POCATELLO — Originally from New York, Dovey Small has spent the past 35 Christmases behind bars.
Convicted of the murder of Robert Bishop, of Blackfoot, in 1981, today Small has Parkinson’s disease. Her petite frame is constantly moving, but she commands a lot of respect at the Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center.
“I’m the longest-timer here, I have seniority,” Small said.
She shared her holiday table with Lucia Garcia, of Caldwell, and Loretta Dryden, of Twin Falls.
Garcia did a 10-year sentence and was released in 2011. Now she’s nine months into a new two-year sentence. Dryden was sentenced to life in prison as a repeat drug offender. She’s spent four years at the correctional center. She’ll be released in April, but will spend the rest of her life on probation.
“I’ll be doing life on the outside,” Dryden said.
Garcia said Dryden both, meth addicts, said for women doing a long stretch of time behind bars, there aren’t a lot of resources.
“Substance abuse programs are for people on riders, not long-timers,” Garcia said. “It’s easy to do good in here, but when you get out, you forget fast, you end up relapsing and then wondering how you ended up here again.”
Both women work inside the prison, Garcia works in the kitchen and the laundry, and Dryden had worked in the dog program and as a janitor; they earn about 10 cents per hour.
“There are good people and there are bad people in here, just like on the outside,” Garcia said.
Since 2010, the female jail population has been the fastest-growing correctional population. It’s increasing by an average annual rate of 3.4 percent, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Small said depression is common for inmates during the holiday.
“You just kind of stay to yourself,” Small said. “Church helps too.”
She’ll go in front of the parole board soon asking for commutation of her sentence.
“It gives lifers that do well in here a chance at parole,” Small said.
The trio were among about 100 women who lined up for the special holiday dinner at the correctional center. The rows of four-top tables filled up quickly, and the smell of sage wafted throughout the room.
Judy Gough, 70, is the second-oldest inmate at the correctional center. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the second-degree murder of her abusive husband, Lloyd Ford, in Boise in 1980.
Gough’s story was featured on NBC’s Dateline. Her daughter turned her into authorities and she was ultimately convicted of shooting Ford and burying him in the backyard.
“Prison is what you make of it and you just have to make your peace,” Gough said. “This was very special today, to be able to enjoy a meal like this.”
At 73, Doris Thomas is the oldest inmate at the Pocatello Correctional Center, she’s been incarcerated for 18 years. Thomas was sentenced to fixed sentences of life and 14 years for the first-degree murder of Leo Dvells, her live-in boyfriend, who was killed in 1986.
Thomas said Dvell sexually and physically abused her over the course of their eight-year relationship.
She’s made the best of her time at PWCC. And Thomas said whether you’re behind bars or free as a bird, you need to find purpose in your life.
“You can build purpose, if you want it bad enough,” Thomas said.
Thomas volunteers in the prison library and the chapel.
According to Justice Statistics, three-quarters of female inmates have histories of severe physical abuse by an intimate partner as an adult, and 82 percent have suffered serious physical or sexual abuse as children.
Shana Parkinson, of Rexburg, was convicted of killing her ex-husband, Gregg Whitmore, and his girlfriend, Karen Cumming, in 2003.
Parkinson was sentenced to 27 years in prison for the stabbing deaths.
“I think abuse is most often the common factor and the reason that more women than men are being incarcerated,” Parkinson said.
The female inmate population increased 10.9 percent — up 10,000 inmates — between midyear 2010 and 2013. Meanwhile the male population declined 4.2 percent — down 27,500 inmates.
Tracy Griffin, of Idaho Falls, has been at the correctional center for two weeks and she has one year and four months left to go. She also spent one year in the Bonneville County Jail.
Griffin said she’s still adjusting to life behind bars.
“It’s hard to get used to all the locked doors and the noise,” Griffin said. “I just tried to sleep all day.”
She joined Lacey Mays, Megan Miller and Nita Hainsworth, also from Idaho Falls.
All four women were sentenced to prison for multiple meth charges. Miller served a rider prior to her current sentence.
“None of us are violent offenders, we struggle with addiction and when we get out, it’s still there,” Miller said.
Mays said she believes more women are ending up in jail because men earn more money and can fund a better defense.
She also said more resources are need for meth addicts in Eastern Idaho.
“They warehouse us, then they boot us out the door,” Mays said. “If it wasn’t for my faith, this would destroy me.”
The women live in a 10-bed dorm and said the center provides color-coded scrubs and basic toiletries. But inmates must purchase any extra amenities, like pillows and coffee.
Hainsworth said when inmates are released, finding employment and complying with parole is also stressful.
“I don’t want to land up here ever again,” Hainsworth said. “Our self-esteem is not exactly built up in here. When you get out you’re pretty beaten down.”
The Christmas dinner menu featured roast pork, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing with cranberry sauce, mixed veggies, Waldorf salad, hot rolls and ice cream sundaes for desert.
The kitchen crew received a standing ovation following the first round of service.
Two crew members, Felipe Gomez and Amanda Lugo, both from Boise, joined Parkinson after serving dinner to residents in Unit 2. Gomez and Lugo are also doing time for possession of methamphetamine.
Lugo is set to be released in March after an 18-month sentence; Gomez is one year into a four-year term.
Lugo said they prepared Christmas dinner for 300 people.
“I’m actually the baker and I made 325 dinner rolls, in case the officers wanted to eat,” Lugo said.
She and Gomez work full-time in the kitchen and earn 30 cents per hour.
Lugo said the prison community has become her family.
The mood in the cafeteria was festive, women chatted over their meal and exchanged holiday greetings across the aisle.
Food Service officer Derek Stettler said 13 inmates prepared the meal.
Stettler said prison residents looked forward to the special holiday meal. He celebrated the holiday with his family Friday morning before coming on the swing shift.
“That’s part of the job, I don’t mind working the holiday,” Stettler said.
He said women incarcerated at prison are a community in every sense of the word.
“They’re people and I treat them like people, like I would want to be treated,” Stettler said.
Each unit finished their dinner, cleared their trays and thanked kitchen workers before exiting to make room for the next unit. Christmas dinner was over in about 15 minutes.