Call Declined: Imaginary Resources
Kamisha Thomas and Aimee Wissman are extraordinary–they are brilliant artists and the founders of The Returning Artists Guild, a non-profit organization that supports artists that have been in prison and some who are still inside. But they have had long and difficult journeys to get to this point.
In this first episode of our four-part series, Aimee and Kamisha share their personal stories. From where they grew up and the art they loved as kids to the ways that poverty, abuse, racism, and addiction shaped their lives…and ultimately, how they ended up in prison.
988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: https://988lifeline.org/
They Followed Doctors’ Orders. Then Their Children Were Taken Away (NYT Mag): www.nytimes.com/2023/06/29/magazine/pregnant-women-medication-suboxonbabies.html
Incarceration Trends in Ohio (Vera): https://www.vera.org/downloads/pdfdownloads/state-incarceration-trends-ohio.pdf
Mass Incarceration Trends (The Sentencing Project):https://www.sentencingproject.org/app/uploads/2023/01/Mass-Incarceration-Trends.pdf
Call Declined is hosted by Melissa Beck and presented by the Sozosei Foundation, a philanthropic arm of Otsuka. The Foundation’s goal is to increase access to mental healthcare to eliminate the inappropriate use of jails and prisons for the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness in the United States. Learn more at www.SozoseiFoundation.org.
The Sozosei Foundation extends special thanks to Aimee Wissman and Kamisha Thomas, visionary artists and co-founders of The Returning Artists Guild whose creativity, resilience, and lived experience inspire us to build a world where mental illness is not a crime. To learn more about the Guild visit www.thereturningartistsguild.org.
And stay up to date with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @LemonadaMedia.
For a list of current sponsors and discount codes for this and every other Lemonada show, go to lemonadamedia.com/sponsors.
Joining Lemonada Premium is a great way to support our show and get bonus content. Subscribe today at bit.ly/lemonadapremium.
Please note that this podcast contains mature content, including explicit language and discussions about drug use and other potentially sensitive topics. The views expressed are solely those of the participants and do not reflect the opinions of the Sozosei Foundation, podcast host or sponsors. Listener discretion is advised. This content is intended for mature audiences and is not suitable for all listeners.
Melissa Beck, Aimee Wissman, Kamisha Thomas
Melissa Beck 00:00
This episode includes discussions of domestic violence, substance use disorder and suicidal ideation. Please take care while listening.
Kamisha Thomas 00:10
I have a really good, very vivid memory of my childhood. Because it was traumatic, and I didn’t realize how traumatic it was until I started reflecting on my life when I was in prison.
Melissa Beck 00:34
Welcome to Call Declined. I’m your host, Melissa Beck. And this podcast, we’re sharing the stories of two women, incredible artists who faced incredible hardship, and are now changing the world. The stories from their lives that they’re about to share contain a wealth of knowledge about how people end up in prison, what happens while they are there, and how, as a society, we must do better.
Kamisha Thomas 01:08
Earliest memories are of me living on the north side of Columbus, lived on Britton now and in a pink house. And that was like, I had a pink house. You couldn’t tell me nothing.
Melissa Beck 01:23
This is Kamisha Thomas. I met with her and Aimee Wissman in October, in Columbus, Ohio, where they both live. Kamisha and Aimee are visionaries. They are brilliant artists, and the founders of the returning artists guild, a nonprofit organization that supports other artists that have been in prison, and some who are still inside. And we’ll get to know all of their many accomplishments later this season. But Kamisha and Aimee had long and difficult journeys to get to this point. They each started their life as bright, creative, hopeful kids, and then faced their own mix of poverty, racism, abuse, mental illness, substance use disorder, as well as gaps in the social safety net, a net that in the best of times they refer to as imaginary resources. By the end of this first chapter in our four part series about their lives, both Aimee and Kamisha will be on their way to prison. And to really comprehend how that all went down, we need to understand where it all began.
Kamisha Thomas 02:32
So it was like maybe lower middle class, not middle class, but or upper lower class. All right. I was a poor, yeah, yeah, I was definitely a poor, my mom always worked. And it wasn’t like, well, I don’t remember like lots of crime or anything in the pink house, but on the east side, on the lane, yes. That was like, crime. You know what I mean? Like, high crime, gang violence, and that was where I started getting into a little bit of trouble, I was a bad kid.
Melissa Beck 03:15
What does that mean to you to be a bad kid?
Kamisha Thomas 03:18
Well, I was, you know, I got in trouble. Like, I got my ass whipped a lot. I was always getting my ass whipped.
Melissa Beck 03:24
Kamisha was a very creative kid who loved music and writing, poetry and fiction. Her parents told me about how she would eat anything as a child, how her smile was contagious. But as she got older Kamisha began to struggle.
Kamisha Thomas 03:43
The teen years I’ve really started moving around. My mom really started moving around. She wasn’t happy with the east side and the crime, so she moved us all the way out to Reynoldsburg which is a predominantly white neighborhood. So I suffered a culture shock big time. When I got to Reynoldsburg Middle School, Hana J Ash in middle school. I was terrorizing, folks. And I was in the guidance counselor’s office every day. And I got into fights all the time, they would threaten to suspend me I’m like, go ahead. Call my mom call her. You don’t want to talk to her. So you don’t want to deal with her. I dare you to call my mom.
Melissa Beck 04:31
Kamisha what? And I am just going to acknowledge Aimee’s laughter at your store because I know that Aimee knows probably many many deep chapters in this and I’m going to try to draw them all out. What did you feel inside when you were terrorizing the kids at Hanna J Ashton middle school in Ohio?
Kamisha Thomas 04:50
It was it was just like I had just watched roots for the first time my art on my on my that site was really giving me sort of education and like the Middle Passage, and you know, all of these things, so I’m learning and I’m just really starting to see and realize how racist a lot of white people were. So I was angry.
Melissa Beck 05:20
Did you feel Kamisha? There was anyone around you who you could say like, I’m just so angry and have a conversation about that, or some support and feeling angry.
Kamisha Thomas 05:31
Yeah, Mrs. Palmer, the guidance counselor, and she really helped me understand and she was a white lady. She was one of the first white people that I met, that I was like, not every white person is a racist, asshole. And she’s like, I can tell that you are a really nice person, you are lovely, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. You’re so smart. You’re so you know what I’m saying? Like you are just lashing out.
Melissa Beck 06:16
All right, Aimee, tell us about your first house, your early memory.
Aimee Wissman 06:22
I think Kamisha and I are pretty similar in that we moved around like, I moved so much. So I don’t really have like an idea of home. I think a lot of people have like their parents house or something. We move so much that that really wasn’t like a thing for me. I lived in Columbus until I was eight. Then I lived in St. Louis for a year, then we moved to Florida, the Florida years were awesome. That was like the end of elementary school. I think that’s where my emotional kind of problems began. Like I don’t know if I’ve never been able to figure out like the chicken or the egg in my life in terms of mental health issues. And then like addiction and substance abuse later, so those years were good. I would sleep with my mom a lot. You know, and I she would date people and I would hate all of them. And she met my stepdad and I hated him. And they got married, and then they had my sister. So I just kind of always felt like I was on the outside of my own family, like somehow, you know, it was like, I felt like my mom started over. And I think I’m a lot more like my real father and my family then. I think it just like upsets my mom, that I’m not more like her.
Melissa Beck 07:42
We’ve talked a little bit about dads. So you just mentioned your biological father your real father.
Aimee Wissman 07:49
Yeah. The story there?
Melissa Beck 07:52
Yeah. The story there, Kamisha I’m interested in your dad.
Aimee Wissman 07:57
My dad was a mentally ill violent alcoholic. So my mom divorced my dad when I was like two, maybe three. And I have two older half brothers. So same dad different moms. And I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with them at all as a child because it was so unsafe for so long. My dad quit drinking when I was like 10 or something like that. But by then I already lived in Florida. So when we would come back to Ohio, I would start to see my dad and we have a complex relationship like he quit drinking but he picked up other substances so he has like this high horse about being sober that’s not really real he’s never been like a parent I can count on like if I have a situation I’m not calling my dad. But he is creative and and yeah, I think my my mental problems come from my dad, you know, I’ve seen him like take to the bed for months at a time type things and I’m like yeah, that’s that’s where it’s coming from. But both sides of my family are just full of alcoholism and addiction problems and mental health, so it’s very hard to figure out what is what what comes first or what is like causing the other like you can’t ever really unraveled at in my family.
Melissa Beck 09:32
Kamisha you want to talk about your dad.
Kamisha Thomas 09:35
My dad, G G money. That is my guy. I really looked up to him. He was like my hero. He turned me on to poetry, everything. At the time when we were living in the pink house, something happened between my mom and dad and they basically split up and at one point in time I was not allowed to even talk to my dad or refer to him as dad, I had to call him like Mr. Thomas. And so that was traumatic, like I didn’t understand what the beef was. So ultimately, my dad ended up going to prison when I was on the east side. He did 18 months for drug trafficking. And he was just selling weed, which is why my mom liked my dad, and in the first place, go figure. But yeah, my dad did 18 months when I was like eight or nine years old, something like that. So we’re squarely in the 1980s and childhood sort of the beginning of mass incarceration, right, mandatory minimums are really taking hold like war on drugs. We’ll talk a little bit about that and how that came into our lives.
Melissa Beck 11:05
Childhood trauma can have a significant impact on adult incarceration rates. Research suggests that individuals who experienced childhood trauma, such as physical or emotional abuse or exposure to violence, are at a higher risk of engaging in behavior that leads to arrest and subsequently being incarcerated. Addressing childhood trauma through intervention and support programs can be crucial in reducing incarceration rates, and helping people heal and reintegrate into society. This is where and when we need a call for help to be answered, for both children and their caregivers, if we’re ever going to break intergenerational cycles of trauma, and incarceration, if we fail to successfully address the needs of young people, trauma can fester and worsen over time. adverse childhood experience scores, commonly called aces are used to measure the cumulative exposure to traumatic events during childhood. And research has shown a strong relationship between a high aces and an increased risk of adult mental illness and drug use. Building systems where adverse childhood experiences are met with evidence based and culturally competent care, will reduce the risk of adult mental illness and drug use and people who have experienced trauma. This is a call for help that is answered for Aimee and Kamisha, that call was repeatedly declined.
Aimee Wissman 12:45
I skipped school a lot. I graduated early. Because my mom took me to like a psych doctor, they decided that my diagnosis was ADHD at that time, so I got adderall or whatever and graduated early. Which is funny, kind of like thinking back and like no one really thought through that. And then yeah, so then I went to college at 17 years old.
Melissa Beck 13:11
Wow. Can you tell us what year this is? Like, when what year did you start college?
Aimee Wissman 13:16
So I graduated in 2005. So I started college in 2005. And I got on heroin, my last year of high school, which is weird thing to say. But like it’s where I’ve been. I liked doing drugs a lot. I like stripping acid a lot. And I idolized a lot of like writers and musicians and things like that, that artists that had like heroin problems for me, it just seemed like, well, this must be the best possible drug. And I really had a strong death. Like I had no intention of ever living to be 21 years old.
Melissa Beck 13:53
Do you remember the first time you did heroin?
Aimee Wissman 13:56
I do. The first thing I did was an OxyContin pill. And after we did this OxyContin pill, I split it with my boyfriend, I was like, on him, and on anyone that I knew, like, I want heroin. I was like it this is my OxyContin is putting down like take me to the source. So you know, I started out and I wasn’t hard to find in 2005. And it wasn’t fentanyl yet, and then man once you ride that, right, it’s terrible, like I don’t I don’t think there’s really like a better feeling. Probably I don’t think I’ll ever feel that feeling ever again. And I don’t think I felt it all that much and like the decade that I did heroin after it really, but it was like it was a life changing experience, you know, sounds like and I didn’t understand what Dope Sick was when I started doing you know, that was a lesson I had to learn the hard way, and then when you’re 17, and you have a heroin habit, like you just do not have the resources or wherewithal to, like, know what to do. So I just like kind of perpetually dug myself deeper and deeper in you mean to avoid being dope sick. To avoid being dope sick to avoid, you know, people finding out or being embarrassed or like, something you can ask for help, like, is not something I could have taken away, I got my door taken off and, and I was my mother attempted to exercise me over weed. So like, there was no world where I was going to be like, I’m addicted to heroin, you know, but eventually that that did happen, because becomes obvious, but.
Melissa Beck 15:50
Kamisha also started using drugs and alcohol to cope when she was in high school.
Kamisha Thomas 15:56
There was a time when I was drinking. Because I was just so unhappy still with like my situation. So and my thought process was If I drink this, gin or vodka, whatever it was that my stepdad was drinking all the time, then he can’t drink it. You know? And it was like, you know, so some days I would go to school with gin and like a sprite can and just be drinking all day, at school, drunk, in high school. Yeah, just like, for what, because I was just so unhappy.
Aimee Wissman 16:38
Robo tripping in high school, you want to talk about it and have you like slam in packs, the caffeine pills and like weird drugs that aren’t like I was just faded. I was just trying to do drugs so bad.
Melissa Beck 16:50
There is a well established connection between unaddressed trauma, mental health issues that go untreated, and the reliance on substances to treat those issues. The common term is self medication. And it fuels substance and alcohol use for many, but research has begun demonstrating that art can also have a medicating effect on the mind. Let’s talk a little bit about art. Can you remember like the first creative thing you made? Or the first artistic endeavor as a kid?
Aimee Wissman 17:24
I can remember the first artists that I was excited about. That was Henri Matisse.
Melissa Beck 17:28
Uh huh. What did you like about Matisse?
Aimee Wissman 17:31
Must have seen it at the Columbus Museum. And I was probably like, six. I think I just to my child brain. You know, it was the right amount of complexity, you know, I just remember I just really liked it. Good, but I didn’t have like art encouraging family, like no one in my family was an artist or thought that the arts were a valuable part of like, their life, you know, I come from football people. Not hunters.
Melissa Beck 18:09
Who took you to the museum. Do you remember?
Aimee Wissman 18:11
I think it was my mom. And I don’t know why. Like, I don’t know why. She’s, I mean, she’s good and that, like, my mom will go to a museum. Like, you can’t have a conversation with my mom really about art at all. Like, you know.
Melissa Beck 18:28
Kamisha do you have your first let’s call it artistic memory.
Kamisha Thomas 18:32
I made a really, what it turned into an ashtray. It was a it was a clay piece, it was a face, a man’s face. That’s the first thing that I remember making. But outside of that I’ve always been a writer. I like words, so stories, you know, writing stories and poems and things like that. And my dad had written several poems and plays and published a book of poetry. And so I was and like I said, he brought me the records and everything and musics always been, that’s really my earliest. One of my earliest memories of enjoying art, which is music is just my dad and his cronies, as Karen would call them, singing my girl to me. That you can tell them they weren’t the temptations. Like a really nice memory, but music, writing films, movies, and I’ve always been really interested in set design and watching and looking at, you know, the way things kind of like come together, but your writing is primarily my thing.
Melissa Beck 19:51
After a quick break, Aimee and Kamisha will tell us about becoming mothers for the first time and the events leading up to their arrests. Over time, as she got older, Aimee’s addiction deepened. She found herself in an abusive relationship with a man named Brad. And eventually she discovered she was pregnant.
Aimee Wissman 20:33
It took me a long time to figure out I was pregnant because I was always so dope sick and stuff. In Florida. I didn’t do dope I did like Hills because the pill mills run rampant. So throwing up all the time. So I didn’t catch on, until I was like five months pregnant. And then I went to the doctor, and then it was like, fuck. Because I didn’t, I had no intentions on ever being a mother, and honestly, I was so harmful to myself, like, I just couldn’t imagine that anything could possibly live inside of me. But yeah, I got super skinny and super stressed out about my, my drug problems. So I got into like some high risk, you know, pregnancy support, I got transferred to like a state facility of some kind where they like detox me a little bit and got me onto Subutex. I took Subutex the whole time, I was pregnant after that. And when I got released from my, like, little rehab situation, I wanted to go back to Ohio to be with my mom, because despite my feelings or like our problems, or whatever, like, when it’s something that terrifying. Like, I wanted my mommy so bad. I was like, I gotta go back. And yeah, I remember when my daughter was born, that is the happiest I’ve ever seen my mother. I don’t think I will ever see my mother, like, smile like that, I mean, it was just like, wild how happy she was, despite how disappointed and pissed off everybody was about like my entire life. Up until that moment, I think like in the birth moment. There was a lot of joy. And I just mostly remember everybody, like, immediately not giving a shit about me at all, like the whole room just like shifted, you know, and then you’re just kind of laying there like, okay, well. Somebody’s patch me up. And we got to stay in the hospital for a couple of days, because they thought Olivia might be addicted to the Subutex, which she didn’t like she didn’t show any signs of withdrawal. But there were some nurses that were real bitches about it. I mean, people are not treating women that are like giving birth on methadone or Subutex, or whatever with a lot of love, necessarily so.
Kamisha Thomas 23:01
It’s that judgmental thing, its that judgmental piece people are just so judgmental when it comes to that.
Melissa Beck 23:08
And that sort of judgment has led to some laws and policies that put pregnant people who are in treatment in a real no win situation. Either give up the treatment prescribed by your doctor, or give up your baby. As a nation, we have a hard time acting with compassion for all. And this is a perfect example, instead of compassion, we judge in this case, child welfare did not take action when Olivia was born. That came later.
Aimee Wissman 23:38
They couldn’t understand like, where I was coming from or how it ended up with this person or why I had stayed or like any of the things that I don’t know which people are lacking empathy I think a lot in healthcare in terms of like understanding where someone is showing up. After I gave birth to Olivia, they cut off my Subutex because I got an injury of Brad related injury, they cut off my Subutex so then I was like, basically back to square one with my opiate addiction problem. Like, you can’t just cut someone off opiates. Um, so then I was back on heroin.
Melissa Beck 24:19
When you got out of the hospital with baby Olivia.
Aimee Wissman 24:24
Melissa Beck 24:24
Where did you go?
Aimee Wissman 24:27
Um, Brad and I were living in like a condo. So we went there. And yeah, I don’t know. I’m sorry, I keep listening to you, and then like, I can’t shift all the way back into my ship. Yes. Hard.
Melissa Beck 24:50
Why do you think it’s hard?
Aimee Wissman 24:55
There was just so like, I don’t want to cry or something like you know, I’m saying like it was just so much. It was a very violent situation with Brad. And I was just incredibly stressed out the whole time. And kind of detached a little bit like, I was not fully engaged. I don’t think, as a mother ever really, even now, I don’t feel like I can fully like it’s just hard.
Melissa Beck 25:33
Yeah. Yeah, I understand. I appreciate that. appreciate you sharing that with us as well, I think, you know, violence, and it sounds like one of the things, you know, theme for all of us is kind of the intergenerational components of all of this, including violence against women. Kamisha, tell us about becoming a mother for the first time. Did you enjoy being pregnant?
Kamisha Thomas 26:01
I did enjoy being pregnant, because it was my excuse to eat. But what wasn’t fun was I had like, morning sickness, with Cambrianna, and it was, it was, it was the worst.
Melissa Beck 26:17
How old? Were you?
Kamisha Thomas 26:19
1920, I was 20. So I was, you know, I wasn’t trying to have kids at first, but then I got pregnant, and I was like, well, I kind of have an opportunity to maybe break some generational curses, and be a better parent to my daughter than I felt like my mother was to me. So I remember having a conversation with my mom at one point about, you know, maybe letting her raise Cambrianna, because I was not ready to have my life affected by a child and be the responsible person that I needed to be to keep another human being alive. And well, right. I was still struck, I was, you know, just getting into some job security and, you know, things like that, so it was a discussion that we had, you know, about maybe her taking Cambrianna on until I could get myself together and get on my feet. But then I was like, I think I got it under control. You know, that’s the Capricorn in me like I can handle it. You know what I’m saying? I can do it. I can do anything, and I can be better than you. You know, that’s always been my mindset, just wanting to be better than my own mother. As a parent, yeah.
Melissa Beck 27:49
And how was the birth?
Kamisha Thomas 27:52
Cambrianna? Oh, man. Well, that was, that was exciting. I had planned on working up until the day of, you know, my delivery. And my mom was trying to go to work, it was in the morning I woke up because I was like cramping. I’m like, what is this cramping happening? And I realized they were contractions because of the time that like, they’re so far apart. I’m on the phone with the nurse and she’s like, Oh, get to the hospital because it’s about to go down. I’m like, okay, so I call my mom like, mom, I gotta go to the hospital. She comes back takes me to the hospital. And my cousin Matt was there. I want to say aunt Kelly was there. And then I got the epidural. And I could still feel it on the left side. I can still feel everything on the left side like it didn’t take on the left side. And so I push that kid out. Man, I was in there like I changed my mind I don’t want to be a mom, no helps me make it stop my cousin’s that at the end. He’s watching Cambrianna come out like I see hair. I was like, okay, like, oh, gosh, pull it out. Is it over? Is it over? Is it over? I felt the whole thing on the left side. But she came into the world about 4:51pm, I remember my cousin Alex like, she’s so many inches. She’s going to be this tall. He had like some formula wasn’t right. I have no idea, I’m gonna I asked him one time, like when she was 18 when she graduated when I when I first came home was like, Alex, do you remember that formula to figure out how tall a kid is going to be when they’re born based on their birth length? He was like, I don’t remember cuz I’m like, Yeah, that would have been useful.
Melissa Beck 29:49
Let’s talk about Kahari’s birth. What was that like?
Kamisha Thomas 29:52
His was way easier way smoother. I was talking on the phone to my home girl like, yeah, girl, I’m in this hospital. You know, I was having a contraction, my water broke, it was leaking blah, blah, blah. Talk to her and the nurse was like, I’m just gonna peek you know, she lived up that thing she said, she said you might want to get off the phone and start pushing because your baby is coming. Wow. I said Oh girl, let me call you back click hang up the phone, push Kahari out, it was great
Melissa Beck 30:32
What happened before you were arrested? How? What was your life like?
Aimee Wissman 30:37
So when I think about the time before I was incarcerated, I mostly think about the last year before I went to prison, because Olivia was born in December.
Melissa Beck 30:46
So Olivia was one when you were incarcerated.
Yes. stuff with her father was just getting like, worse by the day, and I was kind of having like constant panic attacks. And I was really struggling like mentally very fragile, I guess. And he was working, and I was robbing people, because I had the drug problem to support yet again. So I did a couple of burglaries nearby, and there was a laptop that I had stolen, that I very specifically told him like, do not under any circumstances, like, take this shit to the pawnshop, you crack it like do not do this, and he sure shit did that. So that’s how they were able to connect us back to or connect him back, I should say to this burglary, but because I had been lying to Children’s Services, and he was my access point to live, if he got in trouble, then neither one of us would be able to be around live. So I told the police I’m like I did it. He didn’t have anything to do with it. Right? So he gets off Scot free on all that. And I had four burglary charges. So I was in jail for I don’t know, like a week or something and was in Butler County Jail. That’s the jail where they don’t give women bras. So every time I ever went to court and Butler County, I just had to go tits out. Which really upset me because that just I don’t know, as a woman is not like I like wearing a bra. But like if you’re out in public, I feel like you feel a little vulnerable without it unless you’re like intentionally trying to rock that look, you know. So, if it’s not like something you chose to do, it makes you feel vulnerable. I think.
Melissa Beck 32:49
In many lives systems collide. Amy’s choice to keep Brad’s violence a secret from Child Welfare. In short, she could still see Olivia. So we have a person being brutalized in order to keep seeing their child. This is not just a call declined. This is a wrong number. We need to streamline policies to ensure the well being for all people involved. This includes Brad, where’s he going to get help address his brutalization of women be a more supportive partner to Aimee, who really deserved and needed support.
Aimee Wissman 33:24
But yeah, I must I got bonded out and then I remember coming home from jail. I remember the way that Olivia woke up, just like the way she rolled, like, I don’t know, she sat up a little bit. She’s probably like nine months old. And was just really excited to see me. And it was around that time that I just had this constant like feeling of like, this isn’t like, there’s something bad is going to happen. And I kind of thought it was that Brad was gonna kill me or that I might kill him. I didn’t think it was gonna be like a big big girl prison sentence. But yeah, bonded out and then children’s services, like extra involved and what’s not helpful? Was Children’s Services gone? No, never not one time. I mean,
Melissa Beck 34:16
If you could have been your child services worker. What would you have said to you? What, could that have been different? Can you write that script different?
Aimee Wissman 34:29
I think that I had one children’s services worker who I think knew that I was being abused. And I can remember her trying to like softly give me some information about like a domestic violence shelter or something like that. But I was so warped. I was just like, trying so hard to just survive, like, I don’t think I could hear anything that anyone was saying. At that, like it was, it had reached a point of no return fully, by then, like there had been other points of no return, but by then it was just like how do I keep custody of my kid and get rid of these interfering, do gooders that are just creating problems? But because of that burglary, being in the neighborhood that we lived in, we had to move out of that condo. So that’s when we moved into a motel. And then we’re living in a motel with a almost one year old, you’re like, that was insane, and violent, and just like more of the same, like, drugs, drugs, drugs. So the night, will right before I got the robbery charge that ultimately sent me to prison, we went to Florida to visit his family for like Christmas. And my mom had also been in Florida, like at her own condo, so she had agreed to pick live up from us. Like after we got done seeing his family at the end of December. And when my mom put live in her car, I knew immediately like I was not going to see live again. And like I cried for like two hours, and Brad was really pissed. But like, I just knew whatever was gonna happen, I was gonna see her again, and of course, we didn’t have enough money to get back to Ohio, so we were like, I was doing like small little thefts and stuff, like out of stores, and then selling it at a gas station and like, get to the next tank of gas. And when we got back to that motel, there was a we got into a fight about me making him fajitas there was like a one burner, stove situation. And he really fucking thought that I was like, going to somehow make it and then like, we got into a huge fight. And I left that hotel and I walked to another hotel where I had a friend staying and she and I proceeded to get pretty drunk, her girlfriend had beat her up as well that day. So we were both just like, getting drunk and licking our wounds and scared to go back to either partner without money or drugs. And so we decided to do this stupid ass robbery that you know, when I came to in the cell the next day and found out I had a felony one. I couldn’t process that I was like, we were drunk. I had a pocket knife we robbed $1 store, no one was hurt. We didn’t even get away hardly like it was such a failure of a thing. And even before we did the robbery, I told my co defendant, like, you know, we’re about to go to jail, and she was like, don’t say that. And I was like, I’m telling you, we are about to go to jail, like if you could just feel it. Sometimes the universal just give you that. Those gut feelings and if you get too many of them in a row, and I just kind of felt I guess resigned in so many ways to go to jail. Like I knew we were gonna go to jail and I was like, I like whatever is going on like this, none of this shit is working out. So like, I am willing to, like, tap out of life pretty much like I haven’t been able to really kill myself successfully. I don’t want to live in the world that I’m living in anymore. So like, but then I would have never thought I was gonna get like a year sentence. You know, like when I felt that feeling, I don’t know maybe that’s me being like, naive or some like white privilege or something where you just don’t understand the consequences of your actions appropriately. But I never never in life thought like I was gonna go away.
Melissa Beck 38:58
For some, Aimee’s words may be hard to relate to. For others, they may really resonate. I want to hold space for how listeners might be feeling right now. And remind folks that resources like the 988 lifeline are available if you need some support. After this last break Kamisha tells us the story of how she ended up in prison.
Melissa Beck 39:46
So Kamisha, what was your life like before you were arrested? Can you describe that for us?
Kamisha Thomas 39:55
Well, before I was arrested, I was working as a videographer I guess I was doing commercials for local restaurants and performance videos for artists, things like that. I went to school for TV and Radio Broadcasting. So had this on again off again boyfriend named Dwayne, who I met through my best friend Heather, at the time, who they both did cocaine I didn’t, I just only smoked weed. And that’s irrelevant, because people would ask me like, were you high or something? Like, were you on drugs? I was like, what are you talking about? Because I robbed a bank is such a, you know, like, seems like such a terrible thing for me to do, but well, before I had, as I mentioned, I was, you know, I started my own business, the MAMARAZZI Media Group. And myself and two other women were, you know, taking on the task of doing performances and commercials, etc. Well, my house got robbed, it was spring break, I mean, the kids we got in the bed, fell asleep watching Twilight, I wake up the next morning and everything looks weird. I go downstairs, my front door I get, I go to the stairs, and I see that my front door is wide open. I go down stairs, close the front door, I start looking around and find that everything is gone. The TV the vacuum cleaner, my Dyson vacuum cleaner that I had just bought, like us paid $400 for a fucking vacuum cleaner. They stole my vacuum cleaner. The TVs, the weeds, the computer was gone out of the office, which was in the next, the very next room from where me and my children were sleeping. So my house is completely robbed, they took everything except for the old camera that I wasn’t using. So they took the iMac computer, which was also brand new. My dad bought it. I convinced him to let me have it down at my house so that I didn’t have to go to his house to do whatever editing I wanted to do. So yeah, so my house got robbed.
Melissa Beck 42:17
Kamisha Thomas 42:18
It was very frightening because me and my children were sleeping in there. And what if one of them would have woke up? So fast forward, I’m trying to get a job. I’m trying to get my food stamps. I’m trying to get, you know, my life back together. I needed some money for a cord because like I said, they steal everything except for the old camera. And I’m like, well, I can still probably go to the school and edit if I need to. I just need to be able to record but I needed a specific cord to transfer the information from the camera to the computer. I ended up just feeling desperate, really needing some money I was hungry that kids were you know, like stressing me out, I didn’t have any food. I couldn’t get any food stamps because they lost the fucking paperwork. I had applied for a job at Wendy’s. And the lady threw me off like an application in the trash ready as soon as I walked out the door. Had I not looked back, I wouldn’t have seen that. Her throw my application in the trash, but she did. And I was gonna kill that bitch that day. Oh, Lord have mercy. I was gonna kill it. But I had the kids with me right in the car. So I’m like, Damn, I can’t kill this switch, I got these kids in the car. Definitely going to jail, this is this is not ideal. So drove away that day, and then so like the very next day, I ended up taking my kids and dropped them off at my grandmother’s house. And I was I had called my boyfriend, I was like, look, we got to do something. I told him I was like, well, the house got robbed, blah, blah, blah, my phone, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. He was like, well, I’ll be over there. So he came over, and we get to talk and he get in high, I’m smoking weed. I’m like we just gonna rob a bank. Right? Like that’s the answer is to rob a bank. And so he was like, which one? I think he thought I was joking. But I was like, not it can’t be the Huntingtin because they got the doors that automatically like you can’t get out. You know what I’m saying? So we were gonna rob the Key Bank, which was right, like at the end of my street, and I’m like, no, that’s dumb. So eventually we was like, okay, boom, this one. And yeah, I drove to the bank. We walked in with this brandishing weapons and demanded money. He led off a shot inside the bang. So Mmm yeah, and then as the as we’re driving away the die packs start to explode in the car fills up with the the smoke and everything. So now we’re home, no police in sight. But now we’re home at my house and we got all this money that was dye on it right there was only maybe $300 That did not have dye on it. All of the head dye on it. So I tried oxy clean kaboom, everything, you know, put it in the washer, bleach, good old fashioned bleach. You know what I’m saying? That shit was not working. But we took all the money out of the washing machine because we didn’t wash dishes trying to get the money off and then and then we left because we saw the police right down the street. They weren’t looking for us. They didn’t know yet, I guess. And then we went, we went on the run. We were on the run for almost two weeks. We get to South Carolina, trying to go to different car washes and laundry mats to get change to swap out the dyed money.
Melissa Beck 46:09
Yeah, I was about to ask how much did you take? So you take all the money out of the washing machine in Ohio? How much did you take with you? Did you take everything that was all covered in dye everything and how much was it?
Kamisha Thomas 46:22
It was a little over $20,000 and some some change is what we got away with. And we make it to South Carolina, meet up with my cousins. We got a motel and like Spartanburg and when one of my cousins that should not have known that I was in town called me. Like hey cus, was like whats up? I, how’d you know I was here. She was like, yeah, I’m gonna come see you here in a little bit. But you might be gone by the time I get there. The marshals were at the door. Like they were like hi now behind the shed there was they were everywhere. There was a list.
Melissa Beck 47:22
Next week on Called Declined, Aimee and Kamisha meet each other inside of Dayton Correctional Institution. We talk about what the carceral system does and does not do to the lives of people who go to prison.
Aimee Wissman 47:37
You don’t get in the room for resources until you get arrested. Or until you get involuntarily help, or you know, you overdose or you’re pregnant or like there’s some.
Kamisha Thomas 47:52
Or evicted like some kind of victim you know, you don’t get the health care that you need until you’re in the hospital. It’s a dire situation like it’s always too late. Everything is reactive, instead of proactive.
Kamisha Thomas 48:06
And we learn how art brought Aimee and Kamisha together and ignited the flame that would become the returning artists guild.
Call Declined is the production of Lemonada Media in partnership with the Sozosei Foundation. I’m your host Melissa Beck. […] is our producer. Noah Smith is our audio engineer. Montez Mickens is our recording engineer. Music by Xander Singh. Story editing by Jackie Danziger. Additional support from Karen Powell, Don Gunderson Taylor and Maggie Croushore. Thanks to Dr. Jennifer Bazar and Dr. Cathy Fay at the cutting center for the history of psychology. Call Declined as presented by the Sozosei Foundation, a philanthropic arm of Otsuka the foundation’s goal is to increase access to mental health care in order to eliminate the inappropriate use of jails and prisons for the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness in the United States. Learn more at SozoseiFoundation.org. The Sozosei Foundation extends special thanks to Aimee Wissman and Kamisha Thomas, visionary artists and the cofounders of the returning artists guild, whose creativity resilience and lift experience inspire us to build a world where mental illness is not a crime. To learn more about the guild, visit thereturningartistsguild.org. Follow Call Declined wherever you get your podcasts or listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership.