About Jamie Silvonek

Jamie Silvonek was convicted of first degree murder of the death of her mother at the age of 14. She is serving 35 to life without parole at SCI Muncy in Pennsylvania. Jamie has the unconditional love and support of her father and maternal grandmother. Jamie is housed with other young adult offenders in an adult prison.

Incarcerated women like myself practice Hygge on a daily basis

Since our slightly less urbane and definitely not gluten-free ancestors performed magic by discovering fire, the desire to be cozy has become innate for far more than just survival. I had no idea the love of coziness had a name: all I knew was that it was one of my reasons for existence, and there was nothing better after a long day than to don my favorite sweatsuit, taking care to look as lumpen, misshapen, and questionably inhuman as possible. I would heat up a fluffy blanket in the drier, grab a hot beverage of choice, and delve into whatever I was currently reading along with my mother, who was an avid reader as well. Apparently a love of reading is hereditary. Oddly enough, I only discovered the sense of comfort and well-being I adore so much has a name, Hygge, while in prison, which I learned reading an article in Time magazine. Thanks, Time!

After reading the article, I quickly asked a loved one to order me a copy of “The Little Book of Hygge” by Meik Wiking– the CEO of The Happiness Research Institute based in Copenhagen. I was charmed by the book’s enriching techniques and suggestions as to how to make your life more “hyggeligt”; areas included lighting, ‘togetherness’ and socialization, food and drink, clothing, and the furnishings of your home. What inspired me the most is how incarcerated women like myself practice Hygge on a daily basis, in spite of our oppressive, restrictive environment.

Hygge practices are highly individualized and unique for everyone, and behind prison walls they are as well. Some of my favorite Hygge practices mirror what brought me comfort at home. When I’m not busy, I still love to change into my favorite sweatsuit and crawl into bed with a book, and I enjoy listening to music, effectively tuning out my environment. Every night to wash off the sweat of the day I take a long, sauna-like shower; as the steam envelops me and the hot water massages my muscles, I am able to relax and unwind, let go of whatever worries and emotions have been gnawing at me throughout the day.

I’ve observed, fascinated, as my peers knit luxurious scarf and hat sets, blankets, mittens and gloves, and, my personal favorite, socks, that appear professionally made. Not only is wrapping yourself in these soft, woolen, colorful items comforting and the definition of Hygge, but the very act of knitting and crocheting is, as well. I’m sure I would find it very soothing if I had the patience.

In addition to our artistic creativity not being stultified, we women prisoners have proven ingenious in regards to our cooking abilities. What could be more Hygge than prison-made macaroni and cheese, lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, stromboli, chicken stir fry, or cheesecake? Maybe a lot of things, but still.

Though activists like myself may be ardent in our belief that an environment such as prison is one that no human being deserves to be confined in, America continues to incarcerate more people than any other country, making us a Prison Nation. Human beings having the uncanny gift of resilience and adaptation, many of us incarcerated individuals adapt to the situations we are in, and try to make the best of them. However, no amount of positivity and humanity we prisoners bring to the penal system, no amount of “reform” that lawmakers vow but never quite seem to put into action, will ever mitigate the Draconian, cruel, backwards mentality that human beings are disposable and should be thrown away when we make bad choices instead of teaching us to make better ones.

Comfort can be a great thing– but Noam Chomsky warned us about its illusions.

I remain fully aware of the life I helped to take while strumming my guitar, watching a movie, playing chess, or participating in sports here in prison: most days the guilt threatens to swallow me whole. I’m sure many of my peers experience similar feelings of remorse. Prison isn’t filled with monsters. It’s filled with people like you and me, who have made terrible decisions. It isn’t an ugly place; you can find beauty and compassion if you know where to look. If you are ever in Muncy, Pennsylvania, I’ll gladly show you.

 

(Photo Credit: Ms. Magazine)

Women as villains (Part 2)

When I was 13, I entered a toxic, unhealthy relationship with a military man years my senior. Unsophisticated and inexperienced in relationships and insecure, I misinterpreted the red flags of an abuser to be signs of his love for me. When my mother learned of our relationship, she tried to do her duty as my mom, protector, and best friend, because she loved me unconditionally and without reserve. Her attempts to end the relationship prompted us to eventually consider murder as our only way to remain together.  Even then, I still was envisioning my mom supporting us at the wedding of our dreams, to demonstrate how naive and out of touch with the gravity of the situation I was at the time.

Afterwards, it was a media frenzy, and I was portrayed to be more of a monster than my codefendant was, in spite of the fact that he was the one who committed the physical act. The media devoured the salacious nature of our relationship, and played up every juicy detail they could, taking every angle. They didn’t care that a tragedy had occurred: a mother’s life was taken senselessly, for no reason; a family had been torn apart, was devastated and would never be the same. A father had suddenly lost both his wife and daughter, a brother his sister and mother in one fell swoop. Another family lost their son and brother as well. The media didn’t care to ask what drove a normal, healthy, bright young girl to help murder her own mother. They only wanted to sensationalize and exploit a tragedy to sell papers, re-victimize a victimized family.

So where does the woman-blaming theme come into play in my case? Both the prosecution and the media — and even my (female) judge — took the stance that I alone was the puppet master, that I manipulated my unsuspecting codefendant into committing murder. That he was so blinded by his love for me, so wrapped up by my lies, feminine guiles and irresistible powers of seduction that he was powerless against me: putty in my hands. My intellect was used against me, my articulation and eloquence thrown in my face; even my opinions and ability to express my views on religious, social, and political issues – positive attributes, now signs of witchcraft, evidence of guilt. If this would have happened a few hundred years ago, I would have gone up in flames.

I took full accountability and ownership for my role in my mother’s murder. My mom, my family deserve that, and I couldn’t live with myself without doing the right thing. What offended me wasn’t my unconscionable actions being scrutinized in the public eye. What bothered me was the media not viewing my codefendant and me in an equal light, not seeing our case for what it was. My codefendant and I were equally responsible for my mother’s death. We both had choices, decisions, and we made the wrong ones. To pretend now that we weren’t responsible, culpable, or had a choice is cowardly and dishonest.

I would do anything to bring my mom back, but I can’t. So now it is up to me to be truthful about how things escalated to that point, educate society about such tragedies, try to prevent other young women from entering abusive relationships like the one I was in, as they all end in tragedy and disaster. It is incumbent on me to make my mother proud, to let her passing not have been in vain and make the rest of my family proud as well. I’m determined to show society how much I, an “evil” woman, have changed.

I’m surrounded by other ‘nasty,’ ‘evil’ women like myself every day, whose situations may differ greatly from my own, though our stories are the same. We’ve all been labeled the marked, untouchable, scorned woman by society for what we’ve done, or, in some cases, failed to do. The tragedy remains to be, in my opinion, a lack of understanding. If the experts, judge, and prosecutors in my case would have tried to understand the deep-rooted insecurities from my physical flaws I was dealing with as the time and the dynamics of my relationship with my ex-boyfriend, they could have gained the insight to apply to other teenage girls in similar situations to myself, but they didn’t. In regards to my peers serving life for killing their newborn babies, as an example, if their prosecutors would have made the effort to understand the pressures each of them were under in their individual situations, fear for some, the fact it was an accident and they didn’t know what do for others. Once again, the prosecutors didn’t. Like me, these women were labeled with disgust, scorn, out of a lack and refusal to try to understand, and they were hastily thrown away like used condoms. Years later, many of them have proven they are deserving of second chances, though in my opinion, that isn’t something they should have to prove. Generally, justice should assume people are capable of change and rehabilitation; only in the absolute worst of the worst, rarest of cases should it not, and only for the safety of community and society.

The sentence of 35 years to life that I accepted at such a young age sends society the message that I, and others like me, are incapable of change, disposable and not worth rehabilitating while still vital. This is a narrative I’ve already defied and will continue to prove wrong for the rest of my life. Never mind me; what message does it send to our youth? ‘If you make a terrible decision, we the state will throw your life away, you will no longer be worth anything.’ Children, especially teenagers, need to feel supported. The knowledge, even if it is subconscious, that they are disposable to the state will reinforce what negative feelings about themselves they have.

I definitely have the propensity to be a ‘nasty,’ ‘evil’ woman, a royal bitch. I own it. Every other woman I know has that same proclivity as well, as does every man to act in the same way, and every person regardless of the gender or sex they identify as. Good and evil exist in us all, but it’s up to each of us to choose what kind of individuals we want to be. How we want to treat fellow humans is a decision me must make ourselves. Don’t allow your assigned gender or the popular culture to dictate how you treat others. Think for yourself; do what feels rights. Write your own narrative. Be nasty.

 

(Photo Credit: Ms. Magazine)

Women as villains (Part 1)

Bitch, tramp, slut, whore, witch, skank, home wrecker, tease, prude. These are just a few examples of the plethora of derogatory terms used to describe women. Despite the progress women and feminism have made, there is still a long way to go before gender equality is achieved.

A prevailing theme throughout history, and one that still dominates today, is that of the ‘evil’–or in more 21st century political terms-‘nasty’ woman. I’m no historian, only a lover of history, but I’ve been able to discern the oppressive, patriarchal narrative in early cultures from areas all around the globe. Intrinsic to this belief is that all men are rarely capable of committing atrocities or behaving badly on their own: they are always motivated, inspired, or encouraged by woman, whether that woman is involved in or privy to the man’s plan’s and actions is moot.

Looking at the animal kingdom doesn’t portray women in a more favorable light, either. Konrad Lorenz, a Nobel Prize-Winning ethologist described a behavior common among females in many species of ducks. The female duck runs to the very edge of her partner’s territory with the intent of provoking another duck, and then runs back to her partner, egging him on to fight for her. Talk about instigating!

Take the Biblical story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, for instance. It’s a prime example of the perceived innocence and blamelessness of the male, being taken advantage of and misled by the corrupt, beguiling female. Poor Adam surely would have never taken a bite of the forbidden fruit and Eve not tempted him into doing so! Their mutinous actions, according to the Bible, resulted in humanity’s sinful nature, in our division from the perfect image of God. In this religious text, the finger of blame is undeniably pointed at Eve for man’s fall from grace. This woman blaming isn’t unique to biblical times.

Today, when women are victimized by rape, the questions are always asked: “what was she wearing?” “Was she alone?” “Was she drinking?” When a woman falls victim to domestic violence and abuse, questions like the following are posed: “Did she provoke him?” “Why didn’t she leave?” “Why didn’t she ask for help?” “Was she cheating?” “How was their relationship othewise?” I’ve often heard men make jokes about how, upon learning of a woman’s unfaithfulness or unsatisfactory cooking or cleaning abilities, she was “asking for it.” Though their comments may be in jest and I can always take a joke, I believe their humor reveals their true sentiments towards women.

When members of society ask these unnecessary questions after a woman is victimized, it perpetrates the illogical, false notion that somehow she was at fault, and that men cannot help or control themselves when in reality they can. The idea that men are enslaved and impotent to their raging hormones and sexual impulses is preposterous: they are sentient, self-controlled human beings who are ultimately responsible for making choices, deciding how to act each and every moment of their lives to the same degree that women are. Men aren’t pigs, animals; slavering, salivating creatures whose simple logic is overridden by the sex organ protruding between their legs. They have the ability to choose to degrade, to objectify, or to respect women, and the importance of that choice should be instilled in them from an early age.

Though men are often considered to be purely sexual beings who can’t control themselves, they often get a pass from society: almost like dogs that hump everything in sight. The behavior may be disgusting and repulsive, but they’re dogs; it’s what they do, so you excuse them.

Women don’t get the pass for being inherently ‘evil’ like the guys tend to. We got burned at the stake centuries ago, accused of practicing witchcraft. We have naked images of ourselves leaked by our vengeful former flames for the world to see on social media. We’re not taken as seriously as men are in positions of power when we deserve to be. When a man commits a crime with a woman, the blame is often put on the woman for corrupting or misleading the man, or the woman is portrayed to be the mastermind of the crime regardless of is she was or not.

I can relate to the latter personally. The feelings of guilt and remorse that haunt me due to my involvement in the mother’s murder will never diminish or fade.

 

(Photo Credit: Ms. Magazine)