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Losing it All, and Then Getting a Second Chance: Part Three of Our Series on Reentry

Sarah Perrine

Everyone experiences prison time differently. To Sarah Perrine, who received a ten year sentence for a host of drug-related charges, it ended up being a life changing event.

She has the words "forgive" and "forget" tattooed on her neck. The motto suits her.

She's reconnecting with her daughter. She has a job at a local fast food restaurant where she recently received a promotion. And she's no longer one of the nearly 2,300 women currently in Kentucky's state prison system.

Instead, she's now part of the Southern Kentucky Reentry Council to make coming home easier for others.

If you ask her, that's all because of one moment she had while she was in solitary confinement.

Perrine describes it as "13 cells on one walk and everybody was just yelling and screaming constantly."

When she first arrived at the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women (KCIW), she was still using drugs.

"It was kind of like, 'Oh, I've done ruined my life so why does it matter?'" Perrine said.

That attitude landed her in what she describes as "the hole,' where she spent 24 hours daily inside of her cell with occasional time in the hallway, for 30 days. There, someone offered her Soboxone and she accepted. Then, she cried.

"I felt so convicted and so guilty that I was in prison, in the hole, still doing the same stuff that lead me there...That was the last time I've ever had any desire to get high whatsoever. Like that was my lifechanging moment," Perrine said.

Life in her prison in Peewee Valley, outside of Louisville, had it's good moments and bad ones. She learned trade skills, worked a fulltime job and received college credit.

But, at the same time, she said course waitlists were long, it was overcrowded, and communication was poor.

"If you want to talk to somebody about this stuff, they're like, 'Oh, drop a request,' 'Oh, fill out a request.' So, you're filling out all these requests and you stick it in the door and it's like...that's it," Perrine said.

After serving half of her 10-year sentence, Perrine received parole. She felt confident she was on her way to becoming a success story after everything she had been through.

"I've battled with the drug addiction, I've battled with the alcoholism. I’ve went through the sexual abuse and the trauma. You know what I mean? I’ve been through physically abusive relationships. I've had everything. I've had the house with the white picket fence and the dog and the cars and the good job. And I've completely lost it all," Perrine said.

Freedom was no longer something she took for granted anymore. She had choices again, not like in prison where she'd get hassled for something as simple as using the bathroom in the middle of the night.

"I had that social anxiety real bad. It was an adjustment for me whenever i got out. I would wake up and think it was count time and I'm like, 'God. I'm in my own bed,'" Perrine said.

Freedom House, where she stayed after her release still had rules to follow. But, it gave her enough leeway to see her daughter again--even if it was just for three hours at Chuck E. Cheese. She says that first time seeing her daughter again was heartbreaking.

"She looked at me and she was like 'Mom,' she said, 'it's Okay. At least I got to spend some time with you,'" Perrine said about when she had to say goodbye.

Moments like that help her and so many others in her shoes stay out of trouble. Her daughter was four years old when she was first arrested. Perrine knows she missed valuable time building a relationship with her.

"Just me coming back ino her life and being like, 'Oh hey! I want to come have a life with you now.' It's an adjustment for her and for me both because I didn't know her. I didn't know her as an individual. I didn't know her as a person. I didn't know what she enjoyed to do, what she didn't enjoy to do," Perrine said.

She said she never wants to be away from her daughter like that again.

She credits her success to her daughter and a worker at Freedom House who supported her and introduced her to different resources, including the Reentry Council.

While serving on the council board, Perrine's insider perspective can help others learn what services are available to them. She says her voice can be a challenge to the status quo of Kentucky's justice system, which she said can be more focused on punishment than rehabiliation.

"Once you get incarcerated, you have got no say in anything whatsoever. I feel like judges don't listen to you, I feel like the prosecuting attorneys don't listen to you. It's just, they get this view of what you did. That's it. They're going to be like, 'How can we make your life hard as hell now?'"

Sarah said compassion can keep people getting punished from getting demotivated. She said one some of the best people she's met were in prison. She thinks they deserve a second chance too.

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