HOW WOMEN COPE

Adams woman serving embezzlement sentence pinches pennies inside

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Surgery set Jennifer Thurston on the path to the painkiller addiction that led her to steal from two employers, landing her in jail for embezzlement.

Money is still a problem.

Thurston, 46, described financial pressures for women in jail. She said women have to buy everything they need while at the women's jail in Chicopee, from shampoo, soap, deodorant and toothbrushes, to coffee and creamer, to food like precooked chicken, tuna and ramen noodles. Women also have to buy their own utensils, cups and bowls.

Jailed women have ways to make a little money. Last spring, Thurston, of Adams, started a $5-a-day job, while in custody, at the Olde Armory Grill, a small cafeteria at Springfield Technical Community College.

At Chicopee, women generally start out on restitution work crews for municipalities. They might pick up trash for the city of Springfield or do maintenance work at the Holyoke Housing Authority. The jail bids on contracts for this work, according to Patricia Murphy, assistant superintendent.

Women can also work in the jail laundry and kitchen. If in minimum security or on pre-release status, they can work at area businesses that have arrangements with the Sheriff's Department.

Thurston's husband of 31 years is living on disability income from a fall years ago when he was a trucker for Wonder Bread. He adds about $40 weekly to her commissary account at the jail. He also spends gas money for biweekly visits to the jail with their daughter, 22, who works as a paraprofessional teacher at a school while studying for a degree in education.

Thurston said other family members pitch in as well, since there are phone fees to cover. Even at 12 cents per minute, Thurston said telephone costs add up fast and using those calls to connect to one's family is crucial to emotional survival.

Women can make as many calls as they want, each limited to 30 minutes. But Thurston's twice-daily 30-minute calls add up to about $50 per week.

Those phone calls become more vital since visitors are limited to two hours per week on three different days. Because of the hourlong drive, and her daughter's work schedule, her daughter can only come on Sundays. Thurston said it's easier for her husband, who can't work.

He could come every day. "But that's not allowed," she said.


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