Things Not Said

I’ve had a secret for many years that I didn’t want to tell.

It goes like this:

I was in my twenties and incarcerated.  

I am a product of the foster care to prison pipeline. I made all the wrong choices and had an addiction problem. I made life difficult for myself and my loved ones. Thankfully, I made changes in my life and that is no longer my reality.

Many years ago, August 8, 1996, to be exact, I was 21 years old and I had to turn myself in the day before I turned 22.

I was out on bail for a crime I did high and drunk and young and stupid. 

I turn myself into Lemon Creek Correctional Center (LCCC), because I am from Juneau, Alaska.  I’m one of about 18 other women. LCCC is co-ed and my dad is there. He was often incarcerated because he would get probation violations due to drugs. 

The “no frills” law changed a few things while I was at LCCC. The one big change was the cigarette ban, and the last time to buy cigarettes on weekly commissary had everyone, including non-smokers, buying up the max order of cartons. The cigarettes purchased on commissary were allowed, and when you ran out, you were done. 

No more. 

When DOC enacted this it was easier to get weed, but then it balanced out.

Still, the shakedowns impacted what was coming through. 

That’s where Officer Ackerman came in.

He was a new guard. 

Red haired, early 30’s.

Me and another young woman would do little strip shows for him when he did night checks, flashing the light into our cell, he would give a packet of loose tobacco. Menthol. The thin paper in bibles was used to make rollies. 

Sometimes we would have our own rooms, depending on the count of women incarcerated. Depending on who was working the night shift with Ackerman, he could come into the cell, where there were no cameras.

When the other woman contacted an attorney in Anchorage about the ongoing sexual favors, hoping to get one of those big paydays, I joined in and talked to the attorney. He was located in Anchorage. 

Soon after, I found myself in segregation. After about a month in segregation I was transferred up to a different facility in Kenai, far away from my hometown. I had no more calls with the attorney.

I was far away from my 4 year old son and family in Juneau.

I finished the rest of my time in Kenai. It was a lockdown facility,  and we were lucky to have 30 minutes to walk circles in the small yard early mornings. In the fall of 1997 I was handed a gate money check for $125 and a plane ticket back to Juneau.

I was planning to live with my son who was now living with a friend that had taken over as a foster parent. 

The next morning I went to my scheduled appointment with my probation officer. She wanted me to go into the halfway house, Glacier Manor, to transition back to society. 

I was crushed, after not holding my son for so long and being with him for only a little over 24 hours, I was again torn away from him. 

Luckily Michael, the friend who had my son, came up with a great idea. He would hire me as his assistant. Michael was an electrician and had a small business, Akela Electric, that he ran out of his house. 

As he drove to drop me off at Glacier Manor, I had some hope as we discussed the plan of putting me on the payroll and getting the paperwork to Glacier Manor.

My dad was now at Glacier Manor as well, along with others I knew from growing up in Juneau. I just had to bide my time. 

I would be with my son soon enough, I told myself as I hugged my four year old son goodbye, fighting back tears.

It was late, I waited until the last minute to check in at Glacier Manor without getting a warrant. The night shift had just a few officers on. 

I was heartbroken to be away from my son,  and depressed to be back in jail. Glacier Manor let us smoke outside at the smoke shack, but it still counted as being incarcerated and had rules I had to abide by or I would be back at LCCC. 

My one duffle bag filled with everything I owned was taken and checked for contraband. I was directed to the office to complete my intake by the Staff Sergeant on duty.  He was a big samoan man. His brothers were the court officers and were always nice. Another brother of his was a guard at LCCC. 

During intake I brought up working for Michael and the Staff Sergeant said that it was a policy to not work in private homes.

But he would be able to make an exception. If I could do something for him. 

It started that night, me having sex with him, so I could see my son. 

After the initial 10 days of community service that everyone had to complete upon intake I was able to work for Akela Electric at Michaels house. 

The Staff Sergeant made good on that promise. 

He would give me a ride there on some days, with a quick stop at his house that was only a few blocks from Michaels house to have sex. 

His son had a small school desk in the room next to his. There were pictures of his wife on the wall. I couldn’t believe this was happening, but it was worth it. I got to be with my son and had no issues at Glacier Manor.

That is until my dad found out. 

This coincided with a treatment assessment my probation officer had scheduled. Somehow, she knew I was spiraling. I had started to drink when the Staff Sergeant was on. I knew I wouldn’t get into trouble with him working. He would bring me a little bottle of rum or vodka, and I would drink it while taking a bath. I would stash the bottle deep in the garbage and take it out in the morning before leaving for work.

The treatment assessment didn’t go very well. 

I hung up on Jim, the man running Akeela and doing my phone assessment. My probation officer had stepped out of her office briefly, and when she returned I told her it wasn’t a good fit, hoping she would leave it at that and let me go on with my life.

She didn’t.

She said treatment or I could go back to jail. I didn’t want to call her bluff, because I knew LCCC would transfer me back out and I would be away from my son.

Akeela gave me a bed date. 

I was to head to Anchorage February 14, 1998. 

My dad was happy, he wanted me out of Juneau. Although he spent more time in jail than with me growing up, we got to know each other when we were in LCCC, and then again in Glacier Manor. He saw first hand how the choices to do what I felt were right were affecting me. 

When Andy Swanson, the director of Glacier Manor, called me into his office he made it clear what would happen if I was having a “relationship” with a staff member. 

It was against the policies, the very ones I had signed upon intake at Glacier Manor, and I would be removed and placed back into jail, he said. 

I still remember the blue chair I sat in as he told me this.  If I spoke up and said something, said there was any truth to what he had heard, I would be placed back in jail, back to LCCC.

I denied everything. 

I had less than 2 weeks to spend with my son before I was to be sent to Akeela House. I wasn’t going to waste that precious time in LCCC.

When I got to Akeela House I was angry. 

I wanted to be home in Juneau. 

The house rules, the other annoying people, did not make sense. I wanted to leave so many times but I didn’t know Anchorage and I would get more time. Leaving meant a probation violation. 

Luckily, I had a counselor that tapped into my hard head and made the life I have now possible. Still, I didn’t tell her what had been happening at Glacier Manor. 

My dad was still there, and I didn’t want any retaliation on him. He was forever on probation and in and out of LCCC and Glacier Manor.

I went on with my life, not returning to Juneau. 

My son came to live with me in Anchorage after I graduated from my year plus treatment at Akeela. 

I got married, had a daughter, and got a degree. 

I put what happened behind me, neatly tucked away as if it was someone else’s life and problem.

Years later I was charged with sex trafficking because I was a sex worker and working with other sex workers for our safety and security.  As I sat in jail the anger stemming by the paradox of being held accountable and having consequences when I did what I wanted with my body, while those who took what they wanted, took advantage of their authority, had no consequences and were never held accountable for their actions, come to writing about these things I’ve kept hidden away. 

Returning to Juneau to lobby against the bad laws that affected sex workers in Alaska the past was everywhere I turned. 

What I had tried to forget, tried to tuck away, became a reality I could no longer deny.

The friends and loved ones left behind in Juneau went on with their lives, just as I went on with mine. 

I had seen most of my friends’ lives unravel, many dying because of drugs and alcohol. Some murdered, some OD’d, some with ongoing major health issues. At least one missing. 

I ran into my probation officer.

The same one who sent me to Anchorage, away from Juneau and everyone I knew.

I thanked her. 

My dad OD’d in 2002. My grandfather had passed away a few weeks before. My grandmother died within the year. My mom died in 2021. The people I didn’t want to hurt, or embarrass, are gone from this world. 

My kids are now adults. I can tell the world about this without any fear of being ripped away from them, or any retaliation on my dad.

I never saw or heard anything about Officer Ackerman. I think he was fired or quit after the allegations were brought up about him at LCCC.

The Staff Sergeant at Glacier Manor, Illalio Fenumiai, was never charged, and continued on at Glacier Manor until he became more active in the National Guard. He became a football coach at a high school in Anchorage.

I’m writing about all of this because it’s time. I wasn’t able to speak up 25 years ago, but I can now.  It wasn’t until I heard others speak out did I realize I could. 

This for my 24 year old self, who didn’t have a voice and was afraid of consequences for myself and the ones I loved. 

3 responses to “Things Not Said”

  1. Travis Cronin Avatar
    Travis Cronin

    I applaud you’re resilience and perseverance. I’ve always admired you since first hearing of you. I hope you know how much of an inspiration you are to so many people.


  2. Michael Parker Avatar
    Michael Parker

    So glad you survived. 

    Sent from Michael Parker’s iPhone


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  3. Avatar

    Heartwarming story, Amber. Love you.

    -Michael Parker


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