Interview With Erin Alomar
A small portion of Erin’s story is featured in our Easter Resurrection Campaign. The full interview is here.
Interview with Erin Alomar
Erin agreed to share her story with GraceInside because of her desire to pay forward the help she received. Her story has been edited for length and clarity. Let’s introduce you to Erin.
Where do you work?
I work for Ferguson Enterprises as an Administrative Assistant for the Business Department. My department created and maintains the website. Ferguson Enterprises is mainly a distributor so I thought we would reach out and form connections with other companies. The work is more complex than I anticipated. I’d been there more than a month when I was invited to help out on a few projects – so I’ve been adopted as a Marketing Assistant. I am happy because this company offers me an opportunity to build a career and not just have a job. They are a great company. Ferguson Cares is always doing a fundraiser and community outreach.
What was the hiring process like?
It was a little intimidating in the interview because it was a panel with three people interviewing me. They liked my resume but asked why there was nothing before 2015 so they asked if I could explain the gap. I said, ‘Here comes the hardest question I have to answer. I gave the brief version of my 12.5 years in prison. They didn’t flinch. They saw all that I had accomplished – and it seemed they left the interview almost impressed. I was still hesitant that I would get the job. In the meantime, I had been asked by my church to help out in their office while someone was out. It was my 2nd day working at the church and I was arriving, pulling into the parking lot when I got a phone call offering me the job. The said, ‘Now you have to go through all the paperwork and a background check – but I’ve already let everyone know that you are going to “pop” – but that it is nothing that we care about. I couldn’t be happier with the company or the process.
How would you talk about your history?
Nothing is a secret. I went to prison the very beginning of 2002 for charges related to the death of my husband. I went to prison for 12.5 years. As a mother, I was backed into a situation where it was either me and my children or my husband. I made the decision to save me and my kids. While some people have said it is understandable given the abuse, I took a life that I was not given permission to take by God or by anybody. I had to go to prison and take the consequences of my actions. It still and will forever haunt me that there is someone not breathing on this earth because of me. I still play the “how I could have done things differently” scenarios in my head. While looking at my six children… the guilt of breaking up my family… the guilt that my children are growing up without a father.
What happened to your children?
My parents tried to get all six children when this happened but the courts decided it would be hard for my parents to take all 6 because of my parent’s age. Three children are with 3 different families and my parents got the other 3.
One of the hardest times I had in prison was when I called home on the first Easter I was gone – was to my Mom who was crying because the courts would only allow them 3 children. I told my mom we were not going to decide that. I was not going to have my children ever think I chose one over another. If the courts were making the decision, then let the courts make that decision. In the end, Social Services made the decisions on reasonable circumstances. The oldest daughter went with my parents. She was the oldest and we thought she would have the most memories of my parents. My son also went with my parents because the family who took him in as a foster didn’t want a permanent placement. The 6 month old was with a foster family who desperately wanted a baby of their own and they Social Services feared leaving her with them would mean it was harder for the couple to return her.
Now, how are your children?
Maryam is 22, B. is 21, M. is 20, G. is 19, Omar is 17, Anfaal is 16. Arabic culture, Jesus’ culture, Jesus’ mother was Maryam and not Mary – so that’s where her name came from. I’ve reconnected with all six children, because of social media. When I first came home, I was only in contact with one. I’d been a home around a year – when I got the 2nd one’s friend request. I reconnected with all except one. Then about one and a half years ago, it was a FB message – from the daughter that I hadn’t heard from the last 8 years of my incarceration and ever since. She had just turned 18. She assured me that she still loved me, did not blame me and had always loved me.
How did you parent in prison?
Whether or not I heard back from them, I mailed them all something once a week. Every week. I made sure that I put in the effort. I wanted them to know it wasn’t their fault and I love them.
When they were tiny, their father and I used to take them to Kings Dominion and they used to ride these rides. It wasn’t all bad. But they don’t remember… What she remembered was when her father was in his monster element. It made me sad that she would grow up without one decent memory of him. She was only six.
You took a plea bargain, why?
They wanted to put the children on the stand. By that time, the oldest would have been seven. What kind of information are you going to get from a traumatized 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 year old and a baby. The last thing I need is more stress on these kids. I didn’t want the children to experience guilt or to feel responsible for whatever their testimony might bring – because the children could feel like they were responsible for putting their mother behind bars – or setting her free. Either way could be conflicted for them whether they grew up thinking I deserved to be behind bars or go free. I did not want that added to their burdens.
Tell about your faith journey.
I was born and raised in the church. My husband was Muslim – Arabic. When I was first incarcerated I felt awful for violating Thou Shall Not Kill. I didn’t pray. Why would God hear what I had to say? I felt like God would dismiss me. I went through that in the jail. I had a couple of Muslim groups reached out to me because the case was so highly publicized. I was so lost and off the path when I got to Fluvanna. I remember speaking to [another incarcerated woman]. By that time I was living in the long-termers wing. She kept going to the Kairos groups. I remember asking her about it. And she was like you should talk to Chaplain. I started going to church services. I enjoyed that but I was still too ashamed to get on my knees and do what I needed to do.
I remember one day I had stopped to talk to Chaplain and she told me to send an IMS form – to get my name in the pool for the next Kairos walk. I remember they day they let people know if they made it or not, I found out I got on the waiting list. The very next day I get shipped to [CVCU#13].
At this point, I’m ready. I know something needs to change, I just didn’t know where to start. Looking back that is kind of stupid, you start on your knees – but I couldn’t. So as soon as I got to [CVCU#13], I started asking around about Kairos and programs and the chaplain. I should never been at that prison because of my security level. But I put my name in for Kairos and I found out I was 3rd alternate on the list. One girl got sick and two girls had to work – so I just made it!
That weekend was amazing. I know it is very powerful for everybody. The forgiveness service just wrecked me. I think more than anything else, the Agape Bags… they were filled with letters from people who told me what I didn’t believe about myself anymore. I was worthy of God’s love and the love of others – because I was a child of God. I knew this, I was raised in the church, but I wasn’t getting any reinforcement and I was too shamed to ask for it.
I had a hard time, [at CVCU#13] because of my security level, finding a job. I had a really, really hard time there. The Kairos walk was the weekend before they ended up shipping me back to Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. I was in such a dark place. I credit Kairos and my frequent trips to FCCW Chaplain’s Library when I returned. I worked in Optical before getting shipped – but that job got filled. I got a job as a Rec Aide when I came back. Because I worked in the DCE building, I could pop in to the Chaplain’s office as part of my job. I had a Lay-Chaplain assigned to me to help with one-on-one pastoral care. I could pop into speak to the Chaplain and the Chaplain’s Library. It did more than get me through. It put me back on the right path – not just for a job… but as a daughter and a mother and a person.
What did the chaplains mean to you?
Without the Chaplain at both facilities, I hate to say this… but I probably would not be here… I mean not breathing. I had gotten that low. People would say “Oh your kids need you.” I said, “Why? To explain to another person why their mother is not there…” Because of the chaplains, I’m still alive today.
What about the Chaplain’s programs?
I attribute my turn around to the chaplain’s programs – to Kairos – to their hugging me. To walk into a group of women who run up and hug you – and then tell you God’s loves you. The smiling faces of these women who’ve been through their own trials, who don’t know you from Adam, to come into a place everyone else is afraid to go – and to tell you, “You matter!” – and to touch you. So many look at you like you are the stuff you scrape off the bottom of your shoes. But that’s not what you got from the Chaplains and not from the Kairos ladies.
You played handbells before and now, again, after prison. Tell us about that connection.
I also joined handbells in prison – that was amazing. It was one of those things, when they did ship me to [CVCU#13], I was so sad. I play handbells in my outside church. Because I had played handbells in highschool, we joined the church handbell choir and I really did enjoy it. I’m sitting around Fluvanna one day and someone mentioned the handbell choir? Wait, there is a handbell choir? I tracked [another incarcerated woman] down and asked. I tried out for Mr. Bob, the director, in both the afternoon [more beginning level] and evening [advanced level] groups and was eventually placed in the evening, Metanonia handbell choir. I loved it. I was doing college, apprenticeship and work and I would be tired – but then Thursday night would come and you get to be with Mr. Bob and Edie and you leave knowing they genuinely care about you. The music… it was a connection to the outside, almost, for me. Being in that group… they were amazing. Holding hands in that group as we did at the end of practice was the first prayer I ever prayed after being incarcerated.
I was home 10 months when the handbell choir director at my church surprised me. I had been telling her about Metanoia and the piece written for us [the Metanoia choir]. I went to practice and opened my folder and she’d gotten it! It was very advanced for our church choir so we’ve worked on it a long time in bits and parts. Our church is going to play it March 31,, 2019. I am so excited.
In my personal experience the friendships I have met and maintained with everybody there in handbells, the group was amazing. It breaks my heart to think of no handbells there. How sad for them. One of those things where if I lived closer, I wonder if I could do it. Because it was THAT important to me. It was that special. [Editor’s note: After volunteering 18 years, Bob and Edie Wheeler resigned their ministry, along with other faithful volunteers Nancy and Louise] but keep in touch with the women they served.
What do you wish people knew?
I am saddened by the lengths volunteers had to go through to volunteer. We hear about all the resistance to programs. You are told you are here to rehab, to change, to be a better person. To not repeat what you’ve done before. You’re offered these opportunities to correct yourself, learn from your past mistakes… then you are told that nobody wants the program anymore. It isn’t easy to live in there but it isn’t easy to volunteer or work there either. The struggles… make me appreciate the work that the chaplains do 1000 times more – and the volunteers.
Thank you, Erin, for opening your life and your heart to not only Jesus Christ, but to our GraceInside Family so they can see exactly how much impact they can make with their support!