#180 This conversation is a heavy, but important one. Sunny Jacobs was sentenced to death for a crime she did not commit, and after spending 17 years in prison, was released in 1992. Sunny’s inner strength is absolutely amazing, and her story is definitely something we can all learn something from. During our conversation today, we talk a lot about healing, forgiveness, the importance of hope, and the journey towards self-acceptance.
If you are in a situation where you think there is no end in sight, then I cannot recommend this episode enough.
“I had a choice to believe either in hope or hopelessness. And so, I chose to believe in hope rather than hopelessness. That one instant changed everything for me.”
If you enjoyed this podcast, you may also like: What 16 Years In A Thai Prison Taught Me About Happiness | T M Hoy
About Sunny: The Sunny Center Foundation is a non-profit organization that helps people who have suffered the injustice of wrongful conviction, giving them support after they have been exonerated and released from prison.
It was established by Sunny Jacobs and Peter Pringle, both of whom were sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit. Sunny was released in 1992 after spending 17 years incarcerated in Florida, and Peter in Ireland in 1995 after 15 years in prison.
They met in 1998, fell in love, got married and became part of each other’s path to healing and happiness, using the practices of yoga, meditation and prayer – the same methods that each of them had used in prison to help them survive their ordeal.
In 2012 they began welcoming exonerees into their home. In 2014, the foundation was established and they were able to extend their assistance more broadly, using a unique holistic approach encompassing physical, mental and spiritual healing and ongoing support.
In 2018 they opened The Sunny Living Center, a housing complex in Tampa, Florida for exonerees.
In 2020, their mission expanded to helping families and others who’ve been affected by the injustice of wrongful conviction as well as extending their healing techniques to the general public.
Key points with time stamp:
- A Journey of Healing & Forgiveness Back to The Heart (00:00)
- Who is Sunny Jacobs? (01:26)
- Reactions to Sunny’s work (02:01)
- On the wrong conviction (04:46)
- The story of the arrests, trials, and 5 years of isolation (08:53)
- Living in a purgatory (21:36)
- Accepting a death sentence? (23:30)
- Believing to have hope (27:15)
- Becoming the best person she could be (28:42)
- Healing and forgiveness as keys to life (33:55)
- Does acceptance of a situation mean giving up hope for change? (36:33)
- When did the situation start to change for Sunny? (42:36)
- The importance of facing your anger and healing (46:14)
- The role of communication and self-expression in healing (50:24)
- Sunny and her children (53:09)
- Assimilating back to life outside of prison (58:28)
- Was anyone held accountable for what happened to Sunny and her family? (01:02:47)
- Making sense of your journey (01:06:34)
- “Surround yourself with positive people.” (01:10:49)
Mentioned in this episode:
- Don Wood
- Bruce Lipton
- Stolen Time, Sunny’s book
Sunny and Peter’s Books:
Sunny. Welcome to the podcast.
Thank you very much guy. Pleasure.
It truly is I, I just want to give a shout out to Dr. Don. He mentioned your name in the conversation on the podcast and I hadn’t hear the view I hadn’t heard, you know, your, your life’s journey, I guess and, and I was intrigued instantly and I thought, wow, I must I must reach out to Sunny and I was just compelled. So few to be here today honestly, is deeply appreciated sonny. I can say that much reference.
Thank you. I shall thank Don wood as well. He’s a very interesting man.
He is indeed he is. And we had a wonderful conversation as well. I’ll just say while we’re on there as well, with the software we use in if it gets a bit pixelated is because this record won’t take away anything from the end product at the end of the show as well. I mentioned that before. So it’s fine. I’m pixelated anyway. Before we go back into what’s been your journey and your life, I asked everyone the same question on the show. And I wanted to start the same way today. And that is if we were at the infamous dinner party right now. And you sat next to a complete stranger. And they just said to you, Hey, you know, what, what do you do for a living? What would you say?
Oh, that’s a that’s a great question. I would say I mean, yoga teacher. And my has been the NIH run a foundation to help people who were wrongly convicted of crimes they didn’t commit, when they released so that they can begin the healing process. That’s what I would say,
yeah. Yeah, I didn’t research in today. person into how you met Peter. And even that is an incredible story in itself, your husband? You know, either. Yes. Yeah. Which I’d love to touch on during the course. But what was the general reaction you get from that? If somebody says, because you’re the first person I’ve heard of that actually does this?
Well, actually, until very recently, nobody else really want. There have been attempts to do to do it. Often people who were wrongly convicted want to give back for have been blessed, the good fortune of having someone help them. Because without help without pro bono help, meaning you’re willing to work for free to help somebody who they believe is wrongly convicted to please Trump, I don’t know anyone who would be released. So they feel so grateful for, you know, for what they received, and the help that they got that they also want to help others. And often they go into trying to help people will get their case overturned, or in legal part of it, Peter and I, that’s not our expertise. Our expertise is in the healing part. We before we met, each had taken the same path, which we found incredible, which was yoga, meditation and prayer, this became my Trinity. While I was sentenced to death, when I had to transition from the nice, quiet death row, which I was the only one there, I was the only woman with a sense of depth at that time. So it’s pretty quiet there into the population of the prison, which was, to me just rides with the deserts. So when I went into the prison population, that was another strange transition that I had to deal with. And so I again, use those same disciplines. And then when I was finally released 17 years later, I, again use those disciplines for that transition. So and that’s what I do to this day. You know, I use yoga meditation and prayer. So that’s that was how I learned to to function in whatever world I was tossed into. And now I know that that’s all part of my journey.
Yeah, well, they help somebody but I mean, yoga meditation and prayer, because I look at prayers and intention. And they’ve been so, so powerful to me over the years and have allowed me to have courage. to lean into what my heart wants to lead me to, and as opposed to suppressing that I’m truly learning. And it is my mission to help inspire others to listen to that, too. And it’s been great. And it’s been those very things, you know, and like you said, it’s really from you to disk, and be able to reflect back and allow you to get you through what you did. It’s just incredible. You know, it’s just incredible. Do you mind sharing a little bit about the wrong conviction? And what happened? Because I believe if I’m not mistaken, you were in Florida, and you were with your husband and two children, and your car broke down? Is that correct?
Yeah, yeah. Yes. And so we had to ask a friend of mine. And basically, it ended up with us being at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong. And the two, he ended up panicking, apparently, I mean, I can’t speak for him. But that’s how it seems to me because there was he just panicked and policemen because he, at the time, he was on parole. And I always say to people, you know, when you accept the lift, you don’t ask to see the person’s driver’s license. Do you really, you know, get into somebody’s car, you’d say, is your license current? or been in trouble? Or might you be on parole, or I just, so I’m happy now that maybe I wouldn’t have accepted the lift. But anyway, because he was, I guess, because he was afraid they were going to take him back to prison. Because he was on parole. I guess that’s why he panicked. But anyway, he killed them. And then he took us hostage, and drove us off in police car. And which meant that in the person in the backseat, you can’t open the doors from the inside. And know that either, but there was a moment that maybe I can look at was nine years old, and my daughter was only 10 months old. She was Nursing at the time. And I thought, Oh, now I can get away. But the doors were locked. You can’t open them from the inside. So we ended up there was a roadblock, he tried to avoid the roadblock to evade capture. And when he did the police at the Roadblock, all open fire on the car. And for the second time that day, I covered the children while you were in the car near me crashed, and he actually was the only one who was injured, he was shot in the leg. And when we crashed, then the police Of course, rounded the car, and we were all taken into custody. And the children were put in a separate police guard taken away, supposedly to be taken care of by social services while we got everything straightened out. But in actual fact, they they weren’t being cared for at all. In fact, my son was interrogated and tested for gun residue, and even the baby was. So it was it was from then on. It was like we were living in some nightmare. Really
incredible. convict convicted, I believe, like, as you mentioned, you were the first lady to be put onto death row. And so so is your partner at the time your husband? Is it right? You went into five years of isolation from that point? After?
Yes. What happened was when we were all taken in, the man who actually did the killing was in hospital because he was injured. And he knew that he was facing the electric chair in Florida at the time. And so he immediately asked to see the prosecutor and make a deal so that he could, you know, avoid being sentenced to death. And so he received three life sentences in exchange for his testimony against my husband was Jessie and me. And although they had evidence of our fraud The little innocence before, right from the beginning, because they gave him a lie detector test in order to justify giving him a plea bargain. And they filed a report that said that he passed a lie detector test. But in actual fact, we found out 17 years later that he failed the lie detector test. And the report was a false report. So they actually did know that they were making the deal with the killer. And yet, they went ahead because I found out later because it suited their ends because they wanted to have three convictions. And the prosecutor then ran for a higher office, like the district attorney’s. And so that was the motivation. And that’s what happened. So Jesse was sentenced to death in a trial that lasted four days, with no physical evidence whatsoever against him. Just on the testimony, basically, of the man who made the bargain. And my trial came later, it lasted much longer, it lasted two weeks. Because I had never been in trouble, you know, for anything violent in my life before. And I was a mother of two young children. I was kind of a hippie, like peace and love kind of thing. And a vegetarian. So I mean, I don’t even eat meat. You know, I, if you knew me for a minute, you know, I would like kill anybody. But I was the person who was always like saving stray animals, or even one time I found a cricket, who’s missing a leg and I put in a little matchbox and had to take care of it. So that was who I was. So when our friends heard on the radio, kazoo, and the TV was on all the news, you know about what happened, and heard my name in connection with this terrible incident, something had to be really wrong, and they call the lawyer. And the lawyer actually tried all day to find me and was told that they didn’t know where I was. And so about 1030, at night, he showed up at the jail and insisted on seeing me. And he refused to leave. And he’ll he did. So that’s when I finally was allowed to see a lawyer because I thought we’re backing up a bit now. But I thought, when you’re arrested, you’re entitled to a phone call. Right? Everybody knows that. But when I asked for my phone call, they laughed at me. And they told me that that’s just on television. And actually, they could have two hours without giving me a phone call. And by then they might. They could do anything. Still, so finally, when the lawyer did come and find me, the interrogation ended. And he inquired as to my treatment, and I finally was booked into the jail as a prisoner after midnight that night. Until then, I wasn’t even booked in. And there’s the procedure that’s supposed to be followed. When you’re arrested, you’re supposed to be taken before a magistrate, again, that never settle on my trial. My trial lasted two weeks. In the second week of the trial, they realized I guess that they weren’t convinced. So they tried locating a young woman in the jail who had been arrested for minor drugs charged with her boyfriend. And they convinced her that if she could help them to convict me, that she and her boyfriend would be released the next day. But if not, then she would go to jail, and she’ll go to prison and her life would be ruined, and she’d never get back to university. So, she did what she had to do. She said that I had made a confession to her that I enjoy, and I enjoyed it, and I play I enjoyed it, and I will do it again. So anyway, the the jury wasn’t convinced either. And so a number of questions, written questions to the judge. The judge, had been a former high whip, and before he was a judge, so we felt that he couldn’t possibly be neutral was concerned policemen. But he refused to recuse himself from the case. In fact, he was the judge on all three of our cases. And instead, he instructed the jury as to the law, the way he I guess the way he wanted them to see it. And as a result, they felt they had no option but to conduct as a result of the law at the time. They were they even I know, one of the questions was, could they even consider a lesser degree of some sort, like an accomplice or something. And, and, but apparently, they were not allowed to do that, which I wouldn’t have been anyway. So I was convicted, and then the set, separate, took place, and they have to be unanimous in order to give you a death penalty. But one of the jurors wasn’t comfortable with the conviction. So he certainly wasn’t going to send me to death will be bullied into it by the other jurors who he told me later, I actually actually took the time and locate me when he read in a magazine that I had been released. And he and his wife rented a camper van. And they came and found me living in California at the time. And he told me what happened in the jury room, and he apologized to me. He said that the other day had been sequestered for two weeks. And they were tired, and they were hungry. And they wanted to go home. And they wanted him to agree with them, him to give me this death sentence, because they wanted to make an example of a woman to send a message to all those criminals out there that if you kill somebody in Florida, you will go to the electric chair. And because I was writing continually during the trial, because I didn’t understand, I didn’t understand a lot of the language, saying what was going on. My lawyer was a lawyer that, really he actually said that he wasn’t going to put up any defense because there was no evidence against me. So that would give him a better position in the closing arguments, which he said was very important. And I was fine, I’m fine. I didn’t do anything wrong, have nothing to worry about, right? I mean, the truth will set you free, right? I didn’t know it takes 17 more years. So I did what my lawyer said. And so as a result, the the this one juror anyway, decided that he was not going to be bullied and he voted for life. So that meant that they couldn’t give me the death. But the judge overruled the jury, and gave me the death penalty anyway. Now, in those days, that was allowed in certain states, Florida being one of them, but he would have to give a reason for having done so. And he didn’t. And so I was sentenced to death, I became the only woman with a death sentence in the whole United States at that time, because there had been a moratorium on using the death penalty for a while that so there were no women on the road, so to speak. And so I became my own death row, that I was the only woman with the sentence of death. And so they put me in the women’s maximum security prison. in a, in a separate building, separated by wire fence from the rest of the population of prison. I wasn’t allowed any contact with any other prisoners. And the guards were under instructions not to speak to me. And that’s part of their own protection because you can’t become friendly with someone and look at their pictures of their children and, and commiserate with them on holidays, and then be expected to assist in taking that person’s life. So the death penalty actually affects everyone involved, really. So I was put in this cell in this building all by myself. I only got out of my cell twice a week for a brief shower. And then they would give me some prison clothes and I would be allowed out in the courtyard for about 15 minutes. With a guard who didn’t speak to me, and then I be taken back in, given my white pajamas with my number on it, and take him back to myself for another three or four days, until they come and get me again. So there were no phone calls. And my cell was six steps from the door to the. And if I reached out my arms, I could touch both. There was a metal shelf with a thin mattress on one side, that was the bed and sink and toilet combination at the end, and that was it. The was a solid metal door with a small kind of window opening like that, and through which they would look every hour to see what I was doing and write it down. And that was it. That was where I was told I was to spend my life until they decided to take it from me. And at first, I got no letters. Again, there were no phone calls. And I just paced back and forth. I think it’s actually, in a way, the most important part of this story. Because it’s where I had to come face to face with the possibility of my own death of the possibility that I might never see my children again, that that was the end. If I believed what they said there was no one. So
they had they given you a date that that point over you just kind of in this unknown of knowing that confinement to yourself, and you don’t know, or you don’t know if they’ve set a date.
That’s right. You’re sort of in limbo you are maybe purgatory. If there’s a purgatory? I guess that would be it. Because No, they don’t give you a date. Now, when Peter, my husband now was sentenced to death, he also was wrongly convicted sentence that by the way, they gave him a date right away. To die on this date. But for me, there was no dates. Two be…? Yeah. Yeah. There was no date set. And in fact, in the US, it can take years before they actually considered date, because you’re entitled to your appeals, and people who have wanted to short now. But that would be another mistake. Because there have been so many instances that we know where there was a wrongful conviction. And if you show time, and you shorten the procedure, then hope that you figure that out sooner. But what actually happens is that the appeals process is not as in depth and extensive, and you end up you could end up and it has happened, where someone would be executed who actually was wrongly convicted and was innocent.
Yeah. So I’m curious to know why because I believe you were in that solitary confinement for five years before being released back into the main prison during those five, you in any kind of contact via letter to Jesse at all, or did you know anything that was going on? there a point where you, you kind of made peace with the fact that you were going to die and you just accepted it? Or how, how did the psychological part of that play out? I just kind of mad, I struggled to put myself there and how I would deal with something like that, you know,
I did do at first I wasn’t dealing with it. I was overwhelmed. Really, when when this whole thing happened, it was as if it was totally surreal. It was like, it wasn’t really it wasn’t real. I mean, you could have told me at any point in time, that you could have shaken me and woke me up. Having an awful dream, living much more believable than what was. I didn’t feel that anything in my life previously had prepared me to deal with the situation that I was in. And I was angry and I was and I was afraid and I was confused and I felt quite hopeless for a while. Until one day Now the only I should say the only two books that I was allowed, at that point in time in my cell was a law book and a Bible. And the law book was incomprehensible to me at that time. And the Bible was a book of wisdom that I used to open up, basically to any page and see what, at that point, I wasn’t really sure if I believed in God anymore, because I didn’t. I didn’t think that if there was a god, that God could pass. Me and family because it wasn’t just me. My whole family was sentenced, my whole family suffered. My children, my children, my parents had a job getting my children back. It took them two weeks to get the baby, the 10 month old. And it took them two months to get my nine year old son who was put into juvenile detention. I was told that was done as pressure on me to try to get me to say whatever I guess they want me to say. But after two months, they finally got a judge to release my son into their custody. And he was so traumatized, taken to hearings and interrogations, handcuffed behind his back nine years old, with no representation, to be interrogated, that he had to be put in a special school. And he still to this day suffers the effects of that trauma. My, my daughter, 10 month old Will she grew up without ever having known what it was like to be with her real family. They, they Fortunately, my parents were able to take care of them. So by the time I was actually on, set in my death cell, the children were with my parents, so I knew at least they were safe and being well taken care of. And when I finally started getting letters, I was allowed to get letters from my parents and from Jesse. That helped a lot, you know, and then Jesse would write me letters and try to cheer me up and tell me everything would be all right, they’d figure out that they made a mistake and whatever. But in the meantime, the reality was that I was sentenced to death. And I was in this cell that I couldn’t leave, and completely at the mercy of the merciless. I felt. And so I would open up the Bible. And it would always say something that I needed to hear. It’s a Book of Wisdom, no matter what else you believe, I don’t believe. One day I read something that told me that they don’t really get to say when I die. And I realized that I didn’t have to accept their version of what was happening. It was true, it wasn’t that I was going into denial. It’s just that it wasn’t the only that, in fact, I had a choice, which they made me feel that I had nothing. I had a choice to believe either in hope or hopelessness. So if I believed in what they said, then my situation was hopeless, and it may as well forget it. But if I believed that there was something out there, and which I could depend something, some energy, some for some, whatever you want to call it, then there was hope. And so I chose to believe in that, and hope rather than hopelessness, match everything, that one instant changed everything for me, then comes the work, of course. But so I realized that it didn’t have to just be the way they said, and that, in fact, I could turn myself into a sanctuary where I could do my spiritual work, which I didn’t have time for at home with two kids and husband. And use the time that I had, be it long, or be it short to make myself the best person that I could be. So that when they figured out they made a mistake and sent me home, I’d have something left inside me to give to the children. And if it was for some strange reason of karma that I didn’t understand, true that they were going to take my life then it was due, I felt to make myself the best person that I could be in the time that I had. So that’s what I decided to do. And that’s what I did. Now, I think I had never been to a yoga class. I never actually physically attended a yoga class, I’d only see lilius Yoga and you and that was my me time. And it was half an hour show. And that was it. Everything else could wait. And I take my half hour and I do my yoga with lilius. So I know that half a dozen postures, but she said, Oh that would help you through any situation. And so and i Okay, you’re gonna do your stuff. If you’re gonna do it, dude, now’s the time. So I started, I’d made my own schedule my own routine, I would do my yoga and met and to clear the anxiety, emotions and stress and make room inside myself. And then I would meditate to bring in energy from from outside. And then prayer to I was hoping to receive some answers, perhaps. But it connected me, it made me realize that through this energy that was in within me, that’s coming from outside, that I was no a prisoner, except physically. In every other aspects of my life, I found a freedom that I never really knew existed before. And that was amazing. That was life changing, I could send my energy out every evening, I sent my energy out to my children around what I thought would be that time. Because I didn’t have windows. And so I couldn’t really tell you no, and that would be dinner. That’s how I could tell time. There was breakfast, then there was lunch, then there was dinner. And then there was the long period from dinner to breakfast. That’s night. So that’s how I could tell that time when I thought it was a good time, I would say insert my energy out to the children, for them to send them my love to put them to bed. And then later on, I would send my energy out to Jessie and with swirl. beautiful colors and out in the atmosphere somewhere. And and so actually, I as I said, I found a freedom that I never knew even existed before. And it was quite extraordinary. Yeah, yep. Yeah.
That would put that was that all within the first five years as well that you’d found that you’d? That was within the first five months? Yeah. Oh, really? Wow.
Oh, yeah. existed, the way I work. That long lived been destroyed. And that was I decided I wasn’t going to let them destroy me. They might kill me. But until they did take my life or release me, I wasn’t going to let them destroy me and who I was. And so I realized that I was, uh, through this process, I realized that I was the spirit here on my journey. And that this little body, you know, even my little home, because I’m now I’m at home, Wherever I am, Wherever I am, is my home because this is my home. And Wherever I am, that means is I know. So. But what the next miraculous thing that happened as a result was not only what because I was seeing myself as the spirit here on my journey. Then I also had to see the jailers of spirits here and their journey, and the judge, and the prosecutor, and the man who lied, and the woman who came into our trial and lied. They’re all spirits here on their journey, too. So it allowed me to have compassion, and to not see them as the enemy anymore. And as a matter of fact, I felt in some cases that I’d rather have my journey. And theirs.
So it was it was extraordinary.
Yeah. Extraordinary, because I have written here because you’re on your website, you had healing and forgiveness were the keys to a happy life. You know, I think you still owe it right there.
Is that forgiveness? Yes, forgiveness didn’t come till later. Right? Because forgiveness is a big deal. You know, and it here is and and it’s not something you just do and go, okay, I’ve done it. It’s done. No, you have to do it over and over and over again, because things come up. And let’s say for instance, now we’re all grown up. My children are grown up. And I know something happens in one of their lives. That is because of what happened to me, and the effect that it had on them. And that upsets me make me angry. Have to do with the clear it clear the emotions, yoga, but I do it with the breath. Now I don’t have to necessarily get down and do the forward bends for anger, or the backward bends to open the heart chakra. I mean, of course, they’re very helpful. But I’ve gotten to a point where I can do it all internally now with my breath, and with my energy. So, and that’s what the postures are leading us to, to that point where we can clear ourselves to the point where you can just do it with your breath, and your energy because in the end, in the end, that’s all we have is our breath. And that little bit of energy, just before we transition again. And so I’ve learned to use my breath and energy to just clear the anger or whatever it is. And then with the next breath, I bring in clear energy, and then exhale, and send out forgiveness. And then until the next time because we’re human, you know, and I wouldn’t want to be anything. Because that connects me to everybody else. I don’t think ever reach what they call perfection because it’s not for this world. We are perfect in our imperfections.
Yeah, I love it. I love your energy. All It’s incredible. Sunny. Yeah. So, did you ever think you were getting out? Or did you just accept it accepted and just held? Like, because clearly you, you, you, you connected to the greatest source? You can? yourself. And there was, like you said, inner acceptance and the strength that came within you. thing? You it’s like Bruce Lipton, I keep hearing this quote, but he said not not not. Knowledge is power, but knowledge of self is self empowerment. And it felt like you’ve been empowered in there. And well,
I didn’t ever accept, I didn’t ever accept that. I mean, yes, in a way. I mean, I had to accept the possibility. I mean, it was written, they had all the power. You know, they just didn’t know about my secret power. But my special power, but they, they, I mean, it was the possibility. And I had to accept that that was possibility. But it also was just as possible because I had chosen to believe in hope that they might figure out that the main mistake and send me home. And so like I said, either way, the best thing I could do was to make myself the best person that I could be in the meantime. So that’s basically how I dealt with it. You know, like, prepare for the worst and hope for the best. So that’s how I lived. And and that changed the way I saw things myself. It’s like I was able to have humor again. Humor is very important. It’s very underrated. You know, but but it’s very important to have humor and to be creative. Even if you’re sentenced to death. This is even more so there’s a need to create if you’ve seen v Jeff c V for Vendetta. Yes. Yeah. Sorry, my favorite movies, of course. But, you know. So once you find the little note in the crack in the wall, it’s from the woman who, you know, it was in there previously, and she gets determined she’s gonna make it. Well, it was it was kind of like that. I became, you know, that whatever. I was gonna they wouldn’t destroy me anyway. But I used to, like, for instance, I started to see them when they came to check on me every single hour and write down what are the pros doing? Look up became my entertainment. In a little while, I could hear the footsteps coming down the hall is like, oh, here comes my entertainment. And the face would show up in the little window. And I could make them write down whatever I wanted them to write. I had power. They had to write down whatever I was doing. So I could stand up in the middle of the cell and spin around in circles and they’d have to At one time, I lay down on the floor and put my hands down my evening. And so, oh, I discovered I did have a little bit of power after all. And I’m one time people are the same everywhere. Prison is like a microcosm of the outside and there was one very nice guard. And when no other guards were around, she’d sometimes bring me an extra cup of coffee in the morning, you know? And one time she gave me a newspaper, oh, my goodness, that was amazing. And so I thought now can I do with this newspaper? I mean, this was a resource I hadn’t had before. And so I thought back, like, what did the What did the people long ago, you know, like the native people, and even back further the primitive cave people, what do they do? You know, and so I tore the newspaper into strips. And I wove them together, and I made a little net, and it covered the toilet. I didn’t have to live in looking at a toilet for the rest of my life. You know, that was great. I had control now power and control, I could have some control over my environment. So then I made another map that I could sit on on the floor when I have to do everything sitting on my bed like a sick person. And so they bring the food and slide it through a slot in the door that my that might sit on it. And I had a picture from the magazine section of a beautiful display of a vegetarian still. So it looks like eggplant, what we call a Breen and tomatoes and Oh, it was gorgeous. So I would pay set up with toothpaste on the back of the door. And I sit and eat this indescribable stuff. Looking at that and getting from that. It was amazing. So with a little humor and a little creativity. You go a long way. So it just changed everything for me. Yeah, yeah. It was amazing. Yeah. That’s how I did it.
So how long were you in prison for? And at what point? Did you realize that you think, wow, I might be getting out here. Things are changing?
Well, um, and I should say that the picture that I’ve described is in my book, it’s there’s pictures in the book. And that’s one of the pictures you can see it in the book. Yeah. But in the first five years, I was sentenced to death. And then my first appeal came up. And it was as a result of my first appeal, that they changed my sentence. But the conviction remained. And they changed my sense, because again, because the judge had not given a proper reason for overruling the jury. And because my lawyer, my appointed lawyer, said he wasn’t prepared to discuss the death penalty. So they changed my sentence. But that meant that I had to go into the prison population, which in some ways was great. I was the happiest prisoners, I could talk to people. I could go in and out of my cell, I mean, it was amazing. I in fact, I talked so much for the first three days that I lost my voice entirely. Because your your voice, I mean, it’s a muscle. And it atrophies if you don’t use it. So after not speaking very much for five years. They’re all that talking did my voice in. But yeah, it was great. And away in the orientation building where they had me after, when my son has changed, and it was so fun to run up and down and up and down and up and down the stairs until the guard came and told him no, no more. Okay. I ran back to my cell with a goal. But it was it was an amazing experience. And then they gave me a job in the kitchen. I guess because they thought because I was a vegetarian I would know something about food. And then some people came from the I guess some some bureaucrats came in and they when they found out I was working in a kitchen they insisted that I know be allowed to work in the kitchen anymore. So from jobs cleaning, I just was allowed to clean, clean the library clean most education buildings. But that was okay. Because I would make, I would fold the hand towels nicely, you know, put little messages on toilet roll around a toilet seat to show that it had been cleaned. Just, you know, leave birthday messages for staff members that are that I knew it was their birthday. So whatever it was, to wherever you want it to make it, you know, it, like it was supposed to be intended to be, or you could make it joyful, you know, it’s a choice. And that’s because I knew that you always have a choice, even in your darkest moments, when it seems like there’s no way but you have a choice how you go down that with a smile on your face, or you can go down screaming? So it’s your choice, you always have a choice. That’s one of my secret weapons.
Yeah, it’s a matter that we all need to hear, we always have a choice, you know, like some of the things that we get caught up on in our daily life and get stuck, you know, and it’s like, how much they really matter. You know, like, what was the heart of it all? You know? And then go ahead, no, no, please.
Well, I I didn’t spend that whole fight sales, after a couple of years, they move me to a different prison, a newer prison that was opened up for women. And I had a kind of a bigger cell then, which was quite nice, but it was in the hospital confinement area of the prison. So again, I was totally isolated. But I was allowed to have a watch. That was a big deal. Because I could see time and I could see hours, you know, wasn’t just breakfast, lunch, dinner in a long time in between. And so that watch became another one of my secret weapons, because you can’t, it’s not healthy to avoid being emotional. I mean, you have to be angry. Anger has a purpose. I mean, it can help you get you through a tough situation. But then the residue of that anger or staying angry for too long can be toxic. So you need to be able to deal with it, and then have tools to let it go. So the watch was helped me to invent the five minute rule. So things were happening to really piss you off really make you angry, and justifiably angry. And so I go fine. This might be the last day in my life, because none of us know. Like, we’ll be, I mean, you could walk outside and get it goodbye, or living in a lovely condo, and the whole building collapses, like happened last week, somewhere. I mean, you know, it could happen anytime. So, um, I decided that whatever it was, that had made me angry, or whoever it was, didn’t deserve to ruin what might be the last day of my life. So what I wasn’t looking for it was minutes. So I like to watch five minutes. Oh, yeah, scream, bang on the walls, whatever we took. And then, okay, five minutes is up. That’s it. Now I will think of recipes that will cook for my children when I get home. Or I will think of a song that makes me happy. Or I will visualize a place that I always wanted to go to or someplace I had been that always was nice for me or think of my cat or whatever. And let it go. Those days, I would do some yoga poses to help me deal with it. And that was it done. And if it came back, well then maybe it needed another five minutes then I would give it that. Now some things I decided it worth sometimes 10 or 15 minutes. That’s okay. But you say you are in charge. You are in charge of how long that emotion lasts. The emotion isn’t in charge of you And that’s, that’s huge. That’s huge. So of course, you have to give it some time you have to honor and respect those emotions. And give them some vent. And then that’s enough. That’s it. That’s good. Now it’s time to. Yeah. Yep. And that became the basis of forgiveness to me.
Wow. Yeah. And do you know how, during that time how Jesse was coping? Like, was it much communication between the pair of you? Yes, I’m
glad you asked. We wrote every day, every single day, we wrote to each other. And, yeah, that was what he did, all through the day, I’d write, I’d start a letter with the date. And then I put 9am, that 925, that 11 o’clock, all through the day, I would write to him. And he would do the same to me. And we wrote every day of the well until he was executed. But that was huge for me. And, and after a while, while when my sentence was changed, then getting back to when my sentence was changed, and I was put into the population. I had art supplies, like I had paints, and pastel chalks. And I would go out in the evening, and I do a painting of the sunset, you know, or of the sky. And I would use that for my letter. And so that was really nice, you know, I could share that with him. And I always kept up that practice of meditation. Every evening, I meditated to send love to my children. And every night at 11 o’clock, when all the prisoners prisons in the whole state when the quiet, absolutely quiet, and everybody has to sit on the bed for a long time, that’s when I would meditate and send myself out into the atmosphere to meet Jesse. And we’d swirl around there together for a while. before bed. So I was kept up that practice. And when the children were able to visit with my parents, which was only four times a year, because it could only be at school holidays. I taught them about the energy and meditating. And the feeling, is you see the feeling they ever have, and we’re together. That’s my energy. And when you’re home, you feel that energy that that feeling, that’s me. That’s me sending you my love. And so with that, taught them to, to meditate, use their energy that way and to recognize the feeling of each other’s energy. And we still can do that, I think. Yes.
How was your relationship with your children like I have, because how old were you when you went into prison? And how old were you when you came out?
Yeah, I was. I was 27. I remember just 27. Sometimes they say 28. But anyway, I was 27,28 years old. And my son was nine, my daughter was 10 months old. And when I finally was released, 17 years later, my son was a grown man with a three and a half year old daughter of his own, and my daughter. When she was 15, her father was executed, Jessie was executed. And it was a very horrible execution, the chair malfunctioned. And instead of dying, he caught fire and was horrendous. And when she heard about what happened to him, she tried me and her foster family because my parents died in a plane crash when about just a year after my sense was changed from death to life. They decided that they could finally take a vacation that didn’t involve coming to visit prison, Eve that they didn’t have to worry about me being executed, and the plane crashed and they died. So the children became orphans again. And my son after about a year or so he went out on his own. But my daughter, she’s only seven when they died. So she went into foster care. And when he was executed when Jesse was executed, and she was 15. And she had that episode. They didn’t know what to do, because there is no help for the families or children of people who are sentenced to death. They, they decided to send her away to a school for children with behavioral and emotional problems, where usually children are sentenced by a court. And she was locked up until she was 18 years old, and that place. So I basically lost touch with the children at that point. And it was it was very, very difficult. So when I was released, my daughter, Christina was still in that very restrictive school where I was not allowed any contact, I wasn’t even allowed to write her a letter. I was completely cut off from her and her from me. When I when I was released, I was released with the box, a cardboard box with everything I owned in the world, which wasn’t much in a cardboard box. And, and all my writing, which I had been sending out through the years, so I at least had that. And my childhood friend who had become involved in the end, trying to help the lawyers with my appeals, her name was Mickey wanted me to see my son and meet my granddaughter. Because I had no wear and I, I wasn’t able, I wasn’t able to cross the street. I mean, the from prison where you’re not even allowed to run to trying to deal with cars going by at 40 miles an hour. Like I couldn’t, I couldn’t manage all that. I couldn’t even manage all the colors in the world. Or markets were totally overwhelming. I mean, oh, all the choices you have to make. So I was like kind of an alien. That’s how I felt I felt like an alien who had been dropped down on earth again. And so I was just pretending to be like everybody else. But I wasn’t. And then I’m still okay now. And so she took me to visit my son and and his wife and spend some time with my granddaughter, Claudia, who said, Grandma, I know why you never visited me because you were lost. And I said, Yes, Claudia. I was but I will never be lost again. And then I read her story. And she went to sleep with me. And it was just the most beautiful moment. And then Mickey took me up to visit my daughter, Christina, who was still locked up. And the school arranged a confrontation. Because she had been mad at me because she thought I lied. Because I always said, I’ll be home by Christmas. I’ll be home by your birthday. I’ll be home by your graduation, I’ll be home. And I never came home. So I mean, no, I never thought it would take so long. And so she said to them, Well, you know, I was mad, but I’m not mad anymore because she’s here. So can I introduce her to my friends. So she took me and introduced me to her friends and it was really great. And then I went out to accepted my friend’s invitation to go to live in Los Angeles, California with them because and the only reason I could do that was because my son told me I would always have a home with him and his family. And he by then had lost all faith in society and was living way out in the woods. And that but that gave me the courage to go with try out Los Angeles with my friends because I knew I could always retreat to my son’s Little House in the woods. So that’s what I did. And I went to Los Angeles to live with them. I lived with them for about a year because I wasn’t I had no money. I couldn’t get a place of my own. I had no clothes except for the brought from the prison to white shirts, two pairs of jeans, six pairs of underwear and two pairs of shoes. I mean, really. So I lived with them. myself the yoga job because nobody else would hire me. I was 45 years old when I came out. When I went in. I’ve said this many times when I went in. I was young mother, a wife and a daughter. And I was 27 years old. When I went out and when I came out I was a widow and orphan and a grandmother and I was 45 years old. Nobody’s hiring 45 year old women with my work record. So myself doing what I knew how to do because When I was released from death row, and everybody saw how healthy I was, the other prisoners would ask me, What did you do to stay healthy, and I would show them on the weekends, I’d show them yoga, what I do anyway. And, and it worked. And so I ended up teaching yoga in the prison for all the years I was there. And in the end, in the end, about two years before I was finally released, we when we, my innocence, a Swami came in the the prison kid, local junior college and got a yoga teacher. And because they finally noticed there was an interest in yoga. And when the yoga teacher came in and saw what we were doing, she brought the SWAMI just so happened, there was a Swami nearby. How does that happen? And so 82 year old and Rhonda came in, and she became my mentor, and my teacher. And she would use me as a demonstrator. And in that In so doing, she was fine tuning my own practice. And that’s when I found out that we were really doing yoga the right way, moving the energy and using the breath. And it was, it was, it was fantastic. So she certified me to teach just before it was released. And so I got a job teaching yoga in a local community center. And then I would do whatever I could, whatever our job anybody had for me, because my friends told their friends, you know, about my situation. And so people would hire me to pack up their house if they were moving or babysit, or walk their dog or anything. And then finally, when my daughter was released from that school, after about a year, she came to me, and we got an apartment together. And we had to try four different times to make it work. Because I was no longer entitled to, to be her mother was a stranger, know me. In fact, she’d been told most of her life, that we were guilty. And the foster family even saved the news clippings to show her when she got older, that even though we always said we were innocent? Yes, look, it’s written in the papers. So it must be true. You’re guilty. So yep. So she grew up thinking, not knowing what to think, really. And thinking that she probably would end up in prison too, because she was told she had bad genes from us. So
I have to ask you, did it the people that made the conviction and have been involved? Has anyone been held accountable for what they’ve done? Since?
It’s a good question, a fair question. And the answer is no. And they never are. I’ve heard of one or two cases recently, in recent years where a prosecutor was given many sentence suspended sentence. And we know now that sometimes police are being held accountable. But no, no one has ever. Except recently, I must say, I received an email from someone who said that they had been a police, police person during that time, and had kept their mouth shut on a number of cases when things were done wrong. And now they are an investigator and have an even work on some of the cases that they participated in wrongly years ago, to right the wrongs and to make sure that wrongful convictions don’t happen as a result anymore. And that person apologized to me. First apology I’ve ever received. A brave person, a good person. So yeah, but No, nobody ever has been. That’s part of the problem is part of the problem where wrongful convictions happen because there’s, there are no consequences. a prosecutor can do whatever they want, and there are no consequences. They can say, well, like in mind, he said, Well, I didn’t know it was going to be important. Otherwise, I would have given you that information. no consequence. So why not do it anyway? You know, we all know there are no consequences. So they do what they want to do. And it’s not always with malice. Sometimes. They really believe they You see, there’s this thing that we now call cognitive bias. Yeah. Well, you believe a certain thing, you believe that that’s true. And so you look for whatever is going to prove what you believe. And you tend to ignore or not think about what doesn’t prove you believe what you believe. And then you’re stuck with it. And even if you find out later, ah, Well, yeah, but, you know, if I admit I’m wrong, I’ll be fired, dance. And of course, I’ll get sued. Therefore, your highlight was that you didn’t submit earlier and happens and nobody gets in trouble for it. So that’s something in the justice system, not just in America, everywhere. Peter, I’ve been to 13 countries is the same everywhere, including Kazakhstan, including some people we work with Taiwan. I haven’t been there yet. All over Europe, America, Canada, Australia. It’s the same. I’ve been to Australia. In fact, I book was published by Transworld Random House, and the Australian region made it their book of year. Wow. Yeah, it was about 2007. My book was Book of the Year in Australia. And so it’s been a very interesting journey. But we found that it’s the same everywhere and the reason, human nature.
Yeah. It’s the human condition. I get this when I ask you a couple of questions, cuz I’m aware of the time and Oh, yeah. But when you you couldn’t script you couldn’t? Couldn’t script this, like, it’s incredible. Your journey and what you’ve been on, when you look back upon it now? How do you? Do you try to make? Like, what it just makes?
No, I know. I mean, who’s, I don’t know, anybody that makes sense of their life really, is I mean, you can follow the thread. And there’s a theme, you know, through it, and there’s a learning curve through it. I should tell you also that, on part of this learning in this theme is that the next one to come, my son also came to live with us, after a while his marriage broke up. And he and his daughter came, and we became a family again. Except that was a littlest one, by then even my granddaughter was bigger than me. And, and we found a way to, to come back together again. And to forgive, and I and I needed to share that was the legacy I wanted to leave to my children. So if you want to make sense of it, that’s the sense that’s what makes sense of it is that I again, there was a choice, I could leave a legacy of anger, and retribution, and looking for compensation. Or I could leave a legacy of, of happiness and joy, and healing and forgiveness. And that was what I chose to leave. And that’s the way I chose to live my life. And that’s what I shared with them. And so to the extent that the each of them is able, at this point in their life, they’ve done so. And it’s really commendable. I think they’re amazing. My children, they’ve really done so well with the life that they were given. And so I guess the only way you make sense is that you’re each of us is here on our own journey. And all these things that happened to us, the good, the bad, the ugly, the divine, it’s all part of your journey, and dependent on the choices that you make. Throughout your journey. I believe that the purpose is to that we’re each here to learn something that we came here to learn or to accomplish something that we came to accomplish, and done, then you get to transition again and move on. So I think it’s really important to share something that I learned recently because when you get to a certain age, you experience more and more people leaving the planet you know transitioning away from this life and I decided that because We always do have a choice, no matter how my end is, what way that happens, that last breath. With that last breath, I’m going to fill myself up with as much love as I possibly can, and send it out. And that’s how I’m gonna go. I had no choice, we have that power. And I think that’s important to share, especially now through, you know, the times and, you know, people experiencing so much. You know, it’s, I think it’s very empowering and very, very calming. It gives you a sense of peace, that you know what, at least with that very last breath, I can decide. I thought that was important to share.
No, thank you for sharing. It truly is I am. You know, I was debating whether, but I will anyway, because there’s no question asked everyone on the show. And that was almost that was probably the answer, what you shared, but it’s literally with everything we’ve covered today. And in my interest right now, they’ve been would have been captivated from start to finish, I assure you, is there anything you’d like to leave them to listen to, to ponder on? All we’ve covered?
I do want to say that my choices when I was young wasn’t weren’t that great. I mean, maybe it was part of my journey, but I didn’t make such great choices. And, but I’ve learned that it’s important to surround yourself with positive people. And sometimes we have toxic people in our life. But we have to have them there. They might be people that you work with, or they might be people in your own family, you know, and people who drain energy instead of giving energy, and they can’t, that’s just who they are and how they are. And that’s their journey. But I so there’s a way of kind of, I create boundaries distance, and so that I can deal with those people. But they don’t come into my, my closest, most intimate circle, you know, and, and the most intimate person with me, of course, is my husband, Peter No. And one other friend. We’ve developed a system of sharing. Now, the reason that my relationship work with Peter, is because we connected on what you might call spiritual level, out how we looked, or what music we liked, or what food we ate, it wasn’t about that. It was about the deeper things, the things that really important. Integrity, respect. He loves children and animals. That was that those were the what we connected. I think that’s what made it work. But we’ve the system of sharing, where if something bothers me, that he’s doing, I can say, I would like to share something with you. And that means that it’s not a discussion. It’s but neither is it an accusation. It’s a misstatement. When you use a certain tone of voice or certain words, it makes me feel like when I was back in prison, and I know you wouldn’t want to do that. So I just thought you should know. Hey, now you can translate that into any situation in your life. You know, if somebody is impatient with you, you could say, you know, when I feel rushed, I get this very upsetting feeling inside me. And it makes me feel afraid, or whatever, whatever it is for you. And and I just thought you should know that and and then the person can say, Would you like me to respond or can I respond? You can say no, no, I don’t want right now. And that happens with me and Peter is maybe later, he’ll say, you know, I was thinking about what you said, and I’m going to try to not do that or say that any. Thank you. And that’s it. And it really helps. So I think you can develop ways of being in yourself and communicating with others. But it’s never, it’s always positive. Even something negative can be dealt with in a positive way. Because it’s to make it better. It’s not just to express whatever it is that you’re feeling at the time. It’s which needs to be done. But it can be done in a nice way. And you can always use the five minute rule beforehand, to vent first.
Yeah. Yeah, my children actually, were the first ones to teach me that because they said that sometimes my energy would be such that it would, it would make them feel upset. Because I was putting out I understood it as putting out too much energy too strong. So I asked them to tell me when they felt that, and they would say, Mom, you’re doing it. And immediately I go, I go in the other room, I just breathe. Release the the emotion or take the energy down level, or two or three. Fill myself up with love again, come out and start over. You can always do that. It only takes a couple of breaths. Of course, I mean, who doesn’t have time for a couple of breaths. So yeah, and I make videos now I don’t do podcast, thinking about it. But I do make videos of all these little tips and stories. And I put them on my YouTube. So that to share it with people because now in this age of zoom, yeah, virtual, but we’re not virtual. I don’t feel virtual. I mean, I feel like I, I met you and I know you and we’ve exchanged energy together. I don’t feel like that’s virtual. It’s just not physical.
Absolutely. There’s a reason why I do this every week Sunny. I get to talk to amazing people like yourself every week and it’s connecting. It certainly is. And and I love it. And sunny. I’ll be glad to Yeah, sure to link to your website. And I believe your book is available on your website as well. If people want to come
on the website. Yeah. Yeah, you can get it on Amazon that will cost you a fortune then from Amazon. And this way, if you get it through the website, I we can sign it before we send it out.
There you go. That’d be amazing. I appreciate everything that and I just think you know, does anyone listening today will come over and check you out Sonny and your YouTube and everything because you’re an amazing woman. And I’ve gotten to know you a little bit more today. And thank you for coming on and sharing. I appreciate it.
Thank you. And I’m going to take this opportunity to say that I’ve been to Australia before and that’s where my son lives. My son lives there. Yes. And and I’m hoping that this might lead to me getting back invited back to Australia again so I can visit him and my granddaughter again. So they go much let me know when you’re coming out. Oh, well, I will that would be the gift that I get for telling my story this time. That was very nice. Thanks, guy. It was a pleasure. Thanks. Bye