us Something storyteller alumni. We chat about what they’ve been up to lately and about their experience sharing their story live on stage. Sometimes we get extra details about their story, and we always get to know them a little better.

Before we get to Stepanie’s story and our subsequent conversation…

We will be in-person for the first time since August 2021. We are running at 75% capacity, which allows for listeners to really spread out at The Wilma. Learn more and get your tickets at logjampresents.com

Stephanie Hohn shared her story in front of a live audience at the Top Hat Lounge in Missoula, MT on October 9th, 2012 at the Top Hat Lounge in Missoula, MT. The theme was “Forgiveness”.

Free from jail at 16, Stephanie faces a corrupt system and overcomes an inept foster parent. Stephanie calls her story “The Smartest Girl in the Jail”. Thanks for listening.

Stephanie Hohn: So, um, I got out of prison when I was 16 and I’m here to go to college. I finished two years of high school in six months because I was the smartest girl who’d ever been at that prison, which is possibly not a compliment. Um, but it’s something that the program director told me when I left. And I got out of a van with no handles on the inside.

The good food store parking lot. So I could meet my foster mom and we could have small talk for an hour and then go to my parole meeting and pretend like we met before, which worked well. I got to sit there at a table with five adults that I’d never met before, telling me all of the ways that I could go back to jail.

Most of them seem to include Maureen, not liking me or me not being able to find a job. And I came out with $5 and the clothes that I was. And I think I also maybe had chapstick, um, cause that’s what I had when I had gotten arrested and that’s what I had. And when I moved here, so worrying took me to Ross or something to pick out some clothing so that I could have something professional to wear, to try to get a job and begin paying my way as soon as possible.

Cause she didn’t want to do it. Uh, and I was sitting in the dressing room, looking at my. And I could see like, so clearly what a big hole I was in, because I didn’t know how to do any of those things. I didn’t know how to tell them what they wanted here or how to get a job, or I don’t know how to make people like me.

So I stayed in there and I cried for as long as I thought I could get away with. And then I went back out there, but eventually I, I did manage to get a job. Start going to college and all of those things. But the main problem was Maureen, because she was very unstable. Um, she’d picked me up from work. A lot of the times really smashed, tell me a bunch of strange stories and then try to take me to bars and not understand why I didn’t want to go with her and be like, no, come in don’t you want a beer?

No. Um, I’m 16 and on parole Marine, I don’t go in the bar with you. Um, and then she would cheat at pool, which is not necessary when you’re playing pool with me because I’m horrible at pool and she would still lose. And then she would try to get me to drive her car home, and I still don’t know how to drive.

And then we would go home and she would spend the entire next day in bed crying until I had to call her sister to come and take care. So it was trying to talk to my parole officer about this. And I got halfway into the story and he stops me and he looks at me and he says, Maureen is more important to us as a foster parent than you are as a kid in our program.

And if there are any problems with her and you cannot live there anymore, I’m not going to find you another placement. You can just go back. So I took that to me in, Hey, Stephanie, shut the fuck up. So I did, um, and I didn’t tell them anything else about her and it seemed like things were going okay. Um, she decided that she was going to go to AA because every time that she freaked out, it seemed like she was drinking.

So she was like, oh, maybe there’s some connection between this. Um, But when I, we were supposed to go to a movie together and she decided that she didn’t want to go or that she wanted to go out drinking with a friend from out of town. Um, she’s like, you know, I’ll pick you up after movie, just call me. Oh, good.

So you’ll be drunk then and driving you. That’s awesome. Uh, but I called her after the movie and she comes and picks me up completely smash and grabs me by the arm. Like for emphasis of shock, Stephan, Stephan, I fell in love tonight. Um, and first they used to tell me about some girl that she met at the bar that she’s going to go back and steal away from her boyfriend.

Um, no previous lesbian tendencies there, but you know, whatever. Uh, the only problem is I have to work at eight o’clock in the morning, the next day. And my work is all the way across town. So I’m a little worried. It’s like, we’re gonna, are you gonna be okay to drive me home tomorrow? Cause it’s it’s two right now.

Be to work at eight. She’s like, no, no, no, it’ll be fine. It’ll be fine. Cause there’s another lady in the sheets. Me congratulate me. She actually did the finger guns. So not, I didn’t have that. I was like, oh God, you not want to see that at all. So I wake her up the next morning they got alone and she takes me to work and it seems like it’s fine.

I mean, she’s a little drunk still, but it’s like Sunday morning. There’s no other car. She asked me what she should bring me when I’m going to get off work. So I was doing a double shift. I had to go to the other store. It was like, coffee should bring me coffee. She was like, okay, let me bring you coffee.

It seems fine. I get about halfway through my shift and I get this phone call. Um, and it’s Marine just speaking really fast. And it sounds like she’s like outside or something like the phones all crackling. And she just starts like speaking all in a rush. It’s like Stephanie, Stephanie said. I have to go see my mom.

If she go see my mom right now, I was like, like, like now, now she’s like, I don’t know. I’m on the way to the airport. I’ll call you back. Click, like looking at the phone. I’m like, yeah, I’m going to jail. I am going to jail. I’m going to fail college and get fired and I’m going to go to jail. Um, so I look at the phone for like, you know, a couple of seconds decide there’s not really anything I can do about it, but it back and go back to work.

Um, I get about halfway through. And Maureen’s boss and her best friend, Jocelyn calls me and she’s like, Hey, it’s Ryan picking you up today? It’s like, I don’t think so. She’s like, yeah, me neither because her mom just called me from Indiana. And she says that she’s there. And, um, I don’t know where her car is also the dog.

Um, so yeah. What do you want to do about that? I was like, oh, well, if you could just give me a ride to work, that would be cool. Uh, so that happens. And so about a month ago I was walking down the street and I’ve run into her and we made eye contact and then couldn’t take it back. So we had to talk to each other and she, she seemed eager in a strange way to sit down and have coffee with me.

It didn’t seem like it was coming from her. So I kind of got the impression that she was on the ninth step, but, um, I sit down and I have some coffee with her and it’s about like, I thought she starts telling me about how every night in her room, she was drinking by herself and she never mentioned it to anybody.

You know, she’d had like a history of mental problems. I was like, I’m shocked. Um, but. She she’s asking me if I could forgive her, but even as she’s saying it, she’s almost taking it back. Cause she’s like, oh, I feel like I wasn’t a very good big sister to you. I’m like, oh, I like how you’re minimizing your responsibility in this situation, even as your attempt to take some sort of responsibility.

Um,

so I mean, she seemed, she seemed to need it. So, so I gave her my forgiveness, but I don’t think that it meant anything. Um, So what actually happened was, uh, she didn’t ruin my life. She actually ruined hers because a Marine was a social worker here in town and she could no longer get a job after that here.

So she had to move in with her parents and spend five years going to nursing school, which I thought was a poor career choice for somebody like her, because. Um, people die in hospitals and I don’t know how well that would work for her, but regardless, that was her, her decision. Um, after that I was kind of my parole.

Officer’s like golden girl. He got like copies of my sat scores and my college transcripts and like put them on his wall. Like there was some child’s crayon drawings or something. And we tell everyone about what a success I was is if he had been some kind of assistance to me instead of a constant hindrance, uh, I got to sit down at those meetings with the five people that I didn’t know and be asked like, well, why didn’t you tell us, why didn’t you tell us that she was so unsealed?

I did. I told you, you told me not to tell you anything else. So I didn’t, um, and I think maybe guilt was his motivating factor for trying to be nice to me after. Uh, I ran into him a while ago and he said that he mentions my story in the talks that he gives about being a parole officer as if, you know, he played some role.

Uh, something interesting that Maureen did tell me was that I’m apparently the only person who went through that program, who didn’t go back to jail, which they recognized as not a flaw in their program. But as the rest of them being worthless criminals, and I’m the only redeemable one. But I think that when you’re constantly told that you are the disposable factor in a situation that you become, that if you’re not a stronger willed person or the smartest girl in the jail.

So, you know, I guess, I guess that’s the whole.

Marc: Stephanie Hohn, raised by wolves, is an activist, artist and traveler.

I caught up with Stephanie in July of 2020.

A quick warning for sensitive listeners, towards the end of our conversation, Stephanie describes assault with frank language.

Marc: Are you practicing via zoom with your band?

Stephanie: So my band all works at our shop aside from our singer, who is the sister of one of our band Pampers. And so we’ve been meeting in person because we already are around each other all day at work. Anyway, it’s like at that point we’re already pretty exposed.

So we might as well.

Marc: And are you performing?

Stephanie: We did some live streams when quarantine first started to happen for us, like when we were laid off from our jobs, but shelter in place hadn’t been put into effect. And then when shelter in place happened, we all took it pretty seriously. Everybody stayed home, you know, for that amount of time.

And then once, you know, The places that we were working at opened back up again, we were like, well, at this point we might have sold to start practicing it person. We are hoping to record an album this year. We have enough music for it, and we’re kind of ready to go on that front, but it’s just a matter of like that being something we can do.

Cause I don’t really know if people are doing that right now,

Marc: Matt. Oh,

Stephanie: well, that’s good to know.

Marc: I’m pretty sure. Yeah. And he’s, I’ve worked with him before. He’s

Stephanie: yeah, we, um, we’ve been working on some merchant. I’ve made some shirt designs and I’m screen printing those myself and stuff. So we’ve got like a lot of, a lot of things.

But

Marc: do you have your own screen printing setup or do you use?

Stephanie: I have my own right now. Yeah. I have used the Zack in the past and I think if I was going to do something. More complicated or, or trying to do a lot of shirts that I would probably use their setup. But, um, since we’re kind of doing like print to order, I just have a small setup and we’re doing simple designs and we just have three shirt colors, and three ink options.

And I mean, , I feel like, um, what I’ve been doing, it has actually been hand adding second color details myself, just with like a brown.

’cause you can do, you can do wet on wet with like a water-based ink. And so I’ll just do the whole, like, if it’s like a black shirt and I’m putting a white design on it and I wanted like some yellow accents, I’ll just do the whole thing in yellow and then the whole thing in white. And then I’ll go in and add the yellow on top of it by.

And I, I feel like that’s like been a good result, but that’s only for a few things. If I was trying to do a whole bunch, it probably wouldn’t be worth it.

Marc: Right. And it’s fun too.

Stephanie: If you’re just, if you’re just kinda messing around and like having fun.

Yeah, for sure. And because I, I do the t-shirt section at my job now, it’s pretty easy for me to get blank shirts at a lower cost. So it’s not like terribly expensive on our. You know, once you have all the supplies, so hopefully, yeah. Hopefully people are into it. It’s been kind of weird. Cause I haven’t felt like it’s something that I should be promoting right now.

I mean, even like thinking about live streaming or a band practices, it’s like, we know why it’s okay for us to be meeting, but that I feel like that might be hard to communicate as like setting a bad example for other people. You know,

Marc: that makes sense. But, I mean, I’ve seen all of the band members except for the one you mentioned at the shop and you know what I mean?

It makes sense that you’re allowed

Stephanie: to get together. Yeah. I mean yeah, Claris do sister, so they obviously see each other at their house. So it’s not, yeah, there’s, there’s a, there’s a point at which it’s like, I mean, if one of us got COVID at this point, we would all have to quarantine regardless.

Marc: Where can people

Stephanie: listen? I actually have it up on streaming, right? So it’s called the spooky town radio show. And it’s, it’s on like Spotify and apple podcasts and stuff it’s available there.

Marc: So anybody could subscribe to the spooky

Stephanie: town radio show. It’s all people from. Yeah, just voice actors from here in town.

And all the fully sound effects are things that we made ourselves for the most part. So, you know, when you hear like a door shutting or whatever, those are all real sounds that we recorded to

Marc: that’s fun. Do you find yourself watching around when you are out and about recording? I’ve

Stephanie: tried a few things.

Usually there’s like a specific sound effect that I want to use. And I’ll try to like, write a scene around that. Like if I, if I get a really good like door creaking noise or something like that I also recently have come across a. Some like, you know, compilations of different sound effects for like cheesy horror movie things.

So I’ve been using that to add like background music to scenes. But a lot of it, , there’ll be like, like a dun dun duh, on a piano. And like most of the time, like we’ve actually recorded that on the piano or, you know, something like that. Right.

Marc: Yep. I mean, I I’ve started since I’ve started editing audio, I paid attention to sound more and like, Walking across a wooden floor.

That’s like a deck, a wooden deck in your bare feet versus walking across the same floor and a pair of Dansko shoes versus walking upon across the same floor in a pair of combat boots. You know, like the sound is different, even performing the same activity. And I, I think it’s fun to play with. A sense of place

Stephanie: using sound.

Yeah, we haven’t done this as much yet, but we’re hoping later to maybe go to locations and just record a lot of ambient noises to use those like background noise for different scenes, like so that if, if people are in like a convenience store to just go and record some sound in a convenience store or something, and just use that as some, as some like flavor.

But we’ll, we’ll see, like what is available it’s so it’s, it’s a horror comedy podcast. It’s based loosely off of a role-playing game called monster hearts, but

Marc: pretty nerdy

Stephanie: stuff, stuff. Yeah. I’ve been, I’ve been doing a lot of role playing games. Um, I had a D and D group for a little while that was, uh, Doing discord games and everything.

Well, both things were shut down. So we were still calling each other and doing stuff. I recently wrote a little tabletop game where you play as a shop cat.

Marc: Um, uh, are the cats in the game named after the shop? The

Stephanie: shop. As S as illustrative examples. Yeah, it’s, it’s called perfect crimes with the P P U R O

I feel like I I’ve had a little bit more time to explore like those weird little creative projects. I learned how to, sew I’ve been working on that which is something I always was interested in making clothes, but I never, you know, really sat down and like really tried to make myself do it.

Because there’s just, yeah, there’s not like. At least I don’t feel comfortable, you know, going out and doing activities that much for right now. Yeah. I’m trying, I’m trying to minimize the number of like places I’m going and things that I’m doing. And then I just have a few things, like, you know, having band practice, because I feel like.

Those are reasonable, but yeah, I’m, I’m really, I haven’t been to a restaurant. I’m probably not going to one for, you know, the rest of this year.

Marc: Right? Exactly.

Stephanie: I’m really surprised at how people are just, you know, not, not wearing masks. Not really. It seems like they just got sick of taking precautions and or if they ever did it in the first place, you know?

Marc: Right. Well, we’ll see how this winter goes. I think it’s going to be pretty, pretty brutal.

Stephanie: I. At the beginning of the year, I had signed up for a CSA share. And so I just started getting that. But I remember like when we were having, you know, some grocery store shortages and stuff, like thinking about how good it was that I signed up for that, cause it’s just a local farm.

There’s no supply chain issues at all. They’re like, you know, and it was already paid for and they were doing just fine as, you know, a small group of people on their farm. So maybe, you know, considerations like that will make people kind of pivot to more local options.

Marc: You told your story in the first year of telephoning, it was October 9th,

Stephanie: 2012. It’s definitely a long time.

Marc: It’s been a long time and that was the same night. The former owner of the top hat said goodnight and goodbye to essentially her dad. So that’s how long ago it was.

It was before the remodel. It was still a dive bar. What was that experience like for you?

Stephanie: Well I think, I mean, if you’ve listened to it, I think you can tell that I was pretty nervous. I was, you know, I was pretty young also at that time and I just had a lot of like stage, right. I was in college at the time and I guess I still have this experience, but I have it a lot.

Or I had it a lot. Then when I was talking to people my own age, that like everybody’s life experiences were so different from mine, that when I would tell stories about my life, people would legitimately like not believe me, or would think that that sounded like fake and made up. And I, I honestly. I feel like that still does happen because I’ve just had unusual experiences or, you know, bad experiences that people would like to pretend aren’t something happening in their community.

So I kind of wanted to tell that just to be like, Hey, just so you know, like, this is, this is what’s happening, you know, here that’s, this is what it’s like for people.

Marc: Yeah. I mean, I thought that’s was the power of your story. People have. Perception of our town as being liberal and we take care of everybody.

And, but no, I mean, people are expendable in the eyes of the system and you certainly were. I mean, I think that somebody in your, you even said in your story, like somebody told you, like, I’m not going to try to place you in. If Maureen disappears, you’re going right back to jail.

Stephanie: Yeah. Yeah. His name was Brett Gordon and his, his wife was my assigned therapist, so there was no real and I was required to go to therapy.

So it’s like there was no real confidentiality which is one of the things that I think about now when people are wanting to kind of pivot more towards a more social workers and away from police is how intertwined those systems are for us. Social workers and cops who were canned in hand. I I’ve had, you know, some pretty bad experiences with caseworkers when I was a kid too.

So I don’t know if that’s like 100% going to solve all of our inequality issues.

Marc: I wonder if better training would be helpful with that

Stephanie: too, or, or them. Not as, as a meshed into the system. I mean, the main, the main issue in Montana is funding. We have some of the highest, like reported cases of child abuse of like any state it’s very high here and we have some of the lowest funding.

And so there just aren’t enough places for kids to go if they’re in dangerous situations. And so the. Wants to place people back with their parents, if they can justify it at all. And the number of people that I was in group homes with, or that, or that I was in, in prison with, who went back to households that were very, very clearly unsafe and were causing a lot of the problems that were supposed to be addressed by incarceration, you know, it was ridiculous.

Marc: One of the things that you did in your story that was so heartbreaking and beautiful and kind towards the end, when you were talking about, and you didn’t name the guy, but they just named it now, but you said that he talks about you and his programs and the T know as your sort of success story. And you said that as if he had any role in that and all of the rest of the.

People in the program all went back to jail and you were the only one who didn’t. And that the beautiful thing that you did was you said, you know, something about they didn’t have self enough self-awareness and then this is these, aren’t the words that you used, but they didn’t have enough self-awareness to think that maybe there was a problem with their program and it wasn’t the girls and the fact that you were just giving that love to.

Even just in that little tiny sentence was so cool.

Stephanie: Well, some of the, some of the people that I think about the most well, , if we’re talking about, you know, systemic inequality, at least half of the, of the girls that I was in prison with were native American and they’re not half the population.

And there there’s a reason for that. And it’s because of the. That things are covered on reservations. Reservations are not legally part of the state. They are part of our country, but they don’t have to abide by state laws, which means that federal law enforcement and tribal police are the only people who are able to help with issues on the reservation.

So if you get in trouble and you’re from the reservation, it’s immediately a federal. So the level, the level of incarceration that they experienced when there are problems is extremely high,

Marc: that’s so messed up.

Stephanie: And there was one girl I remember who was very clearly mentally ill. Like she had schizophrenia, she had like hallucinations that she would respond to like visual and auditory hallucinations, and she was repeatedly. Getting put in jail. I think when I was there, she was 15 and she had been there three times already.

And it was for things like minor drug offenses non-violent things when, obviously what she needed was mental health help. And instead they just kept putting her back into her household, uh, which had a lot of its own dysfunctions. And that’s, that’s just going to, or as far as I know, that was her second.

You know, the whole rest of her life when she was at least a teenager is just being on parole, getting a parole violation for some minor offense, going back to jail over and over and over again, when really what she needed was, you know, mental health support.

Marc: Yeah. I mean, that’s, I think that’s been the case for decades, right? Yeah.

You did some nervous, but you also sounded like I need you to hear this. Like that was sort of the attitude. It sounded like you were confident in that way.

Like, and you told the story in such a compelling way. And I was. So I’m still so grateful that you wanted to share it.

Stephanie: So I’m not in college now, but w when I was going to school, I wanted to do creative writing and I feel like people always wanted me to do memoir. And then also when I did it, I sort of felt like, I dunno, like a, like an object.

To them, because it’s like the things that I was was trying, the stories that I was trying to tell them were so out of the norm for them, that it didn’t, it seemed like affection. It didn’t seem like a real story that had really happened to them. Um, but I’ve been trying to work on doing that more just because of, you know, thinking about some of the different people that I was around.

Who probably never, were able to either get out of that cycle or have never , been able to tell their story because it was too hard for them to say, you know, so I don’t know but that’s hard work because it’s just, it’s upsetting, you know?

I’ve always been more interested in like speculative fiction because it’s easier for me to do, but I kind of feel like people, I don’t know, I probably have stories that it would be good for people to hear.

At the same time. So I’ve been, I’ve been trying to do more of that kind of stuff.

Marc: Beyond the nervousness of telling your story, was there anything afterwards after that event was over, did you have any buddy come up to you and say anything?

Um,

Stephanie: there was one lady, like right after I got off stage, who I think said something to me along the lines of, oh, I always wonder it’s like what, what the deal with you was? Or like, something like that. So it kind of sounded like she’d seen me around town and like noticed me or thought I was weird or something was just wondering like what, who that person is.

I found kind of like a strange comment. I was like, I don’t really know how to respond to that, but

I imagined that sh that, that, like, it made her confront whatever assumption she’d made about me. And she was like, oh, I’ve learned something. But it, I, I definitely took it as like, oh, I’ve seen you as a local weird. And I was wondering like, why is that girl dressed like that or whatever? Yeah, I definitely, I remember that one specifically.

I think that I had maybe one other person recognized me, , and like want to be my friend after that, but it was like, It was kind of a, it was kind of an odd individuals. I don’t think that really went anywhere, but well, and I don’t know, cause I, because I was a minor when all of this happened my record has been expunged and so I, I guess I.

I am open about that with people that I know well, but it’s not necessarily something that I like would open up with talking to people, like normally like on like a day-to-day basis. I’m not like, by the way I was in prison when I was a kid, like but it’s something that is definitely really present in my mind with political issues.

Like I do. I don’t know. I do consider myself. To be an ex-con, even though that’s not how I think most people perceive me or what they are that they think about that. And so I, I definitely like it’s, it’s impacted the way that I like think about all of those issues and probably will for like the rest of my life.

Marc: Sure.

Stephanie: . I mean , our whole outlook towards imprisonment I think has, has gotten worse over time for sure.

And I think. I think, I mean, hopefully, you know, this moment that we’re in right now, when people are looking at the role of police, I think the natural next step is to look at the role of prisons and to, to ask if like they’re accomplishing the goals that we claim we want them to accomplish. Um, because I think it’s at least from my experience, I don’t think anyone was helped by.

You know, I don’t, I don’t think that most of the girls that were there were truly a danger to the community. I think that they needed, they were people who were at risk at, in their homes and they didn’t have another place to put them there. Wasn’t another option for them. And that’s the say nothing of the situation, you know, of boys.

Way worse. I mean, the, in Montana, the, unless things have changed since then, they very well could have, it’s been quite awhile, but Riverside in Boulder is the girl’s prison here in Montana. And it can only hold about 20 girls, pine Hills as the boys. And it can hold 120 boys. So I’m sure that their situation is worse.

Yeah. From what I’ve heard, it’s much more violent there. So yeah, I mean, you’re taking people out of an abusive situation and putting them into a much more abusive situation. How is that going to help them improve their behavior? It’s only going to make them more likely to respond to threats with violence because that’s, those are the only tools that have.

I mean if, what we actually wanted to do, if we’re like, oh, , I’m concerned that these children are committing crimes in the community. I’ll just give you some examples of some of the, some of the crimes that people were were in there for that I personally knew there was a girl who was in there for check fraud because her mother had abandoned her and their other siblings for a second.

And so they had just, they didn’t know what to do. They didn’t have anyone else to contact. So they were just writing checks to the grocery store and I’m sure for also frivolous things, but they were writing checks off of her bank account. And when her mom finally showed back up, she decided that she wanted that money back.

So she reported her daughter for this crime so that she could get, you know, restitution fees from that. And when she was done with her stay in prison, that girl was put right back.

Is that like, it’s not a real stuff. That’s true

Marc: in time of COVID, you know, sometimes the safest place for kids is in school and now they can’t go to school and they’re forced to be with their abusers for the entire.

Stephanie: Yeah. And they’re, they’re not able to receive, you know, if they’re a part of a school lunch program that’s gone now. I mean, the, the food bank has definitely been, you know, doing their best and working over time. But I definitely, when I was a kid, I had to steal food from the grocery store because my parents weren’t feeding.

Marc: That shouldn’t you shouldn’t, you shouldn’t end up in jail for that.

Stephanie: Yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s the problem is the problem there that something was stolen from the store or is the problem there that a 12 year old felt like they, that was the only way for them to get through.

I think it’s just easier for people to, to like, feel sympathy for younger kids, because when like a five-year-old acts out, everyone’s like pretty sure that it’s not their fault or at least like, they’re like, well, there’s probably problems at home. But when like a 14 year old is acting out, then people kind of are like annoyed by it.

And they feel like maybe this is just a bad kid. I don’t think we give kids enough, like leeway as they get older to understand that like they don’t have control of their situation. And that’s why they’re acting like that. Like when you see a, like a toddler screaming in the store, your first response is to think that like, oh, they’re over tired.

You know, whatever they, like, they don’t have control over their life. They’ve been pushed to a point that they’re acting like this, but we don’t, you know, we don’t give teenagers that same breathing room or that same like sympathy.

Marc: I see teenagers coming into the store and acting out. How do you respond to that?

Stephanie: I mean, I guess I haven’t really. Too many, like teenagers acting out in the store, there are definitely some kids shoplifting and I’ll just be really straight with them about it, where I’m like, I see what you’re doing. , I know what this looks like, and , I need you to stop doing this. That’s pretty much what I do cause I don’t have the ability to do too much more, but.

I had a, I saw a lot more of that kind of stuff. I used to work overnights at a gas station and there would be neighborhood kids that would try to come into the store and hang out, you know, at like midnight bunch of 12 year olds want to hang out in the gas station and mess around. And there was one girl in particular who would try to go up to cars outside and see.

Th they could get money from people just ask like people who were stopping to get gas, if they would give her a few dollars. And, and her, I did pull aside and I was like, do you realize how close we are to the interstate? And that no one knows where you are and that , somebody could, grab you.

If you’re out here at midnight, they know that there’s nobody paying attention to you. Do you realize how fast you would be gone? You need to seriously consider the danger that you’re putting yourself in right now.

Marc: What does she say?

Stephanie: She kind of like scoffed, you know, I think because when you’re in a survival situation, you’re like, well, I know this is dangerous, but this is, what I need right now.

But I didn’t see her doing it again, at least when I was working there. So hopefully she found some better options, but I was like, I, I know that there isn’t help for you. If I call the police, they’re not going to help that person. I don’t think there’s any community support for that person. She’s going to have to figure out how to help herself.

So I don’t know. Usually I just kind of, yeah. I mean, I don’t really think there’s anybody who can help those kids. I don’t know who to direct them to. I’ll I’ll I can do is like give them personal advice.

Marc: Do you ever weigh in with any of these opinions at places like. City council meetings or when they asked for public comment, you can type up an email or whatever and say, look, this has been my experience.

Or do you think that’s just not, it’s not worth it.

Stephanie: I guess I haven’t. I mean, I don’t really,

I don’t really know, like the. The, the, like the first issue is funding. For sure. We do not fund these services, you know, and people are happy to donate to like the Watson children’s home because it’s it’s children. But as you get older, they’re less inclined to want to help you. One of the big problems with finding placements for kids that have already been in trouble is that there are a lot harsher requirements to foster.

A kid that’s been in jail. You can’t have any other children in the home, for example. And I think it’s called something different. I, I think when I was doing it, it was called guide homes, but it might be different, but there, yeah, there aren’t like, there aren’t an adequate number of foster parents.

There’s not an adequate amount of funding for group homes. There’s like a lot more drug rehabs than there are any other types of shelters. Like every time. I got in trouble because I would say because I had an abusive home life, the, the amount of times that the cops were called to our house, because there was like physical fighting going on was probably dozens of times.

And I would just temporarily, you know, be in a group home for a little bit. And then they’d put me back with my mom and it just happened over and over again until eventually things escalated to a point. They put me in jail. And every one of those incidences, in my opinion, was a self-defense situation for me, where I did not initiate the physical altercation.

But in the state of Montana, it’s not illegal to hit your child with an open. That’s considered corporal punishment and it’s legal. So if your parents are like slapping you in the face and you hit them back, you did not defend yourself. That’s assault

as, as a really absurd example. Uh, one time I was being fish hooked, like I, my mom was dragging me across the floor by my face, and I bit her thumb because it was in my mouth and I got a ticket for my.

I got an assault ticket for doing that and it’s like, I was being assaulted when that happened. So I like, I really feel like the whole, the whole system, you know, is so. It’s so messed up that I don’t really, I mean, you’d have, you’d have to completely

restructure.

Yeah. And people would have to consider it a priority and they’d have to, you know, I, I think that would be definitely like a step once people started considering, you know, their, their opinion toward incarceration injury. But yeah, I mean, there, there are whole towns, like deer lodge that are just based off of their prison.

That’s what everybody in that town does. So like that’s where all of their income comes from. So where are those people going to really question like their only source of income or is it easier for them to just decide that everybody who’s in that jail now

is there in Ohio? That’s how he feels. If you’re in prison, you did something to deserve to be there.

And I’m just like, dad, that is not true. You know?

Well, like 100% of people in jail definitely didn’t do it. Like that’s. I mean, even if you just like, think about regular statistics of anything, 100% of something, it’s not, it can’t possibly be. There’s, there’s gotta be at least one person, not one little outlier who didn’t do it. And it’s, it’s exponentially more than one person.

But even if we agree that the, every person who’s in prison committed the crime that they’re in prison for, we still, if our goal is to, to have people who have committed crimes reintegrate into society. And, and like be normal, productive members of it. We are not achieving that.

Marc: And so what’s the answer we don’t have.

I mean, there’s, we can’t solve this now. You and I can’t anyway, you know?

Stephanie: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m I mean, hopefully as people start to consider what role does. Should have in our society that they can also then look at like what role prison should have, because if you, if you don’t have police arresting as many people you’re still gonna have in your community, there are going to be people that are committing crimes,

There already are people that commit crimes that there really aren’t any consequences for. I mean, you know, sexual assault is the first thing that comes to my mind as far as people who, I mean, I know I can think of like probably five or six people just in the community, off the top of my head that have never received any, you know, any justice.

Marc: Yeah. And then that’s a whole new conversation to talk about why people don’t report and when they do report the victim blaming that happens and the retraumatization of the person who reports.

Stephanie: Yeah. The, the lack of testing, like the really low, like amount of punishment that people receive, even if they are convicted.

Yeah, I mean a whole, a whole other bag of worms, but there I, yeah, I don’t think that I don’t think that the police are effective at their stated goal. And I don’t even know if those goals need to be achieved, but we would have to build. Whole other institutions to deal with these issues and it could be done, but people would have to want to do it like collectively, that would have to be a priority for everyone to think.

Okay. When there’s a homeless guy on my property, you know, Spain gin for money, I want him to leave, but I don’t want to call the cops. Who do I. You know, and there are like homeless outreach things, but they don’t have very much funding. So we would have to, we would have to want to help, you know, the prov relo increase their staff so that they’d have somebody to come do that we would have to increase what shelters, so that people who had been drinking would have a place to sleep, regardless, you know, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Each one of these things, you know, there are other systems. That could probably more effectively help them, but we would have to prioritize doing that. Cause the, I mean, every, every situation, every dangerous situation is, is a cop, the correct person to come deal with this, or could somebody else do a better

Marc: job, somebody with different and better training for the state of situation.

Stephanie: Yeah, you shouldn’t be, you shouldn’t be getting the same person to come take care of a dangerous dog in your yard that you would call. If you were sexually assaulted, that you would call, if there’s a homeless guy that you would call, if your house got broken into, those are not the same problems and they can’t all be solved by the same tool.

Marc: is there anything else that you want to say about your story before we.

Stephanie: Um, well, if people like it, I’m, I’m glad that they heard that. I would say that I was an outlier, at least as far as my like, ability to like react the way that they want you to, to that situation. Cause I, I think a lot of people, if they were suddenly left on their own, you know, as. I don’t think they would just keep going to work.

Right. Which is what I did. They would probably freak out and, and it definitely occurred to me like, well, I’ve been told that if this, if there’s any problem, I’ll just go back to jail. So now that there’s been a problem, like I think a lot of people would just freak out at that point. Cause they already know that no one’s going to help them.

That’s been their experience that no one will help them. So I’m not, I’m not surprised that all the other people that they put in that situation had a bad outcome. Like they were set up to have that bad outcome. And I don’t really know that that situation has changed to my, to my knowledge. There hasn’t been, you know, any changes to those programs, but.

Marc: Most people would freak out in the same circumstance. How did you not freak out? How did you keep moving forward?

Stephanie: Well, I mean, I have really, I don’t, I don’t know if I want to say that I haven’t respected authority, but I like from the, like, I didn’t have babysitters after I was four. And so for the majority of my life, I’ve been pretty responsible.

My own safety and, you know, taking care of whatever I needed to do on my own. And so I think that like, that’s always been, my approach is like I have to solve this problem. Without generally thinking that like an adult would help me or I should be asking for permission from somebody. That was just my default.

And so it didn’t really occur to me at the time. You know, to tell anybody about what was going on or to ask somebody about it. I just continued to do what I’d been doing, because that was already the plan that I had in place. And I was like, well, I have no control over what she does or what they do about this.

But maybe if I just like continue doing what I’m doing. Everything won’t totally fall apart. Or if they do decide to like, put me back in jail, at least maybe like my boss will still give me a good recommendation or something like that. I don’t know. I like, I didn’t, I was like, I don’t have control over what they do.

So I’m just going to keep, keep doing what my original plan was and hopefully it’ll work out. But I got told that things, that I was the plants that I was making, weren’t going to work out and. I like basically made them work out through force of will, like over and over in the course of being in the system.

So I think I was kind of used to that being the outcome. When I first went to Riverside, which is the girls jail, their plan was that when I was done being there, that I would go back to living with my mom and that I would go back to high school and. Just with like the amount that, that situation had escalated over the last couple of years, I was like, if I go back to living there, like someone’s going to die.

Like it’s getting to the point where I feel like it’s going to like go somewhere really bad. So I was like, I can’t, I can’t do it. I can’t go back there. So what do I need to do to not go back? So I stopped communicating with my parents about. I yeah. At 16, I was like, I’m not going to, if I like refuse to have a relationship with her and I refused to talk to her and I’m extremely uncooperative with that, they’ll have to find, you know, their placement.

And then I basically did a year and a half of schoolwork while I was there so that I could graduate. And they told me from the beginning were like, you’re not going to be able to get enough credits to graduate. And. You’re you’re going to have to go back with my mom. Neither one of those things happened because I like made them not happen.

So I don’t know. I think like you just have to, whatever, like your goal is, like, you just have to focus on that above what anyone else is telling you, because. They’re probably they’re wrong if you like, if you dedicate everything towards one thing you can accomplish, I’m Stephanie

Marc: Hall and everybody

thank you so much for spending the time with me this afternoon.

Stephanie: Yeah, I have a band. I have a radio drama. I have a podcast where I review horse books. Yeah,

it’s called pasture med time.

Marc: Um, man, I love that about you, that you like puns as much as I do.

Stephanie: Well, my, my friend Melanie is a, is a big horse book fan. She’s been a horse girl, her whole life. And I am not a horse girl. Although now people think that I am because I have this and they send me horse things, but essentially she has all of her childhood horse books, like the things that she was reading when she was like nine, and then I read them and.

I’m like, Melanie, did you realize this book is just about domestic violence? She’s like now what?

Marc: I was just, I’m just going to subscribe as soon as we hang up, I want to be present with you right now, but I’m out to pasture. What does

Stephanie: that, is that what it’s past your bedtime, past your

Marc: bedtime. So their horse, their children’s horse bedtimes. That you, you deconstruct them.

Stephanie: Yeah. I just read the last the last season we read the full unicorns of ballon or series, and now we’re doing some like one shot horse books.

We also did a one episode on black lives matter and the protest horses, there’s been a lot of people that have been bringing their horses to protest.

The Compton Cowboys. There’s the fleet street writers’ club there’s nonstop writers in Houston and, um, Brianna noble, who I think a lot of people have seen pictures of her in Oakland with her, her horse Dapper Dan, I think the most interesting thing about all of those is like the immense level of training that an animal like that would require to be in a.

Every one of those people that you see bringing their horses to a protest, just like put in so much work and time for them to be able to be in that environment. It’s really impressive.

Marc: Thank you, Stephanie. I will talk to you again soon. I hope and stay safe out there.

Stephanie: I’ve just had unusual experiences or, you know, bad experiences that people would like to pretend aren’t something happening in their community.

So I kind of wanted to tell that just to be like, Hey, just so you know, like, this is, this is what’s happening, you know, here that’s, this is what it’s like for people.

Marc: Thanks, Stephanie. And thank *you* for listening today.

Though I was unable to find the podcasts that Stephanie hosts, for links to some of the podcasts she mentions in our conversation, head over to tellussomething.org

Next week, I catch up with Jim Beyer

Jim Beyer: Oh, it was the Sturgis adventure. Yes.

Marc: “Message from God”.

Jim: “Message from God.” Yeah. Yeah, because I practiced that for a week. while driving around Montana, I just tell it to myself over and over and over again so that it, , would be, um, shortened and, um, , yeah, nearer to perfect. So.”

Marc: Tune in for his story, and our conversation, on the next Tell Us Something podcast.

Thanks to Cash for Junkers, who provided the music for the podcast. Find them at cashforjunkersband.com

I am so excited to tell you that the next in-person Tell Us Something storytelling event will be March 30 at The Wilma.

The theme is “Stone Soup”. 7 storytellers will share their true personal story without notes on the theme “Stone Soup”.

We are running at 75% capacity, which allows for listeners to really spread out at The Wilma. Learn more and get your tickets at logjampresents.com

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