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Yes, I’m Guilty.

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Yes, I’m Guilty.

Yes, I’m Guilty

For the last 11 years I have lived with the knowledge that I made mistakes so detrimental, the entire course of my life was forever changed.   At the age of 23, I made choices and decisions that were shameful, selfish, and criminal and arose out of a misplaced sense of entitlement and unhappiness.   Instead of seeking help for scars related to becoming a mother at 16, a crumbling marriage and feelings of failure, I filled the void with incessant shopping and material items.  I chose clothing and home furnishings over alcohol or cocaine to numb the pain.  When the credit cards were over the limit and our checking accounts drained, I turned to student loans to fund my addiction.  I falsified my applications to get the maximum amount possible, thinking to myself that I had a good job and could pay it back when it came due in 4 years with absolutely no thought as to how this could come crashing down.  And come crashing down it did…

I separated from my husband and went through an acrimonious divorce in 2007 and finally hit rock bottom.  I entered weekly therapy, and finally admitted my life was in such disarray that I had to make some serious alterations.  I realized that I was leaving a legacy of lies and shame for my son, and I had to rectify that as soon as possible.  In my quest to avoid dealing with my true state of affairs, I had shirked my duties as a mother and put all of my focus on myself, to the point of committing felonies to fund my shopping addiction.  These behaviors not only negatively impacted my life, but were destroying my family as well.  But change doesn’t come overnight, and the situation that I had created was so devastating, that a simple “I’m sorry” was not going to repair the damage I had caused.  I knew that the only way I could ever possibly make up for what I was putting my family through, would be to dig deep and make the changes necessary to be the person I was raised to be.

As the daughter of a pastor and retired police officer, I most certainly knew right from wrong.  But as is human nature, I rationalized my behavior to the point I believed my own lies.  I became immune to the destruction I was leaving in my wake until it was too late.  On April 15, 2011, I was indicted on 4 counts of filing a false tax return, and my world as I knew it ceased to exist.  Within 30 days, the US Attorney’s office offered me a plea deal—if I plead guilty to one count, they would dismiss the other 3 counts and I could avoid a possible 12 year prison sentence.  However, I wasn’t going to avoid prison altogether.  The plea deal called for 24 months of incarceration, full restitution, and one year probation.  After conferring with my attorney and my family, I decided to accept the plea agreement and was arraigned in June of that year.  My own personal hell was just beginning.

I was sentenced on September 27, 2011 and by the grace of God, received 1 year and a day in lieu of 2 years.  I spent the next month packing up my life and preparing to leave my family for a year.  In all of this, the absolute worst day of my life to date was October 25, 2011 when I had to tell my 14 year old son goodbye.  As we hugged for the final time, my heart broke into a thousand pieces when I saw the tears in his eyes, shining with the pain I had caused.  That was worse than any prison sentence a judge could impart.  My son, who was the most important person on the planet to me, was now facing a year without a mother and the full weight of what I had done finally hit me.

When I reported to Federal Prison Camp in California on October 27, 2011, I made the decision that I was leaving my former self there and returning the woman I was meant to be.  I had chosen a fork in the road that led only to heartache and I was reversing course.  I spent the next 9 months immersed in soul searching, reading, writing and prayer in order to cleanse myself of my demons.  The feelings of loneliness, fear, and isolation were overwhelming and never far from my mind.  I vowed to myself, my son, and my family that I would do whatever it took to change my way of thinking and be the mother my son deserved.  And that is exactly what I did.

Am I perfect? No.  Do I still make mistakes? Emphatically yes.  Do I still struggle with my view of money? Of course.  Are there people who refuse to allow me a second chance and continue to use my past as a weapon?  Sadly, yes—to the point I’m being stalked online because apparently prison isn’t punishment enough for some people, but that is the price I pay for making those awful choices.  But I’m taking one day at a time knowing that the love of my family and friends is worth the effort required to change.  There is never a day that goes by that I don’t feel remorse and regret over my behaviors.  I am a work in progress and always will be, but my relationship with my son has never been better.  Thankfully, the hard work is paying off, and we are closer than ever before.  In my heart of hearts, I know that it has all been worth it if my son can learn from my mistakes and never go down the path I chose.  If I can alter just one life for the better with my story, whether it be yours or his, I will shout it from the rooftops.

written by: nikki edwards aka nikki van winkle

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